Street Talk: Made in the shade

Essential service.

Grand Rapids’ goal of having a 40% tree canopy citywide by 2025 has some more green behind it.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recently supported the effort with a $250,000 grant to the nonprofit Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

The grant is part of the NFWF Sustain Our Great Lakes program, which funds projects that restore key habitats for wildlife, improve water quality and enhance urban greenspace throughout the Great Lakes basin in 2021 and beyond.

Since 2015, Friends has collaborated with the city to plant and maintain trees that add to the urban forestry canopy goal. The organization engages community volunteers to add 750 trees, on average, to the city’s canopy each year.

“Trees play a critical role in our community by cleaning our air, creating cool spaces, beautifying our community and enhancing health,” said Stephanie Adams, executive director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. “Our longtime collaboration with the city and our volunteers has been even more validated by this tremendous partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.”

City commissioners adopted a Green Grand Rapids amendment to the city’s master plan in 2011 to activate the social, economic and environmental benefits of trees. Provisions to that amendment set sights on a 40% tree canopy goal for the city. The city’s current tree canopy cover is roughly 35%, according to the 2015 Tree Canopy Survey.

Adams said new trees provide myriad benefits, such as increased soil stabilization and erosion control, reduction in the urban heat island effect, and provision of habitat for birds, squirrels and other animals. Trees also provide a host of social benefits, including enhanced recreational opportunities, positive effects on physical and psychological health, an increase in community pride and higher property values.

Founded in 2008, Friends is an independent, citizen-driven nonprofit with a mission to empower people to cultivate vibrant parks, trees and green spaces in Michigan’s second largest city. Friends works to mobilize volunteers, generate resources and raise awareness about issues that impact urban parks and natural systems.

Seeing the light

UV Angel, a Grand Haven-based maker of next-gen pathogen control technology, partnered with certain McDonald’s franchise owners in Texas and Illinois to help create safer and cleaner environments for customers and staff at multiple locations in the Chicago, Dallas and Houston markets.

Under the partnership, the McDonald’s locations were equipped with UV Angel’s proprietary ultraviolet light surface and air technology. The room-level source control technology works continuously to neutralize surface and airborne bacteria, viruses and fungi to reduce the risk of exposure to infection-causing agents.

“As has been published in many studies, people are the main source of contamination and disease transmission,” said Tom Byrne, CEO of UV Angel. “The recent pandemic highlights the need to add controls right at the room level and source of potential contamination.”

Unlike building-level source controls like HEPA filters and UV-C HVAC units, UV Angel technology targets pathogens at their source.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put new emphasis on the safety of indoor spaces,” said Matt Kades, a McDonald’s owner-operator in the Houston area. “That is especially important for a brand as trusted and recognized as McDonald’s. While we have already taken significant steps to help ensure the safety of our employees and customers, we believe the addition of UV Angel technology is a true game-changer. We want the air inside our locations to be as safe as the air outside, and we are proud to be one of the first restaurants in the world to add this technology to our infection control arsenal.”

UV Angel’s technology was originally designed and tested for use in hospitals to neutralize deadly pathogens and reduce the risk of hospital-associated infections. The company’s Adapt surface technology mounts over high-touch areas — like touchscreens and keyboards — and uses ultraviolet light to autonomously treat the surfaces after every human interaction.

“While our company started in health care, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of our technologies in many different industries looking to create measurably safer indoor environments for staff, customers and families,” Byrne said.

The UV Angel Clean Air is a next-gen pathogen control technology that neutralizes pathogens in the air and can be used in occupied, indoor spaces. The technology is mounted at the ceiling level and continuously draws room air into a sealed chamber, where it is treated with UV-C light to destroy airborne pathogens.

Above and beyond

West Michigan Works! is now accepting nominations for an annual award recognizing essential workers.

The West Michigan workforce development agency is accepting nominations for its 2020 Essential Service Awards. The annual awards recognize frontline workers who go above and beyond their daily responsibilities and display integrity, passion and commitment.

Nominations will be accepted in 11 categories, including administrative/office worker, cleaning/housekeeping/groundskeeping, child care, food service, government, health care/elder care, hospitality, nonprofit, retail, skilled labor and transportation.

The deadline for nominations is 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7.

“Although we have been celebrating the Essential Service Awards for 13 years, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic underscores how critical frontline workers are to our region’s well-being and economy,” said Mark Bergsma, chair of the West Michigan Works! workforce development board. 

Anyone can nominate a frontline worker for an Essential Service Award. To be eligible, the individual must have at least two years of employment with their current company, hold a nonmanagerial position, exhibit pride in their job, a positive attitude, strong work ethic and effective time management. Additionally, the nominee must work within the West Michigan Works! service area of Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

A committee established by the West Michigan Works! workforce development board will select the winners who will be honored at the April meeting of The Economic Club of Grand Rapids. Each honoree will also receive a $100 Meijer gift card.

“Essential workers continue to risk their health to ensure that we have access to groceries, critical services and health care. These extraordinary frontline heroes keep West Michigan running during a time of uncertainty, and it is an honor to recognize them,” Bergsma said. 

To nominate an essential worker, visit

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