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Bringing neighborhoods together to keep young people in Michigan

community meeting
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
"Generation X and Y for Michigan" founder Johannah Jelks (right) brainstroms with others on ways to improve neighborhoods in Grand Rapids.

A community organizer in Grand Rapids is trying to improve neighborhoods to keep young people from moving out of the state.

“Neighborhoods are sellable. Young people have a hard time right now staying in Michigan because they feel that there’s not the same cultural aspects or the opportunities for growth like in bigger cities,” Johannah Jelks said.

24-year-old Jelks started the grassroots group “Generation X & Y for MI” a few years ago as her peers were moving out of Michigan. “But actually if you look on a micro-scale neighborhoods have been attracting young talent at a rapid rate,” Jelks said.

Sure, Grand Rapids’ economy is faring better than other major Michigan cities but Jelks says the same thing is happening in vibrant Detroit neighborhoods like Corktown and Midtown. She says these neighborhoods are attractive and have an x-factor, or an identity; like East Hills, Eastown, Heartside and Heritage Hill neighborhoods in Grand Rapids.

She kicked off a series of community meetings Thursday night to brainstorm ways to improve all neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. She says if more leaders from the city’s 32 neighborhoods got together regularly they could probably help each other solve common problems and advocate for federal and state policies that help neighborhoods.

"A lot of the neighborhoods' organizers aren't familiar with each other at all," Jelks said. She wants the groups to meet regularly to share ways to improve public safety, neighborhood schools, business opportunities, and housing access.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s investigative reporter. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor and West Michigan Reporter.
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