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enCompass Fall 2011 Newsletter.

April 11, 2010

By Susan Harrison-Wolffis

Muskegon Chronicle

On April 21, Jeff Glass and a crew from the Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Program at Community enCompass will pack their tool bags and head for Haiti, ready to lend a hand at an orphanage destroyed in January’s earthquake.

For a week, they’ll pound nails, erect walls, do whatever’s necessary to rebuild an orphanage run by the Soleil Foundation in Liogane, which is 12 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

“I don’t know exactly what we’ll be doing yet,”says Glass, who is a licensed residential builder and site supervisor for the program most people shorten to simply YEP!!

“All I know is we’ll go as a team, and we’ll work as a team.”

What makes YEP!’s mission trip different from other church and service organizations is that they have to leave a house they’re renovating at 1439 Terrace in inner-city Muskegon to volunteer in Haiti.

Two of the YEP! participants — Joshua Stewart, 22, and Jesus Ahumada, 21 — will accompany Glass on the trip to Haiti. Neither has ever been out of the United States.

“This is going to be such good training,” Glass says. “To see how others live … when we’re done, I know it’s going to change our lives.”

Two other construction workers will go on the trip, as well.

YEP! is a state-funded program for “at-risk”unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 22, run with the express purpose of teaching them both “life and work skills” on the job. It is a partnership of AmeriCorps, Goodwill Industries, the Department of Employment and Training and Community enCompass.

Community enCompass received a grant to buy properties in the McLaughlin Neighborhood to be renovated and eventually sold.

Currently seven young men and women are in the program.

“I can brag about these kids all day,” Glass says. “This is the coolest job I’ve ever had.”

Community enCompass — which was formed in 2007 when Bethany Housing Ministries and Sacred Suds merged — is a Christian community development organization for the McLaughlin Neighborhood in Muskegon.

The home at 1439 Terrace is YEP!’ s second project. Last year, the crew rehabilitated a house at 235 E. Larch where a family, who was once homeless, now lives.

The organization’s vision is for a “restored neighborhood” in the city — and now, as volunteers on a mission trip, in Haiti.

“Sometimes we have to help our neighbors wherever we can,”Glass says. “We’re completing the circle … giving back to others. That makes this so unique.”

Volunteers have held a series of fundraisers to make the $4,500 necessary to get the five-member crew to Haiti. Glass says they are within $1,000 of making their goal.

“Originally, I was going to go and just help out myself,”he said. But when these guys heard what I was doing, they wanted to help out, too.

The orphanage where they’ll be working was established by Paul Cormier of Bay City, chief of the Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Unit. Cormier divides his time between Bay City and Liogane, which was at the epicenter of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. The devastation — as many as 90 percent of the buildings are damaged — is  “unimaginable,” Glass says.

“What an awesome opportunity to serve others,” says Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, director of Community enCompass. “All I can say is it’s going to be powerfully changing for everyone involved.”

©2010 Muskegon Chronicle

Building a Hoop House

November 29th, 2009

November 29, 2009

By Dave Alexander

Muskegon Chronicle

A hoop house is being assembled at the McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm which will help extend the growing season. The half-acre farm is located behind the Goodwill Industries of West Michigan”s corporate headquarters. The hoop house will extend the growing season at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm.Community enCompass is taking the concept of the urban garden to the next level. Officials call it urban farming.

Playing off the successful half-acre garden plot that grew last summer on a vacant lot owned by Goodwill Industries, the Christian community development organization in Muskegon’s McLaughlin Neighborhood has created the McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm at Iona and Sophia streets.

With the help of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County and its Richard and Marilyn Witham Fund, the urban farm is adding “hoop houses” to extend the growing season year-round. The idea is to create business opportunities during economonically tough times.

McLaughlin Grows is a for-profit, micro-enterprise venture designed to produce locally grown, healthy food; energize the neighborhood; and provide potential employment opportunities. The foundation funding — more than $50,000 — has given McLaughlin Grows coordianator Teri VanHall three years to make the urban farm a viable, self-sustaining operation.

“Urban agriculture initiatives are springing up across the United States,” Community enCompass Director Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga said. “It is exciting to see Muskegon on the cutting edge of this trend.”

