Street Talk: Welcome to Grand Rapids


Grand Rapids doesn’t have an official “welcome mat,” but now it has an official title — and a statue.

City officials last week officially joined the Welcoming Michigan initiative, becoming the 10th city or county in the state to be named a Welcoming Community.

Tuesday’s celebration took place in Rosa Parks Circle for a number of reasons, not the least of which was a chance to recognize the park’s namesake, Rosa Parks, and what she represents to the city. The timing also coincided with the fifth anniversary of the unveiling of the Rosa Parks sculpture.

Patti Caudill, the city’s manager for diversity and inclusion, said the Ed Dwight artwork served as a perfect backdrop for the ceremony.

“The city of Grand Rapids, its city commission and the Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission have a long history of recognizing, celebrating and honoring the vibrant diversity that is our community,” Caudill said.

Mayor George Heartwell proclaimed Grand Rapids a Welcoming Community before turning the program over to poets, dancers, Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus and other cultural performers representing the beauty and diversity of the community.

“The Welcoming Grand Rapids initiative aims to expand cooperation, respect and compassion among all in our community, inclusive of immigrants and non-immigrants alike,” Caudill said. “We urge all throughout the Grand Rapids community to embrace and celebrate the fabric of our community and help us make Grand Rapids even more welcoming, where all foreign-born and native-born residents can live, work and play together.”

Jonathan Romero, Welcoming Michigan’s West Michigan communities coordinator, said Michigan thrives when bringing the best of what has been and what can be together to create a stronger, more vibrant Michigan for all.

“At Welcoming Michigan, we seek to build mutual respect among foreign-born and U.S.-born people who call Michigan home today,” he said. “Grand Rapids now joins these other communities that support locally driven efforts to create more welcoming, immigrant-friendly environments. All work together to maximize opportunities to build mutual respect among receiving community members and immigrants and refugees, as well as foster an inclusive environment essential to growth.”

Sharing wisdom

Some people are just wise beyond their years.

Count Miller Johnson attorney Sara Lachman among that group.

Lachman was presented with the Athena Young Professional Award by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce last week at the 26th annual Athena Awards Celebration luncheon.

The award recognizes emerging leaders who have demonstrated leadership in their field, opened doors of opportunities for women, contributed time and talent to the community, and are role models to others — particularly to young women — in the community.

“Sara truly exemplifies the tenets of the Athena leadership model through her leadership, professional excellence and community involvement,” said Rick Baker, GRACC president and CEO. “Her personal story of hard work and perseverance to become a successful lawyer and active community trustee is an inspiration to all young women and leaders alike. It’s an honor to recognize Sara as our Athena Young Professional Award recipient this year.”

A practicing lawyer since 2004, Lachman is an experienced civil litigator. She is the creator of Miller Johnson’s current mentorship program, chairs the firm’s recruiting and previously was its volunteer coordinator.

Lachman serves as chair of the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s Litigation Section, on the East Grand Rapids Planning Commission, and as a member of the board of trustees for the Grand Rapids Public Museum Foundation.

She is a 2008 graduate of Leadership Grand Rapids, a 2014 graduate of Leadership Advantage and a council member for the Center for Community Leadership.

Lachman is also the founder and president of Good Seeds, a program dedicated to educating people about the personal and societal impacts of nutritional choices. She volunteers for Kids’ Food Basket, serves suppers at Degage Ministries and through Inter-Faith Hospitality Network, and has sat on boards and committees for Fulton Street Farmers Market, Local First, Safe Haven Ministries, Grand Rapids Ballet, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and John Ball Zoo.

Next to Napa

The secret is out.

Jason Heidemann, writing for the Orbitz Travel Blog on Huffington Post, recently listed his top five wine regions not in Napa Valley, California.

Coming in at No. 3 was none other than Fennville, Michigan.

Heidemann described it thusly:

“Craving a weekend getaway where idyllic farm communities, boho arts towns and Lake Michigan collide? The tiny, twin arts enclaves of Saugatuck and Douglas boast a rustic cool vibe that for many years have attracted weekend warriors from Chicago and across the Wolverine State. A trip to the region is never complete without an excursion to nearby Fennville, which is justly famous for its u-pick-it berry farms, apple orchards and family-owned wineries which crank out large quantities of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.”

That sounds about right.

Wine, women and song

Of course, if Fennville is too far to drive, there’s an opportunity for wine — and women and chocolate — coming up in downtown GR.

Women’s Resource Center is hosting its ninth annual Wine, Women and Chocolate fundraiser 5:30-8 p.m., Oct. 1, at The Cheney Place, 1600 Monroe Ave. NW.

Attendees can enjoy an evening of wine, beer and chocolate tastings, hors d'oeuvres by Tommy Fitzgerald and Kitchen Sage, and bidding on more than 40 silent auction packages. There will also be a variety of raffle items — including a tower of wine. Proceeds help fund WRC services and programming.

“Wine, Women and Chocolate is the perfect evening out for friends or co-workers,” said Terri Demeter, development and communications manager at WRC. “It’s also Women’s Resource Center’s annual ‘friend-raiser,’ an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to new individuals and inform them about the services and programs we provide the community.”

That includes everything from life-skill workshops and mentoring support to personalized career-planning sessions and professional clothing for job interviews.

Shelly Irwin, host of “The WGVU Morning Show,” will emcee the event. Wine will be provided by Cascade Winery and Crushed Grape, while Patricia’s Chocolates will provide hand-painted chocolates. Tickets, which are $45, are available at

Got a match?

Almost 1,000 entrepreneurs from across Michigan are hoping to snag business opportunities with buyers at large companies when they attend the Sept. 22 Matchmaking Summit at Burton Manor in Livonia, according to Michael Rogers, vice president of communications for the Small Business Association of Michigan.

SBAM and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Pure Michigan Business Connect program are partnering to host the event that connects purchasers with Michigan suppliers.

Rogers said the summit will feature a mixture of informational programming and pre-scheduled one-on-one meetings.

Speakers include: SBAM President and CEO Rob Fowler; U.S. Rep. David Trott; Dan Malone, senior vice president of distribution operations and engineering and transmission at Consumers Energy; Robert A. Richard, senior vice president at DTE Energy; and Jennifer Nelson, COO of the MEDC.

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