Monday, January 17, 2011

Community Spotlight: Kentwood, Caledonia join forces for reading project

By Matt Marn

Published January 17, 2011 by Advance Newspapers

Kentwood and Caledonia students appeared at the Kentwood Board of Education meeting on January 10 to launch “Two Communities, One Book,” and announced that the book leading the program would be The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

Donna Smith is one of the coordinators of the event. As a Caledonia parent, she has been involved in many past literacy projects, and has helped bring the school districts together to celebrate literacy and their new libraries while at the same time bringing the two communities closer together.

“I really want to emphasize, not just for high school, but this is important for all ages,” Smith said. “We are promoting literacy, celebrating two new libraries, and building relationships between the communities.”

The schools have filmed four public service announcements about the program and the benefits of picking up a good book. The announcements will be playing on local cable stations, including Caledonia Cable and The Falcon News, the two schools’ broadcasting networks. The students played one of the clips for the board.

On March 21 at the Kentwood Library, Kentwood students, in conjunction with Davenport University, will host Betty Zylstra, the director of the Grand Rapids Salvation Army. Zylstra, along with a representative from a local clinic, will discuss and help localize health issues raised in the book. The students from Davenport will also facilitate a book discussion group.

As a finale to the program, Skloot, the author of the book, will speak at Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids on March 28.

The students are continuing their appearances at City Council, Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings. The Kentwood students who attended the Board of Education meeting were seniors Dominique Brown and Deleon Marks, and juniors Jayde Niblack and Meghan Baldridge. The Caledonia students were Emily Hazelbach and Madison McClain, president and treasurer of Caledonia’s student council.

“There’s going to be a great networking opportunity there,” said Baldridge. “It’s cool to get the student body and other communities involved. It’s going to be interesting to see what we can do.”

© 2011 All rights reserved.

Community Spotlight: Wyoming Police to receive federal grant, boost ranks

By Matt Marn

Published January 03, 2011 by Advance Newspapers

Amid the Merry Christmas and Happy New Year wishes, the final Wyoming City Council meeting of 2010 included the passage of a resolution to accept grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Hiring Program.

The grant awarded to Wyoming is $2.2 million, which will provide 100 percent funding for four police officer positions over three years. But the city had to commit to funding the positions for a fourth year, and the vote taken last month approved the budgeting for that fourth year.

In a city council work session the week before, Wyoming Police Chief James Carmody explained that the COPS grant funding, which came from a portion of the federal stimulus, was to retain or replace public safety officers.

An earlier grant application from the city was denied, but that was prior to the General Motors plant closure as well as closures of other local businesses. The application was held over and Wyoming became eligible for funding once more when economic data was updated and provided.

Carmody said two of the four positions will be in the investigative division and focus on juvenile issues such as truancy and bullying, while the other two positions would be for liaison positions to work in the community and with local businesses.

Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt said the grant can help the city catch up on understaffed police efforts.

“Part of what I think gives us a productive force is not all reactive but also proactive activities, and, if but for a short time, this will help us catch up,” he said.

Holt said two years ago, a study was done that showed room for improvement regarding the understaffed police and fire services in the city of Wyoming.

“As a city, we need to work for constant improvement,” he said. “That makes your city more sustainable in the long term. If you don’t take care of roads, fire safety, or police departments, the bills and problems add up. But by being proactive, by having more police and prevention, we can help people find peaceful solutions that keep them out of the legal system.”

Holt said the officers in the new police positions would work closely with youth as well as community and businesses, addressing things head-on in both realms, taking an active role in citizens’ daily lives.

“Wyoming’s crime rates are traditionally low, largely because of good, quality police work and involvement in the community,” he said. “As we continue to drop officers, you may not see an immediate impact, but over time, your community will change, and not always for the better. That is why this grant is so important – we want to always keep moving forward.”

Matt Marn can be reached at

© 2011 All rights reserved.

Byron Center Kiwanis Club ready to make a difference

By Matt Marn

Published December 13, 2010 by Advance Newspapers

With the holidays upon us, many take an opportunity to turn to others and think of giving rather than receiving. The Byron Center community is no exception. A group of educators, businesspeople and other community members are starting a local club of the Kiwanis organization to help kids in their area.

Kiwanis is a group based around helping children the world over. They are a self-described “global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time.”

From local clubs such as those in Caledonia and the new club in Byron Center, to groups in high schools and universities on to the international level, they are already changing lives the world over.

The Caledonia club, for example, offers infant car seat inspections, providing families with a new seat if theirs does not meet current safety standards. They also provide dictionaries to every third-grade student in the school district, as well as a thesaurus to every fifth-grade student.

And with weeks left before their chartering dinner event, the Byron Center club wants to make the same impact in their own community.

Mark Marlowe, general manager of the Courthouse Athletic Center and a member of the new Byron Center Kiwanis club, said they are looking for more members who want to make a difference.

“It’s a great thing for the Byron Center community,” Marlowe said. “I looked into Kiwanis, and it’s a great way to get to know more people, and give back. And the more people get involved... it’s better for everyone.”

Marlowe said when you work with kids as much as his staff does at the athletic center, joining a group centered around kids seemed like a natural fit.

“It’s an organization about kids,” he said. “And 99 percent of my business here is kids. I saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community. Also, it is a nice way to meet other people in the community, in a different environment than walking in and out of the athletic center.”

