November 13, 2017

Community Delivers a New Civics Program for New Grand Rapidians

The City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) are launching an innovative program to help new residents better understand and participate in local government.

The City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) are launching an innovative program to help new residents better understand and participate in local government.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and GRPS Superintendent of Schools Teresa Weatherall Neal will unveil and announce open enrollment for the OurCity Academy at the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, November 14 at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall.

OurCity Academy workshops will take place 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays (Dec. 6 and 13, Jan. 10 and 24 and Feb. 7 and 24). Most classes will take place at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary, 1205 Grandville Ave. SW. The Jan. 24 and Feb. 21 workshops will take place in the City Commission Chambers at City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW.

The leaders explained that Grand Rapids continues to attract diverse residents. This growth is reflected in Grand Rapids Public Schools, which serves nearly 17,000 students who represent 55 countries and speak 54 different languages. Local government, nonprofits and the business community are aware of this growth and embrace the riches it adds to our community, they said.

Mayor Bliss said OurCity Academy would empower new Grand Rapidians to understand and participate in the democratic process and learn about services available to all members of the community.

“I am pleased to see the OurCity Academy come to fruition, and I am grateful for the many partners who have helped to make this happen,” Mayor Bliss said. “This program continues our city's long history of welcoming immigrants and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to our community."

“We want all our new residents in the city to know they are welcomed and supported,” said Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. “This is yet another example of how well GRPS and the City work together for the betterment of our community.”

Enrollment for the free program is now open on the City’s website: Graduates will receive a Certificate of Participation and a copy of the Mayor’s Book of the Year and will be recognized at a City Commission meeting.

OurCity Academy participants will engage in conversations and tours over six sessions. Topics will center on:

  • Grand Rapids’ history and City government
  • Healthy living, social services and transit agencies
  • Grand Rapids education institutions, youth-related programs and employment
  • City Commission, court system, civic engagement and public safety
  • Economic and community development, tourism and finance.
  • City of Grand Rapids infrastructure

Lynn Heemstra, executive of Our Community’s Children, a department at the City, will serve as the OurCity Academy coordinator. Heemstra said the innovative program was designed with the contributions of partners and members from the community, including:

  • Elisa Pérez-Arellano, BSW, LLMSW, social worker at Health Net of West Michigan
  • Reouhidi Reuben Ndjerareou, system entrepreneur and Advisory Committee member of African Collaborative Network (ACN)
  • Ndeye Rokhaya Ndao, transition coordinator at Wyoming High School, ACN Advisory Committee member
  • Mayda Bahamonde-Gunnell, Ed.D., GRPS executive director of Leadership Middle Schools/ELL/Equity and Inclusion
  • Ronald Gorman, Ph.D., GRPS assistant superintendent
  • Lea M. Tobar, M.Ed., educational consultant
  • Roberto Torres, executive director of Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
  • Renata Horvath, president of Grand Rapids Sister Cities International
  • Mary Cook, City of Grand Rapids Transformation and Analysis Team associate
  • Tom Almonte, managing director at the City of Grand Rapids

About Grand Rapids’ Outreach Efforts

The City has a long history of welcoming new Grand Rapidians to the community. Many of these new residents migrate to Grand Rapids from a variety of other countries. The City’s support of the immigrant community is reflected in many of the actions taken by the current and past body of the City Commission. Some of the steps taken include:

  • Partnered with the Hispanic Chamber to provide business educational workshops series known as Mediodia to connect Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs with development resources
  • Met the City’s sustainability target Eco 5.2 of increasing diverse programing and additional language programing by 25 percent on the Public Channel by June 30, 2015
  • Joined Governor Snyder’s Welcoming Michigan initiative, which expresses the City’s commitment to ensuring Grand Rapids is welcoming and inclusive for everyone, including immigrants.
  • Established a partnership with the Hispanic Center to provide the interpreting resources to support the live transmission of City Commission meetings in Spanish
  • Made the City’s new website available in Spanish