Teri VanHall, program coordinator for McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, left, Tom Pastoor, president of McLaughlin Neighborhood Association and board member of Community enCompass, center, along with help from a You Turn student, work on affixing the metal supports for a hoop house that is being assembled behind the Goodwill Industries of West Michigan”s corporate headquarters. The hoop house will extend the growing season at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm. (You Turn students cannot be identified by name nor can you show faces.) Date shot: 11/18/09Community enCompass and Goodwill have an agreement for the use of the vacant lot. The McLaughlin Grows initial farm garden began in May with plantings of greens, tomatoes, peppers, okra, cabbage, squash and other crops.

The business used neighborhood youth workers through the Muskegon County Department of Employment and Training to keep the garden going throughout the summer along with providing volunteer opportunities for local residents.

The vegetable harvest off an initial 2,400-square-foot plot was sold on site, through a stand at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market and to the nearby Mia & Grace restaurant, which practices “farm-to-table” food sourcing.

The estimated future revenues for the urban farm are annually about $12,500 per hoophouse and another $12,500 from the outdoor garden, VanHall said.

McLaughlin Grows is practicing organic farming, said VanHall, who was trained in the agriculture processes through Michigan State University. The urban lot was a good producer, she said.

“I was amazed at the amount of glass we were picking out of the soil all summer,” VanHall said. “But even with the sandy soil, we had a real good harvest.”

With the garden done for the year, the “hoop house” project is under way. Plans are for two 96- by 30-foot passive solar growing shelters. The first $16,000 unit from a manufacturer in New Hampshire already is in place. It will have electric fans for an efficient growing operation.

The hoop house is made of a metal frame covered with clear plastic sheeting. VanHall said that greens and root crops will be able to grow throughout the winter and seedlings for the next growing season can get an early start in shelter.

Dick Witham has a passion for helping create economic opportunities in Muskegon’s urban neighborhoods. He is a retired industrialist who is the former owner and president of the Michigan Spring Co.

“I’m 71 years old and I want to use my skills to create an environment where people grow and prosper,” Witham said about his community foundation fund’s support of McLaughlin Grows.

“I was encouraged to leave Muskegon when I sold my company, but I was born and raised here and I care about seeing this county thrive and prosper,” he said. “This is better than any business that I’ve every been involved in — it’s exciting.”

Turning the McLaughlin Grows into a sustainable business will be a challenge, VanHall said. The micro-business will need a successful marketing plan and might need subsidized labor to make it profitable, she said.

Outside of the employment and profits that could be generated off the urban farm, Tom Pastoor said the initial Community enCompass already is transforming the neighborhood. Pastoor is president of the McLaughlin Neighborhood Association and a Community enCompass board member.

“The neighborhood is abuzz with the fact that something is happening,” Pastoor said of an urban area in Muskegon that has been hit hard by the economic downturn. “People are engaging. Maybe it’s not cool any longer to sit back and watch.

“Even in these dire economic times, this absolutely brings a sense of hope,” he said of a neighborhood in which he has lived for 30 years.

VanHall hopes to spread the farm activities of McLaughlin Grows to other urban areas of Muskegon where vacant land awaits. Urban argiculture is taking hold in cities such as Flint and Detroit as well as Muskegon, she said.

“It’s about people reclaiming their neighborhoods and producing fresh, healthy food,” VanHall said. “Hopefully, this will be a model for other lots.”

©2009 Muskegon Chronicle

Youths Learn Skills

September 26th, 2009

September 26, 2009

By Teresa Taylor Williams9

Muskegon Chronicle

Josh Stewart, 21, of Muskegon, works on sweeping debris from a house at 1439 Terrace in the McLaughlin neighborhood. Stewart is working on renovating the house as part of the Community enCompass Youth Employment Program, which he has been involved with for over six months. The programs gives area youth ages 18-22 the opportunity for part time work that benefits the neighborhood.The house on 1439 Terrace will remain under construction during the fall. And just as the structure is under renovation, so are the young people who are working on it.

Starting last summer, about five young adults began learning about home improvement. Outdoors, they poured cement for the porch and driveway, and installed windows outside. In the coming colder months, their focus will shift inside the two-story house on rewiring, heating, plumbing, and lead abatement.

The young adults are participants in YEP, a Youth Entrepreneurship/Employment Program run by Community enCompass. In its second year, YEP employs at-risk Muskegon young adults ages 18-22.

Several of them are parents, and attend school at local adult education programs.