Marlowe said the Kiwanis club from Caledonia has been helping get the Byron Center group off the ground, led by the Caledonia club president, Vince Weiss.

“They are filling us in, giving us the background,” Marlowe said. “The Caledonia group is passionate, fired up. When I see that kind of passion, that tells me something. They’re not trying to make a sale; they want to be a part of it. You can tell the group has had a positive impact on Vince’s life.”

Weiss has been involved in Kiwanis clubs for 20 years, starting in Virginia, when joining Kiwanis was a part of a job he held. But then he found out how much fun it was to help kids.

Weiss said Kiwanis is a great cross-section of the community. From educators, business people, and retired individuals, he knows the Byron Center community will benefit greatly from this new club. And so will its members.

“It’s amazing,” Weiss said. “You get involved because your job asks it, but it’s not long before you’re in – hook, line and sinker. And the enthusiasm from the Byron Center club is extraordinary. We want 30 charter members, and that should not be a problem.”

Kurtis Marlowe, Mark’s son, is also a member of the Byron Center club. While he didn’t quite know what to expect in the beginning, he knew he wanted to be a part of the effort from the ground floor up.

“For me, getting to meet people in the area is big,” Marlowe said. “I’m from the Kalamazoo area, so this is a great way to meet businesses and educators in Byron Center. But most of all, I’m here to give back. At the athletic club, I do all basketball. It would be nice to help in other ways, like in schools and with other community projects.”

Marlowe also said it was good to see a variety of age groups in attendance at the first meetings.

“Today, I was one of several younger people at the meeting,” he said. “It’s not just for older individuals, it’s really rewarding for younger people as well.”

“You see people come in and out of here all the time, and you recognize their faces, but that’s it,” he said. “This way, you not only know their names and faces, but you get to know who these people really are.”

For more information on the Byron Center Kiwanis club and joining the ranks, contact Caledonia club president Vince Weiss at (616) 890-5776.

© 2011 All rights reserved.

Wyoming teens stepping up to volunteer on council

By Matt Marn, Published in Advance Newspapers December 6, 2010

Teens from a variety of Wyoming area schools are taking an active role in the community through the Wyoming Parks and Recreation Department’s Teen Council. The council is involved in planning events for all ages in the community, from teens to seniors and everyone in between.

Not only do these young leaders work with the council, but some also serve on the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), a part of the Wyoming Community Foundation that helps identify youth-centered needs in the community and reviews grant applications to decide how to disperse their available funding.

Members of the parks and recreation teen council have also begun to serve on the recently formed Wyoming Community Youth Coalition, a collaboration of area groups which provides programs and services to local youth.

Eric Tomkins, Wyoming Parks and Recreation Department recreation supervisor, said teens from the council could surely serve in all capacities.

“There was no use in recreating the wheel,” he said. “Besides, the coalition’s intent of being a collaborative really made this idea a natural fit.”

Valarie Brochu, recreation programmer for the Wyoming Parks and Recreation Department, said the teens on the council are a great resource – a great voice to find out what more to offer teens.

“When I first started here, I was given the task to start a teen board, and I was nervous. But it has worked really well. I’m proud of all of them. They’re great kids, they love to be involved. It’s one of the best parts of my job.”

Sydney Birge, a sophomore at Grand Rapids Preparatory school, was in eighth grade when her teacher gave her an application to join the Wyoming Parks and Recreation Teen Council, and she became one of the original members. Birge is now the vice-president.

“Our goal is to plan events for teens, give teens ways to help the community and be in a safe environment where they don’t have anything to worry about,” Birge said. “When I first started, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being involved in the community, planning events, it’s a lot of work, but worth it when we see how it affects the community, and all the people we helped.”

Birge said the project the group worked on that meant the most to her was “Rethink the Drink,” a pair of homemade public service announcements, one directed toward teens, the other toward their parents, about the dangers of alcohol.

“If even a few teens saw that, if you could only help out a few people, it may save them,” she said.

Birge invited others in the community to consider joining the teen council, or start to volunteer in their own community.

“It may be daunting at first, but you meet a lot of people, and it’s worth it, giving back,” she said. “Not everyone listens to teens, but having a whole council for teens... it’s totally worth it.”

Louise McKenzie, a junior at Wyoming Park High School, is the president of the teen council. She said she was recruited thanks in part to her volunteer work in her community.

The teen council has a respected position in the community, McKenzie said.

“It’s an honor,” she said. “We have a voice now, people know how we feel. We go to board meetings, and the community knows we’re out there.”

The project of the teen council that had the biggest impact on McKenzie is the reverse mentoring program, where the council visits the Wyoming Senior Center twice monthly, helping seniors learn to use computers, cell phones and other technology.

“We help make them more efficient in the work world and in their personal lives,” she said.

The teen council’s next project is a teen luau from 7 p.m. to midnight on Friday, Feb. 18. Ages 13 to 18 are welcome, McKenzie said, but must register to participate. Teens interested in attending should contact Wyoming Parks and Recreation for more information.

McKenzie also has advice for those teens hoping to get involved. “Don’t be afraid of adults,” she said.

“They’ve gone through the same things. If you have something, an idea, feel free to take it to an adult, someone with more experience. Also, get some of your friends behind you, and get something started.”

Written by Matt Marn, who can be reached at

© 2011 All rights reserved.