There’s No Place Like Home
How a Major Grant is Enhancing Hope and Holland’s Symbiotic Relationship
“Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without dread of ridicule.
This is home.”
Whether within the intimate confines of four walls or even more expansive city limits, the affectionate constructs of home and hometown go as naturally together as heart and heartbeat. It is that reality that makes Robertson’s words as apropos for 2,000 square feet as they are for 20 square miles. Each deeply affects and assists the other.
It is with this homey affinity in mind — to make hearts confident and honest and affirmed — that a new program has begun at Hope College, one that was recently funded by a 42-month, $800,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Appropriately titled “There’s No Place Like Home,” it brings together Hope faculty and students in the humanities with Holland leaders in the non-profit sector to address “wicked problems” such as food insecurity, affordable housing, health care access, climate change, education equity, social mobility and civic culture. With the grant financially supporting these collaborative community partnerships, Hope faculty and students work alongside local organizations to better the community and its quality of life.
“‘There’s No Place like Home’ connects two of the college’s priorities: providing outstanding, transformational learning experiences for our students, and serving as a resource for the community,” says Hope president Matthew A. Scogin ’02. “At a time when our world is characterized by discord, this grant will provide an opportunity for Hope and Holland to focus on finding harmony in our diversity.”
But why are humanities students and faculty in on these weighty social science topics? Because no true liberal arts education is “siloed” to one discipline or division, of course. Instead, it is found in all areas of learning. And the fundamental questions about the way individuals and societies live — and how and why and when — are at home in the humanities.
And those questions are plentiful for Hope and Holland, just like any home and hometown. To wit: How can and should a vision of home be understood and expanded with diversity and inclusion in mind? How does Hope educate its students to lead and serve the changing local community where they receive their education? What difference does it make? Why does it matter?
Here are some answers to those questions as the first three community partnerships have recently begun.
Food Disparities and Food Justice in Greater Holland
For decades, the Community Action House (CAH) has operated Holland’s largest food pantry to assist roughly 300 families a month who experience food insecurity. But a paradigm shift is in the works, one that emphasizes high-dignity access to affordable, nutritious and culturally relevant food choices at a non-profit, member-based neighborhood grocery store.
When Dr. Berta Carrasco de Miguel, associate professor of Spanish, heard about CAH’s new Food Club, her quintessential passion for giving Hope students community outreach and engagement experiences kicked in. With a $50,000, two-year award through “There’s No Place like Home” in hand, Carrasco de Miguel and a team of Hope students and other faculty are helping CAH discern not only what members would like to see in the Food Club but also why they want certain foods, how they use them, and when they need them.
“Food, culture and identity are three items that go together, and I would argue that without food, you cannot maintain the other two things,” says Carrasco de Miguel, herself an immigrant from Spain.
“We want to create a dignified experience for all Food Club clients,” continues Carrasco de Miguel, whose upper-level course, “Spanish for the Community,” has a popular, outreach-minded curriculum. “The moment they step inside, they feel this is their store. They feel it serves their needs. They feel it serves their traditions and cultures. And it makes justice for them.”
Community Action House director Scott Rumpsa ’01 is delighted to have a Hope team — which besides Carrasco de Miguel also includes Dr. Lauren Janes of the history department, Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño of the world languages and cultures department, Dr. Elizabeth Sharda of the sociology and social work department, and students Kianna Novak and Maggie Gillich — work alongside his staff to reach 1,000 families with Food Club engagement. “Supercharging” is the word he has used to describe how Hope’s participation is affecting CAH efforts. Rather than waiting for people in need to find their way to Food Club, Rumpsa’s staff, in partnership with the Hope team, are marketing the new initiative through interpersonal relationships that provide feedback loops.
“The more folks we have helping us reach out, engage and listen to some of our future members or prospective members [of Food Club], the more relationships we’ll build and that’s so important,” Rumpsa explains. “Those are going to be relationships that we’re able to carry forward as we continue to listen, reflect, adjust and change our services to make sure that they are culturally relevant, that they are meeting true needs, that they are driving the results that we want to see in what’s felt to be a welcoming and inclusive way.
“We’ve prided ourselves in doing as much of that as possible at our food pantry, but with this new Food Club approach along with our partnership with Hope, we’re really looking to supercharge these efforts.”
After diving into relevant readings before beginning her work with CAH, Gillich, a junior Spanish and psychology double major, says her eyes opened even wider to the depth and dynamics of need. She’s been introduced to terms she’s never heard before, such as trauma-informed care, that make her future work with CAH necessary and enlightened.
“I’ve learned food insecurity can cause trauma, or that trauma can be a cause of food insecurity,” says Gillich, who is a fluent Spanish speaker, “and it can be a cycle that is endless for some people. . . . I don’t want to be complicit with anything that deserves justice. So, I honestly hope that in working on this project, I can help support people and have them feel heard.”
That kind of reflection is more than music to Carrasco de Miguel’s ears; it is a lyrical affirmation that the work she does with and for students runs parallel to her own personal mission. “At Hope, we do much more than teach students and focus on our own research,” she exudes. “Helping the community is actually my favorite part of my job.”
Stories of Equity and Hope
Ready for School is a West Michigan-focused organization that helps to prepare children aged one-day-old to five-years-old for success in kindergarten by equipping parents and families through integrated support. As a force multiplier for children and families, the organization’s strategies and projects evolve to fill gaps and test solutions alongside community partners.