The jobs in YEP range from construction to landscaping. It is a partnership of AmeriCorps, the Department of Employment and Training, Goodwill Industries and Community enCompass.

The experience working on the roof, learning to use different saws and tearing down walls has confirmed to David Watt, 19, that he wants a career in construction.

“I’m going to stick with this as long as I can,” said Watt, who said he uses the money to help support his 2-year-old daughter. Watt, a high school droput, plans to return to school to get his General Education Development diploma.

The first project last year was rehabbing a house at 235 E. Larch, where a formerly homeless family now resides.

The idea for the program was born out of concerns from people in the McLaughlin neighborhood area that young people don’t have anything constructive to do. The initiative was created when Community enCompass received a state grant to buy properties and turn them into affordable housing.

“We went door to door, asking neighbors what they envisioned for a better neighborhood,” said Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, Community enCompass director. “It’s awesome to see kids from the neighborhood, working in the neighborhood. It’s incredible when a kid can take their mom or grandma down the street and say, ‘I’m working on that house to make it more livable.’”

Formed in 2008, Community enCompass is the product of a merge between Bethany Housing Ministries and Sacred Suds. The mission of the faith-based ministry, 1105 Terrace, is “to empower people and build community in the McLaughlin Neighborhood area by sharing God’s love, as we walk alongside neighbors, seeking justice and a better quality of life for all through long-term, sustainable changes.”

The work isn’t glamorous, and each worker may earn a maximum of 30 hours minimum wage. By the end of summer, the number of participants dwindled from 20 to a handful.

But the ones who remain have been faithful, and have bonded with one another, said YEP Coordinator Michaell Espinoza.

David

“Many of them have been homeless or had other issues. We’ve had some who just couldn’t cut it and stopped coming,” said Espinoza. “But the ones who do, they look out for each other. They share their personal lives with us, and we try to help them” with different community resources, he said.

“All we can do is provide the opportunity and the means for success,” said Espinoza. “It was definitely a call that needed answering.”

The students are grateful for the work and experience.

While working on the house on a hot August day, youth and young adults walked slowly past.

Josh Stewart, 21, said he hopes the work experience will help him find a job using his hands.

“I can’t see myself behind a desk,” said Josh Stewart, 21, while working on the outside of the house on a recent hot day. “Working here you learn so much. Plus, it’s some sort of income. It’s hard to come across a job in this city.”

Steven Grabinski, 20, worked on the Larch home last year. He has graduated from Glenside Adult Education, has a steady job, and expects to be in his own place soon.

It’s a step up for a young man who not long ago was on probation for something he did as a juvenile.

“The whole goal is to get you out on your own and to get better employment opportunities,” he said.

Working alongside the students was Jeff Glass, site supervisor and experienced builder. “We’re trying to teach them a trade. They’re sharp kids and they learn fast,” said Glass. “We only meet a couple times a week, but we want to give them as much experience as we can, in all aspects of construction.

“It gives them some sort of hope and something to do in an economy that’s so bad,” said Glass.

The lone female in the program is Katherine Slocum, 19. She worked on the Larch house last year, as well as the one on Terrace.

She attends adult education, and her daughter will be 2 in November. “It’s exciting to look at something and say, ‘Wow, I did that.’”

©2009 Muskegon Chronicle

July 9, 2008
By Teresa Taylor Williams
Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON — On a sweltering day in June, Debbie Conyers of Muskegon was all smiles as she tossed a load of clothes in the washing machine at Sacred Suds.
IF YOU GO

  • What: Arts & Crafts Fair to benefit Sacred Suds, 289 E. Larch, a low-cost community laundromat.
  • When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 25.
  • Where: Pocket Park, located at Terrace Street and Isabella Avenue.
  • Admission: Free, proceeds go toward the operation of Sacred Suds.

Living on disability, her budget is tight. So at $1 per load, she”s been using the low-cost facility for nearly a year.

“It”s been a Godsend for me. By the time utilities and rent are paid, there”s nothing left for the laundromat,” she said. “If it weren”t for my mother bringing me here, I”d probably (do laundry) in the sink or tub.”

The nonprofit ministry center offers a variety of services, including access to shower and laundry facilities. It operates under the umbrella of Community enCompass — a resource center for the neighbors in McLaughlin Neighborhood, who may participate in the neighborhood walking program, the Garden of Hope and use the computer center.

