Community Conversations: John Helmholt, Grand Rapids Public Schools

_DSC2160On Tuesday, August 18th, our Director of Development, Monica Stiemle, sat down with Grand Rapids Public Schools Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs, John Helmholdt, to chat all things GRPS, as well as the district’s role within the prevailing GR Forward Plan.

To begin the conversation, Monica asked John about the booming growth within the city of Grand Rapids. From housing development, to job growth and beyond, she wanted to know what GRPS’s plan was to grow along with the city, as well as its role within the GR Forward planning process. A few of the key points he touched upon were:

  • There is often a level of disconnect between educators and business owners. Students are being taught one thing, while employers are looking for a skill-set of another. In order to get on the same page, we need to get everyone speaking the same language.
  • Working alongside GRPS, and their plan to grow along with the city, is Talent 2025. They describes themselves as a “catalyst for the development of an integrated talent system to meet employer needs. Education, economic development, quality of place, and responsive public policy all play a role in a successful talent system.” Together, both organizations are looking to meet the needs of the workforce by creating more adequate college and trade career pipelines.

_DSC2147Furthermore, we discussed the misconceptions surrounding Grand Rapids Public Schools, and how we, as a community, can help support the reality and future of our schools. Overall, John communicated that:

  • There is a lack of awareness. In one of the surveys conducted by GRPS, only 55% of those who were polled knew about the Montessori schools offered by the district. We need to get the word out on what programs and opportunities are available for families and their children. As John phrased it, it’s all about “getting people to look at the menu”.
  • In order to live, work and play within Grand Rapids, a healthy K-12 district needs to be present. In addition to that, a walkable community that reaches all neighborhoods is also pivotal to our city’s overall growth and success.

* To learn more about Grand Rapids Public Schools and their role within our City’s master plan, visit the following link:
 Goal 6: Retain and attract families, talent, and job providers with high quality public schools.

Community Conversations: Tim Kelly, GR Forward – Part II

As a part of our Community Conversations series, our Director of Development, Monica Stiemle, sat down with Tim Kelly, Planning Manager for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and organizer of the GR Forward Downtown and River Action Plan.

For Part II of their conversation, Monica and Tim touched upon the following points that focus on the process to date of the GR Forward plan:

  • The GR Forward Plan will amend the city’s master plan and become public policy.
  • It will be presented at a public hearing before going to city commission for approval.
  • People are encouraged to find an area of the plan that catches their interest/expertise and get involved.
  • The plan is split into short, medium and long term goals.


Back on Your Feet: What GR is doing to combat homelessness

June 24th, 2015

Community Convo with Tami VHomelessness is an issue that is often ignored by many Americans.

Unfortunately, I have been guilty of that same neglect. Growing up in a small Illinois community of about 12,000, homelessness was not a visible issue throughout my childhood. It was one of those things that, unfortunately, was “out of sight, out of mind” for me. It’s an area of life in which I am fairly naive. But fortunately, organizations like Well House are committed to spreading awareness of and resolving the issue of homelessness in our community.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a 616 Community Conversation with Tami VandenBerg, the executive director of Grand Rapids’ Well House. It was incredible to watch 20-25 members of our community come together to discuss homelessness and what we can do to combat it. Tami and her team provide a great example of what that looks like and how we can all be involved.

To add some further insight, I recently read a statistic claiming that Grand Rapids has seen a 15% increase in homelessness over the past year. I couldn’t help but ask myself what could be done to reverse that number. The answer is not easy. Unfortunately, there isn’t a calculated formula to solving homelessness. Though I’m happy to know that Well House plays an active role in the solution.

Well House is more than your typical shelter; they are committed to providing safe, affordable housing – regardless of a person’s past or current situation. More importantly, they are committed to helping their community figure out the future. Well House gives people the support, encouragement and resources to get back on their feet. That’s something I want to be a part of. Do you?


Missed out on the conversation? Watch the recap.
– Question: What makes WellHouse different? [VIDEO]
– Question: How does WellHouse keep people from ending up back on the streets? [VIDEO]


Written by:  Andrew Donsbach, Apprentice

Tribal Thoughts: Be a part of the conversation.

May 27, 2014

“Local First is about relationships. Relationships between people and businesses and place.” – Elissa Hillary, Executive Director of Local First

One of my favorite things about this community is that there are so many opportunities to get involved and be part of the conversation. If you have questions, an opinion, or if you are just looking to connect and dig a little deeper, many conversations are open for discussion.

We recently began our speaker series titled Community Conversations. Our first guest was Elissa Hillary with Local First. Many of us know Local First as a sticker in the front window or as the hosts of a Street Party every summer. What you may not know, are many of the initiatives that are in place to help local businesses not only grow, but grow responsibly through a certification called B-corp. Local First also supports spending locally by educating consumers on the value of spending dollars at locally owned businesses, specifically by promoting its members.

I have had some people ask what Local First offers its members or say that they don’t know what exactly the organization is all about. My answer is always the same… ask questions and be a part of the conversation! If you have suggestions – offer them. If you want to be involved, but don’t know how – find out. The idea behind the Community Conversation speaker series is just that. A place to learn more, ask questions, offer suggestions, and find out how to get involved.

Our next series is June 16 at 4pm at Osteria Rossa with Tami VandenBerg of Wellhouse. Come with questions!



by Monica Steimle

Raised in Holland and educated at Grand Valley State University, Monica has a passion for West Michigan. Her background in real estate spans over 15 years at some of downtown Grand Rapids’ most well-known commercial real estate companies.

Monica lives with her three children in Belknap Neighborhood. She currently sits on the boards of Local First and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.



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