Street Talk: Welcome to all

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In response to an executive order on enhancing state and local involvement in refugee resettlement, the Kentwood City Commission adopted a resolution in support of the continued resettlement of refugees within city limits.

Commissioners last week unanimously approved the resolution, which affirms resources and capacities are available within the city of Kentwood to devote to sustainable resettlement, which maximizes the likelihood refugees placed in the area will become self-sufficient and free from long-term dependence on public assistance. Kentwood is one of the first communities in West Michigan to publicly affirm its support of Executive Order 13888.

“Kentwood has long been able to welcome refugees facing persecution thanks to numerous corporations, faith-based organizations, schools and families with the resources available to support the arrival and integration of refugee families,” said Mayor Stephen Kepley. “As the current home of resettled refugees from more than 90 countries, Kentwood City Commission is committed to ensuring refugees not only feel welcome to come to our city but to truly feel a sense of belonging within our community.

“Kentwood’s quality of life has been enriched by the friendships and contributions of our neighbors from all over the world. We look forward to embracing those who seek to find refuge in our city for many years to come.”

Numerous community members, many refugees themselves, shared comments in support of the resolution. These included representatives from Kent County Board of Commissioners, At-Tawheed Islamic Center, the Vietnamese American Community of Grand Rapids, Bethany Christian Services, Samaritas and Gateways for Growth.

“The approval of this resolution demonstrates the city’s character and commitment to all New Americans and says loud and clear what type of community Kentwood leaders want to create for all people who want to call this place home,” said Joel Lautenbach, executive director of development at Samaritas and leadership team member of Greater Grand Rapids/Kent County Gateways for Growth Welcome Plan. “We want new residents from all over the world, including refugees, to be able to find a place to live here — to raise their families, to contribute economically and be successful, contributing members of our community.”

Project coordinator Elvira Kovachevich of Gateways for Growth, whose objective is to develop and implement a welcome plan to address different sectors of obstacles for immigrants and refugees in Kent County, also spoke to the importance of the resolution.

“Seeing the city of Kentwood unanimously approve a resolution to welcome refugees to our community is more than a statement; it is a commitment to welcome everyone with open arms and promote belonging, no matter where you come from,” she said. “As a child of refugees who works to welcome other new Americans to our community, the city of Kentwood’s affirmation of the value of refugees is inspiring; the city is truly serving as an example to others.”

Issued on Sept. 26, Executive Order 13888 requires official consent from state and local governments within 90 days for the federal government to resettle refugees in a given area.

Christmas gift

Wedgwood Christian Services is continuing a partnership with Lacks Enterprises that provides a Christmas experience for the kids in Wedgwood’s residential program.

For the past seven years, Lacks Enterprises has paid for the staff at Wedgwood to throw the residential children and teens a Christmas party with a pizza dinner, bingo, holiday crafts, a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and gifts.

“The opportunity for us to spend Christmas with Wedgwood Christian Services and its residents is one of the highlights of our year, from our employees donating presents to the residents to our sponsoring a resident Christmas party to bringing Santa and Mrs. Claus to spend time with the kids,” said Jenn Groendyke, public relations manager at Lacks Enterprises.

“The impact that Wedgwood makes on the kids in their care, and on the community as a whole, is life-changing and transformational. We are honored to have a small part in helping to bring Christmas joy.”

Randy Zylstra, president and CEO of Wedgwood, said the party is a big deal for the children in the residence who are facing “a tough time” during the holidays.

“Instead of a happy, joyful time, the holiday season, prior to their arrival at Wedgwood, was often a painful, tumultuous time,” he said. “But through the generosity of community partners like Lacks Enterprises, we are able to help kids develop positive memories and healthy traditions. They can experience the joy of Christmas, as children should. Our partnership with Lacks Enterprises continues to be a tremendous blessing to Wedgwood and the kids we serve.”

Power hour

Four hundred elementary school students from Kentwood Public Schools gathered last week at Discovery Elementary School to learn how to code at the first-annual Hour of Code party. The goal for the event was to get kids excited about coding and practice for a 2020 attempt to break a computer coding world record.

“The benefit of Hour of Code is the exposure that it gives to our students as to what is possible for their futures,” said Nancy McKenzie, STEM coordinator for Kentwood Public Schools. “Learning about coding helps to enhance students’ problem-solving skills and creativity. In our tech-driven society, computing skills should be part of every student’s well-rounded skill set.”

The event is sponsored by West Michigan Tech Talent. The employer collaborative is running through the logistics of teaching coding to a large group of students, in one place and at one time, before they attempt to break the world record in 2020.

In addition to the Hour of Code Party, WMTT organized more than 80 in-classroom Hour of Code sessions from Dec. 2-13. Local IT professionals volunteer their time to lead a basic computer coding lesson with third, fourth and fifth grade students. The two-week initiative spans three counties, 15 school districts and 31 schools — engaging 2,500 students.

Home help

The Dunes Resort in the Saugatuck area has made a $25,000 donation to support Our LGBTQ Fund, a fund of Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

In honor of founder Carl Jennings, this is the largest single donation The Dunes Resort has made.

The gift will expand the capacity of Our LGBTQ Fund, which provides resources to local nonprofits.

The focus of the fund is to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness. LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their straight or cisgender peers, according to a 2017 University of Chicago study.

In 1981, after discrimination and denials, Jennings and his husband of 50 years, Larry Gammons, finally found a location in Douglas to build their dream— creating a safe space for the LGBTQ community to feel welcomed, included and celebrated.

“The Dunes Resort is excited to give this gift in Carl Jennings’ name because the alignment of goals is so strong: The Dunes Resort, Carl and Larry and Our LGBTQ Fund all share a vision to create safe, fun, accepting places for the LGBTQ community,” said Mike Jones, Dunes Resort owner.

“Carl and Larry gave so much to our community over the years that we are sure he would be honored to know that The Douglas Dunes/Dunes Resort is giving back to the LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness in West Michigan.”

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