To help with the cost of maintaining the laundry facility, they”re hosting an art fair in nearby Pocket Park. Vendors are primarily local artists.

The park used to be an overgrown, abandoned lot with lots of broken glass. But Community enCompass volunteers have cleaned it up, and it”s a gathering spot, community garden and playground, according to Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, executive director of Community enCompass.

The “laundromat and outreach ministry” began in 2002, and was the creation of several downtown Muskegon churches and social agencies. It couldn”t operate without volunteers and donations.

The intent was to help people maintain their dignity and improve personal hygiene, and also help remove barriers to employment.

Clients include teens from broken homes, single mothers, senior citizens and the working poor.

Using the laundry facilities is by appointment only, with two loads of laundry per appointment. To use the shower, no appointment is needed, and toiletries are provided.

Sacred Suds is open 9 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays each week.

“Our clientele is anyone with no washing machine who cannot afford to go to a laundromat,” said Judy Smith, program manager. “We”re trying to double our capacity because the need is increasing. We”re seeing a weeklong waiting list for appointments, and if you have clothing to wash, you typically don”t want to wait too long.”

Sacred Suds can always use dry laundry detergent and the help of volunteers. For more information, call 726-4161.

©2009 Muskegon Chronicle

June 1, 2009 – The Christian Reformed Church Foundation has released a list of the churches and other organizations that have been awarded final grants from the Sea to Sea Bicycle Tour 2008.

But a simple list only hints at the outreach work these churches and other organizations are doing in the name of Christ. Each of these ministries is following the mandate of Jesus to bring hope and healing into the entire world, especially to the less fortunate.

In all, the CRC foundation has given out about $350,000 in grants to churches and other organizations who have programs that fight poverty in North America and abroad. The first few grants were announced in February. In most cases, the awards are modest and are intended to help groups that have begun or are starting transformational ministries.

Of the $1.5 million in proceeds raised by the tour last summer, a large portion of it went to CRC agencies and groups, including the Reformed Church in America, that are battling poverty in a variety of ways.

More than 200 riders participated in the cross-country tour that raised money to fund poverty-reduction programs around the world.

Jerry Dykstra, executive director of the CRCNA, said he was pleased the CRCNA could give so much to such a wide range of poverty-reduction programs and ministries. He and his wife participated on the final leg of the tour.

In the final round, the foundation gave $10,000 to Urban Promise Ministries in Vancouver, British Columbia, to provide after school programs and summer camps for children, youth, and young adults in under-resourced neighborhoods. The Leadership Development for Youth program mentors and trains youth to be leaders for the younger children’s programs. This grant will help fund the leadership program. Cyclist Hilena Zylstra has become a part of this ministry since the Sea to Sea tour.

Other winners include:

Immanuel Christian Reformed Church – Hamilton, Ontario, got $2,200 to help start a Home with a Heart program in their community. This program is a homemaking school for single moms that teaches them how to effectively manage their homes and gives them a network of support. This grant will help offset childcare and curriculum expenses.

East Valley Reformed Church – Yakima, Washington, received $5,000 to help purchase equipment for its food distribution center called The Pantry. One aspect of this program gives vegetable starts and seeds to individuals currently receiving aid. These participants grow food for their own families and donate a portion back to the pantry. The Sea to Sea funds will go to purchasing a large cooler to store refrigerated items.

Madison Ave. Crossroads Community Ministries Inc. – Paterson, New Jersey, has been given $3,375 to provide scholarships to a summer day camp. This year, funding for scholarships, an important part of this ministry, had been down.

Oakdale Neighbors – Grand Rapids, Michigan, received $7,500 to help start up a bike shop where people can learn how to ride, repair, and refurbish bicycles. Oakdale Neighbors is a community development organization in southeast Grand Rapids that is looking for innovative ways to revitalize the neighborhood.

Artesia City Church – Artesia, California, received $7,500 to help open an Indian Friendship Center in the “Little India” community of Artesia to reach out to the Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim communities. This center will operate as a senior citizen community center, after school program location, wellness center, and occupation, career, and employment desk.

Awake Church – Seattle, Washington, got $7,500 to help educate participants in need in financial matters while helping them save money so that they can move into more stable housing. The Awake Church is located in a heavily transient area of Seattle with many individuals using motels as housing due to lack of resources.

