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Community updates: Friday, March 12

City of Grand Rapids expanding efforts to improve curbside recycling; Kent County Health Department awarded extra COVID-19 vaccines by state for vaccine equity pilot project; new “Women’s Way” downtown mural to feature local Latinx leader Maurilia Ortiz Blakely; and more.
Skyline view of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, facing south.

Skyline view of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, facing south. /Experience Grand Rapids

City of Grand Rapids expanding efforts to improve curbside recycling

A new campaign by the City of Grand Rapids is rolling out this year to educate city households on best practices for curbside recycling, with an emphasis on preventing plastic bags from entering carts, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and nonprofit The Recycling Partnership announced Monday.

The campaign follows a related pilot campaign led by the city last fall, which saw a 40 percent reduction in curbside recycling contamination for the roughly 65 to 75 percent of city households it reached. Bliss and The Recycling Partnership reported that pilot’s success during a Monday press conference, along with details of the campaign ahead.

For the new campaign, the city will again inform residents about acceptable recycling material, such as “yes” for paper, cardboard, and plastic bottles, and “no” for plastic bags, cords, and yard waste. It will do this through fliers, encouraging households with recycling carts who haven’t participated to begin doing so, and a new effort of requiring households that repeatedly put out carts with high levels of contamination to participate in an educational program to have their recycling service returned from shutoff.

Like the city’s fall pilot, it’s working with The Recycling Partnership and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) for the campaign. The city is receiving partial funding for the effort through the EGLE, with that department recently having its funding for recycling projects increased by state legislators from $2 million annually to $15 million per year moving forward, according to the EGLE.

Grand Rapids and communities across West Michigan are excited to continue partnering with EGLE in 2021 to create and expand recycling efforts,” Mayor Bliss said Monday, also referring to $1.2 million in state funding for recycling projects now being awarded to various West Michigan governments, businesses, and nonprofits.

These efforts are aligned with our sustainability goals in that they divert materials from landfills and help grow our local economy by supporting businesses committed to using recovered materials,” she continued.

The city’s new emphasis on preventing plastic bags from entering the recycling stream comes from data gathered from the fall pilot campaign. Called “Feet on the Street,” that campaign saw a team of community-based observers – or "recycling detectives" – visit residents’ recycling carts, review their contents, and leave behind tags with personalized feedback to help the residents recycle better.

The recycling detectives found that the most common mistake residents commit while recycling is inadvertently putting their materials in plastic bags before it goes into bins, as recyclables should be left loose in the curbside cart.

More details about the city's fall Feet on the Street campaign are available on its website.


Kent County Health Department awarded extra COVID-19 vaccines by state for vaccine equity pilot project

The Kent County Health Department (KCHD) joins 21 other Michigan health care providers in being awarded around 2,500 additional COVID-19 vaccine doses each as part of the state’s effort to enhance a vaccine equity strategy.

In total, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) awarded 35,800 doses for the pilot program, it announced Tuesday.

The pilot’s goal is to help remove barriers to vaccine access for Michiganders 60 and older who live in communities with a high Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) and high COVID-19 mortality rates. If providers have additional capacity in their project, they may expand vaccination to include people age 50 to 59 with disabilities or comorbid conditions.

SVI is a tool that uses census data to identify places where a community may have more difficulty preventing human suffering and financial loss in a disaster. It assesses the extent that 15 known indicators are present within a community based on socioeconomic status, family composition and disability, minority status and language, housing, and transportation.

We want to make sure all Michiganders have access to the safe and effective vaccines as we work toward our goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders age 16 and up as quickly as possible," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the MDHHS’ Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy for Health. “Your ability to get a vaccine should not be impacted by whether you are in a rural or urban part of the state, are lower income, are living with a disability, are not fluent in English, or don't have access to a car, a computer, or the internet."

The pilot program providers are expected to receive the vaccine doses this week, according to the MDHHS.

As of Friday, 203,299 Kent County residents so far have been reported as receiving at least one dose of the three federally-authorized vaccines.

Vaccine eligibility in Michigan currently includes residents age 50 and older with medical conditions or disabilities, and caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs. Starting March 22, eligibility will expand to include all Michiganders 16 and older with medical conditions or disabilities, followed by all Michiganders 16 and up on April 5.

More information about vaccine availability in Kent County is available at


GRCC, GVSU to host in-person commencement celebrations this spring

In contrast to last year, in-person commencement celebrations are on track this spring for both Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) and Grand Valley State University (GVSU).

The two schools announced in-person celebrations for 2021 graduates this week, with both adhering to pandemic safety protocols and taking slightly different approaches.

For GRCC’s part, it will spread out ceremonies over two days, April 30 and May 1, limiting the number of guests at each event. There will be two ceremonies per day, all taking place at the college’s Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse.

Students also have the option of participating virtually, and all four ceremonies will be livestreamed.

“Every commencement is a celebration, and this one even more so, as students have faced the challenges of a pandemic and emerged stronger,” GRCC President Bill Pink said. “We want to pay tribute to their determination, rejoice in their success, and recognize the faculty, staff, family, and friends who supported our graduates and encouraged them to move forward.”

GVSU, for its part, will also give students both an in-person and virtual option for its students and their guests.

A virtual-only ceremony will be held April 30. This will be followed by the in-person celebration on May 1 in its Fieldhouse Arena on its Allendale Campus. Prior to last year, GVSU held most of its commencement ceremonies in downtown Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena.

“Our graduates have exemplified hard work and persevered through current challenges,” said GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella. “Although we would have loved to offer the full tradition of commencement, we are grateful that this year we have the opportunity to preserve the time-honored commencement tradition of graduates crossing the stage in front of their supporters, in-person and virtually.”

For the May 1 celebration, graduates will be assigned a time slot when they can walk through the arena and cross the stage and have their photo taken. The ceremony will also be livestreamed so others can join remotely.


New “Women’s Way” downtown mural to feature local Latinx leader Maurilia Ortiz Blakely

An outdoor mural roughly 40-feet tall of local Latinx leader Maurilia Ortiz Blakey will soon be painted in downtown Grand Rapids, as part of an ongoing public art project honoring local women leaders in Grand Rapids’ history.

Called “Women’s Way,” the project has been turning overlooked alleyways in the downtown area into murals of the leaders, painted by local artists. Work began on four previous murals last July that are now complete, and the project is organized by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and various community partners.

Maurilia Ortiz Blakey, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 87, was “a role model, a champion for minority women’s rights, an activist for the poor, and an advocate for higher education,” DGRI said of the leader in a Monday statement.

Blakely helped organize Grand Rapids’ first Mexican Festival in 1969. After graduating from GVSU with a Social Work degree at age 51, she assisted Latinx students, women, migrants, and people experiencing homelessness and unemployment. She also helped to establish the Hispanic Institute, and has received the Grand Rapids Lifetime Achievement Award, among other honors.

Local artist Arturo Romero will start work on the roughly 40-foot tall mural this spring in the alley that runs off Fulton St. between San Chez Bistro and Back Forty Saloon. Romero will paint the mural on the southwest corner of the building that houses San Chez Bistro at 38 Fulton St. W.

The first four murals already painted in the project are of police officer Harriet Woods Hill, civil rights leader Ethel Coe, educator Angeline Kelsey "Naw Kay O Say" Yob, and the Grand Rapids Chicks' 1945 All-American Baseball Team.

More details about the Women’s Way mural project are available at


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