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"Gifts for the Greater Good: Philanthropy in West Michigan"


articlesweb.org

Patrick Center
August 6, 2013 | WGVU  In a Grand Rapids south side neighborhood, there’s that house.

“All of this was high grass and all that was bush. They ended up cutting this down and mowing it.”

A dozen teens pushing lawnmowers, swinging weed whackers and handling hedge trimmers are cutting back the overgrowth.

“I think we do a pretty good job”

“They’re not from this direct neighborhood, but they’re neighborhood kids.”

From her porch, sitting in the warmth of the summer sun, those kids are warming Pauline MacGregor’s heart. It’s her side yard, the size of a vacant lot, that’s in disarray. She tells me, had it not been for doctor’s orders, she’d have kept it up like she has in the past, the envy of the neighborhood.

“October last year that’s when I stopped working on my yard and stuff because my knee was getting worse. That’s when it started getting overgrown and then when spring came…”

Then came a call from the neighborhood association, the one MacGregor is a member, offering an assist.

“This is the YES Program from The Other Way Ministries. We hire 12 students from the west side of Grand Rapids. Most of our teens this year are 14 or 15 and they’re paid minimum wage, paid by the hour.”

Kelli Kortman is YES Supervisor and a student at Calvin College.

“In the morning we mow. This year we have about 80 lawns. Tuesday to Thursday we divide those up.”

“I’ve been going to The Other Way since I was about six. So, I always knew about this program. I finally got old enough to put in an application and I got accepted.”

That’s Tatyanna Joiner. She’s 15 years old and she’s waited a long time to land this summer job.

“How much an hour? I think about $7.40.”

Sure, the YES program is about providing summer jobs for inner city teens, but it’s also an opportunity to serve the community.

“It’s very important. These kids love their community and since working here I’ve really come to appreciate it as well. Part of the aspect is we’re out of their community now but many of the lawns are in their community. So not only is the community serving them they’re also serving the community. And people in the community know about the YES Program so when they see our bright orange shirts, we have orange shirts this year, when they see them they get excited. Most of the kids know the people around so it’s really neat.”

What are they learning about themselves?

"Hopefully, you know, what it means to work hard and what it takes to work hard, but also who’s a leader, who’s a follower, who has a servant heart. How to work as a team? We try to emphasis the choices you make every choice has a consequence. So, when it counts you have to make that right choice and a good choice and if you make the bad choice you know you have to realize that there’ll be repercussions and go from there. So, Dave and I spend time one-on-one, like I spend time with the girls getting to know them a little bit trying to help them walk through because 14 to 15 for anybody is rough.”

YES is also exposing these teens to many aspects of life.

“Different classes and experience. So like yesterday we toured G.R.C.C., we have a cooking class lined up with the YMCA so we’ll be doing that for six weeks. And we do money management and relationships. We’ve been taking them to the Calvin College Gym and doing a health and fitness aspect so this week we’ve been playing dodge ball for an hour and a half. Very well rounded! Yep, that’s the idea. Trying to get a lot of different experiences and open different interests. We’ve already taken a trip down to a horse place down in Alto, Michigan and the kids spent two hours, not horse therapy but learning from horses. My dad took them tubing so that was really fun. That was our first Friday activity. We try to do a lot of different stuff. So it’s not just a work program? No, we’re trying to make sure it involves all parts of life.”

And the people they’ll encounter along the way.

“Today we met the lady who rents this house. They have met a lot of people who they mow for. It’s very important. A lot of times we make sure that they’re the ones who are interacting with them to get that experience, you know, talking to a stranger. Working with the people is part of the job, and part of the time and part of the unpredictability of everything.”

“I talked with a few of them at first I said, ‘Are you tired yet?’ They said, ‘Are you enjoying it yet? Uh, not really.’”

For MacGregor its a few moments to chat and say, “Thank you.”

“It gives me a good feeling because she’s nice and she deserves this.”

“I think this helps them to understand what community is all about. This is community.”

“Gifts for the Greater Good: Philanthropy in West Michigan” is underwritten by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

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