Coit Community CRC – Grand Rapids, Michigan, will use its $7,500 to help fund a community transformation project which provides programs for members of the neighborhood. These programs include community service facilitation, men’s and women’s groups, outreach to ex-offenders, and evangelism/community service/anti-racism ministries.

Community Christian Reformed Church – Wyoming, Michigan, has been awarded $7,500 to help host a Financial Peace University financial and budgeting class to teach community members a new way to look at their finances.

Crosswinds Community Church – Holland, Michigan, has been given $7,500 to help sustain five families with food for one year. The church has a ministry that distributes food to those in need on a weekly basis and builds mentoring relationships with the recipients.

Family of Faith Church – Kennewick, Washington, will use its $7,500 to help mentor a growing population of Karen refugees from Thailand. Family of Faith Church has set up a church learning center where refugees can learn English. This grant will go to fund the center and provide materials for the classes.

First Christian Reformed Church – London, Ontario, will use its $5,000 to bolster a street level arts-based initiative for youth in the London area called the Mess. The program provides a meal, a time for youth to express themselves creatively, and a community for its participants. This grant will help expand the Mess to include a summer session.

Monroe Community Church – Grand Rapids, Michigan, will use its $2,500 to provide food for people in the community. They would like to expand this work by providing fresh produce and planting a community garden. This grant will fund this expansion.

New City Church – Jersey City, New Jersey, has received $7,500 to help sustain a program that works with local youth by creating internship and mentoring opportunities.

On the House Church – Grand Haven, Michigan, has been awarded $1,000 to help set up a new cell group in inner-city Muskegon. This grant will go to funding this group for one year with the hope that after a year the group will be flourishing.

The Journey Christian Reformed Church – Kitchener, Ontario, has been awarded $10,000 to help fund a program called the Love K-W, which encourages members of the church to get out into the community and perform acts of service, and Intercultural (Refugee) Connections, which offers programs and mentors for new immigrants in the area.

North American Affiliate ACLCP – Sioux Center, Iowa, has been awarded $2,000 that will be used in an outreach effort in the Ivory Coast to help provide families with a source of income. This grant from Sea to Sea will help with many of the projects including relocating a feed mill, which would create many jobs, and raising several profitable animals including grasscutters, chickens, and snails.

Caregiving Network, Inc. – Midland, Michigan, was awarded $5,000 to help expand its food pantry with money to go toward the purchase of a walk-in freezer.

Community enCompass – Muskegon, Michigan, will use its $7,500 to expand seminars and workshops for church leaders to help them create development ministries for those in poverty in their own communities. They would like to take this to another level by working one on one with churches to help them develop their own plans and programs.

East Central Ministries, Inc. – Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been awarded $7,500 to help staff a food co-op that serves over 120 families. The ministry also plans to offer classes that will service at least 500 people. Initially these programs were run by volunteers, but it became apparent that some part-time staff was needed. This grant will go to pay for staff to run the food co-op program.

Ionia Celebration Fellowship Prison Congregation – Grand Rapids, Michigan, will uses its $7,500 to hire a Reentry Spiritual Support Coordinator to work with the volunteers and make sure they have the training needed to help inmates make the transition from prison to society.

Lao/Bild Committee of North America – Sioux Center, Iowa, has been awarded $7,500 to help purchase wheelchairs for those who need them, and allow leaders to attend training sessions and pay for staff expense. The Lao/Bild Committee of North America is working in the country of Laos planting churches and aiding the disabled.

Lincoln Nebraska Reintegration Program – Lincoln, Nebraska, will use its $7,400 to expand classes offered to inmates, former inmates, and others in recovery to help them as they reintegrate into society.

Network of Business Professionals – Lombard, Illinois, will use its $7,500 to help in its effort to alleviate poverty through economic development in Nicaragua by mentoring, training, and providing access to capital for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.

New Hope Community – Haledon, New Jersey, has been awarded $7,500 to hold a Jobs for Life class, which will provide job training and support for those wishing to find employment.

Streams of Hope – Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been awarded $7,500 to help six churches in the Kelloggsville community provide programming for elementary-age children. This gift will help Streams of Hope to expand to include middle-school-age children.

The Bridge – Orange City, Iowa, has been given $7,500 to build a playground for children its serves. The Bridge offers transitional housing for women and children who are homeless or near homeless in the rural counties of northwest Iowa.

