GRCC toasts area’s philanthropic spirit as it turns 100

GRCC toasts area’s philanthropic spirit as it turns 100

The college’s Learning Resource Center opened in 1973 on the site of the former East Building, 140 Bostwick Ave. NE. The center housed the college library, a television production area, audio-visual labs, a photography lab and three general-purpose classrooms. Courtesy GRCC

As Grand Rapids Community College celebrates its 100th birthday, staff and students are participating in service projects to give back to the community.

GRCC has provided educational opportunities throughout West Michigan since Sept. 21, 1914, and as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this fall with an anniversary gala and various community events, the college is giving back through its 100 Ways to Give projects.

President Steven Ender said the college cannot properly celebrate 100 years without including the community that has bestowed its name and mission.

“West Michigan has made us what we are today, and it is a privilege to share this milestone with organizations and people who do so much good for our area,” said Ender in a July press release.

The 100 Ways to Give effort incorporates service projects ranging from donating supplies, food and financial support, to volunteering at nonprofit organizations in the community. Examples of some of the service activities for faculty, staff and students include donating 100 pairs of children’s shoes in August with GRCC’s financial services department and campus police, and volunteering at God’s Kitchen, Habitat for Humanity and Degage Ministries.

“Volunteering will always be a part of Grand Rapids Community College, whether it is students working through our experiential learning department, or employees and alumni giving up their free time to meet community needs,” said Ender.

Leah Nixon, director of communications at GRCC, said 100 Ways to Give is a celebratory activity the anniversary planning committee decided would be a way to add another layer to the centennial tribute.

“It is really just highlighting work we are already doing,” said Nixon. “We feel being part of the fabric of the West Michigan community for 100 years, the community has done so much for us, and this is just one way for us to say thank you to the community.”

Donations and service hours incorporate a format of “100” with the support of various departments at the college. Some of the “care package” items and supplies will go to families, children and students in need, such as: foster children at D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s Home; school supplies for Coit Elementary students; books for the GRCC Preschool Laboratory; wish list items for the local YWCA Crisis Center; and literacy kits for families or child-care providers in West Michigan.

“Being an education institution, we approach our community work as just one way to strengthen the community,” said Nixon. “Really, we feel volunteer work and volunteer activities are just part of our daily work, if you will. It is a way for us to connect and engage and help improve our community.”

GRCC also will host a barbeque-style community picnic Sept. 13 at the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse for alumni and friends in order to share stories of past experiences at GRCC and reconnect with faculty, staff and former classmates.

“Part of our celebration of the 100th anniversary is really being able to connect with the community,” said Nixon. “We want to hear their stories, and we have a variety of opportunities for people to get involved and become engaged with the anniversary.”

Another event celebrating GRCC’s history is the black-tie-optional 100th Anniversary Gala at DeVos Place on Tuesday, Oct. 14, from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

“This year is not only an opportunity for us to celebrate our past but also look forward to the future,” said Nixon. “If you look at when the college first opened in September 1914, there were 49 students enrolled, and in our last academic year we served more than 33,000 people.”

The inaugural class at GRCC chose from courses in mathematics, history, rhetoric and composition, German, Latin, biology and physics, which were based on classes offered at the University of Michigan. The community college now provides education resources in credit-bearing courses, workforce development training, skills improvement, GED programs and online courses through several locations in Kent and Ottawa counties.

As GRCC has grown over the last century, Nixon said one of its strengths is providing access to educational opportunities for West Michigan residents.

“Educational opportunities are the resources that can help better a community,” said Nixon. “We really feel that is a niche. We’ve been here and we are woven into the fabric, and (we are dedicated) to making sure … that we are providing educational opportunities for West Michigan residents across the board.”

Declining enrollment numbers in community colleges throughout Michigan and across the nation is a challenge impacting higher education and that ultimately may impact GRCC, Nixon said.

The American Association of Community Colleges published a report in January 2014 showing a more than 3 percent decline in enrollment in community colleges throughout the United States between fall 2011 and fall 2012. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported another 3.1 percent decrease in enrollment from fall 2012 to fall 2013.

“It is going to be a challenge for us in the coming years; however, that being said, looking to the future we are continuing to seek those partnerships with our business and industry partners and look at where we can provide opportunities for students,” said Nixon. “We our continuing to see where we are going to make the most impact, and what do the citizens in the area need — what are the educational opportunities?”

Grand Rapids Community College has two downtown campuses. The main campus is located at 143 Bostwick Ave. NE near the Medical Mile. Its DeVos Campus — formerly Davenport University’s downtown campus — is in Heritage Hill and includes the newly renovated LEED-certified Steward Edward White Hall, Mable Engle House, Sneden Hall and Lettinga House. Other GRCC facilities include two Michigan Technical Education Centers, or M-TECs, one in Kent County and another in Ottawa County. GRCC’s Lakeshore Campus consists of five facilities in Ottawa County.

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