Yet, in Holland, disparities continue to exist in kindergarten readiness even though collaborative efforts in health, education and public awareness have increased the preparedness level from 43% in 2009 to 70% in 2019. Now with the assistance of a $10,000 proof-of-concept award through “There’s No Place like Home,” Dr. Jesus Montaño of the English department and Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño of the world languages and cultures department are leading an effort to gather parents’ stories that better identify barriers and close the gap for the last 30%. They are doing so through a qualitative interview process with select parents as opposed to a quantitative survey that randomly reaches hundreds.
“I must admit that when I started seeing this opportunity with Hope and the Mellon Foundation, I was still looking for a quantitative partner,” says Dr. Donna Berkey ’89 Lowry, president and CEO of Holland-area Ready for School. “But the vehicle and the vision of the Montaños with the Mellon grant actually evolved my thinking about what was needed. They and their students have offered up a safe place of hospitality where people can share their own stories. These are not Ready for School stories; they’ve been given to us with consent to advise the work.”
And that is exactly what Montaño had in mind all along – to flip the script on who is considered the “usual expert.”
“When you’re a Hope College professor, people think you have all the answers,” he says. “But we really worked hard to take ourselves out of the expert mode and into the fact-finding, information-finding mode. Because community members, they are the experts, they are the advisors because they know where the struggles are, the obstacles are, the opened and closed doors are. They know this, so we wanted to just center their voices within what we wanted to do.”
Parents like Amanda Reyna ’14 Rios, who also works for Ready for School, appreciated the platform to speak and be heard. More tellingly, she felt that her ideas would be of use.
“At the end of the interview, I was asked, ‘What would be your ideal event or idea of what would take us to the next level to be able to get these things into place [for school readiness]?’ That was exciting to just be able to think about having someone bring our different ideas forward. Even more parents’ input will bring us together as a community of parents because we are going through the same things.”
The collaborative nature of the project has been Postma-Montaño’s favorite part of the partnership. She calls the team members — Dr. Llena Durante ’00 Chavis of the sociology and social work department, Dr. Susanna Childress of the English department, junior Venecia Rodriguez, senior Samuel Vega, Shanley Smith-Poole ’19 and Phil DiCicco ’16 — the “true heroes” of the work. The student and alumni story-gatherers’ empathetic listening and questions especially impress and inspire her. Her interactions with local parents and Ready for School staffers, too, have only affirmed the triad nature of the project.
“It’s not just faculty, not just students and not just people in the community working in isolation, but we are all in on this wicked problem together,” she says. “For me, it’s just been energizing to work on this all together and to really start to see some results and to see some hope.”
Celebrating Holland’s Historical Diversity
Holland, Michigan is understandably equated with Dutch immigrants. There are enough Vander-this and Van-that around town to confirm its historical founding. Yet the community has grown increasingly diverse, with a large and thriving Hispanic population in particular. A look at 2019 demographic data for Holland reveals that 25% of residents are Hispanic or Latino.
Through a partnership with the Holland Museum, Susan Ipri Brown, assistant professor of engineering and director of ExploreHope, and senior Samuel Vega are exploring a portion of the region’s rich and diverse cultural history with a focus on bringing Hispanic voices, contributions and traditions into a digital narrative. To do so, the partners are creating a new interdisciplinary course, “Documenting Holland’s Historical Diversity,” in which Hope students will research a topic significantly impacted by the diverse community of the area, highlighted by a new in-person exhibit opening in August, and then use that material for a set of digital exhibits. The two-year, $50,000 award that the partnership has received through “There’s No Place like Home” is also helping to fund internships for Hope students at the museum, and community programs, lesson plans and field trips to engage local students with the new exhibit portfolio.
“We have a very small staff and budget,” says Ricki Levine, executive director of the Holland Museum. “There are many things on our wish list that just can’t get done due to lack of staff and in some cases, resources. This project and goal to digitize an exhibit is beyond our scope without this partnership. So, working with Susan and her Hope students allows us to move an important community exhibition from a physical space, in place for only six months at a time, to a digital space that allows broader access for a considerably longer period of time. At this point there is no end date for a virtual exhibit. This provides more accessibility and more opportunity for individuals from a broader geographical range to experience the exhibit.”
How did Ipri Brown, an engineering professor, become interested in humanities inquiry for the community? It was a no-brainer really. She’s been about outward-looking, interdisciplinary work for much of her career at Hope.
“With ExploreHope, it is about sharing a lifelong love of learning with the community,” she says. “And so everything that I do is about that community interaction. Now I’m asking, ‘How do we excite our Hope students to be part of their interdisciplinary education and see the value of these partnerships?’”
Vega is a Holland native, and he has seen the value of such endeavors for much of his life in the area. The chance to play a part in leaving a lasting impact by bringing historical Hispanic narratives to light has been acutely meaningful for him as he works as Ipri Brown’s teaching assistant and the museum’s intern.
“I hope that the Hope community especially would be able to feel more challenged to explore the stories that often go unheard because, in many ways, those seem to have more value,” says Vega, an English-creative writing major and Spanish minor. “When I think about what it means to create a ‘legacy,’ a good place to start would be to invest in something where you might not see the immediate rewards. While we are just getting started with this project, there is nevertheless something beautiful about having hope for what’s to come because of the work you do for others beforehand.”
To learn more about how The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports numerous programs at Hope, go to: hope.edu/mellon