Canadian Sudanese Volunteers for Development – London, Ontario, will use its $10,000 grant to outfit 100 students with school supplies, purchase 45 desks and chairs, and buy textbooks for students in a school in Nairobi, Kenya, for Sudanese refugees.

Christian Veterinary Missions of Canada – Ancaster, Ontario, has been awarded $10,000 to assist the group in its partnerships with organizations in Sierra Leone to help provide impoverished communities with sustainable sources of income by setting up poultry farms.

Grimsby Affordable Housing Partnership – Grimsby, Ontario, will use its $10,000 to bolster its current programs which provide supportive, transitional housing for low income, at-risk residents.

Hannah House Maternity Home – Niagara Falls, Ontario, has been awarded $10,000 help cover costs for program materials, advertising, staff salary, and community counseling in the home that offers young, single moms a 17-week program to help move them away from poverty and towards employability and self-sufficiency.

Sonshine Society of Christian Community Services – Calgary, Alberta, will use its $10,000 to help pay for security personnel, as well as cover the salary and benefits for a follow-up counselor and a child support worker. The group offers residential and counseling programs for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

Arab-American Friendship Center – Dearborn, Michigan, has been awarded $7,500 to hire a teacher for English as a Second Language and citizenship classes for Arab Americans who visit the center.

Association for a More Just Society – Grand Rapids, Michigan, will use its $7,500 to focus on labor rights and provide legal services to people facing human rights challenges in Honduras.

Community Area Resource Enterprise – Gallup, New Mexico, will use its $7,500 to help sustain a program that provides transitional housing for homeless men while they deal with the root causes of their homelessness.

Kingdom Causes Bellflower – Bellflower, California, will use its $7,500 to bolster

Good Soil Industries, which is a nonprofit, temporary employment, landscaping agency that employs recovering homeless people and addicts as they re-enter society.

New Way Ministry – Lynden, Washington, will use its $7,500 grant to help homeless women and children by offering them shelter and other opportunities.

The Micah Center – Grand Rapids, Michigan, will use its $500 to get up and running in its effort to educate and mobilize Christians in the area of social justice.

Word of Truth International Ministries – Tukwila, Washington, will use its $5,000 to expand its programs to the diverse community it serves by providing technology classes and making computers more accessible.

Zuni Christian Mission School – Zuni, New Mexico, has been awarded $7,500 to add a counseling program to help their Native American students in K-8th grade to develop a practical vision for the future.

—Chris Meehan, CRC Communications, Errin Swett, CRC Foundation.

Neighborhood to get new park

January 2nd, 2009

January 2, 2008
By Robert Burns
Muskegon Chronicle

Muskegon’s McLaughlin Neighborhood Association isn’t content to let vacant lots just stay that way forever.

Instead of merely watching as they attract weeds and trash, the group has been busy turning some empty lots into community gardens, playgrounds and other spaces that encourage passive recreation.

Most recent of those is an expanse of empty land at Terrace Street and Isabella Avenue, covering about one-fourth of a full city block.

Since the neighborhood has no city park of its own, Tom Pastoor, head of the association, said his group wanted to create one there.

The association already has a long-term lease on property in the 1200 block of Terrace, plus a maintenance agreement with the city for land fronting Isabella.

But the current zoning — single-family residential — does not permit such things as parks.

So earlier this month, Pastoor went to the Muskegon Planning Commission with a request that the land be rezoned from single-family residential to “open space recreation,” which includes “parks, playgrounds and playfields” as permitted uses.

Pastoor said the association wants to erect a picnic shelter, benches and other park-like amenities. But such upgrades are not permitted under residential zoning without a principal structure on the property.

Planning commissioners approved it unanimously, after a brief discussion that ascertained that the association would maintain the park and set policies covering such matters as insurance, hours of use and rules governing any special events held there.

Pastoor said he hoped the park would help bring neighborhood residents together, just as community gardens in the same area have done in recent years.

The “Garden of Hope” — undertaken in conjunction with nearby Sacred Suds, a ministry of Community enCompass — is at Terrace and Larch Avenue, where neighbors gather to plant flowers and vegetables.

A similar garden, known as the “Gentle Garden,” is several blocks away at Terrace and Diana Avenue.

©2009 Muskegon Chronicle