The Rapidian

Project Neighborhood houses: a neighborly endeaver

Linnea, a student from Calvin College, describes her experiences living at the Project Calvin House.
Underwriting support from:
Neighbors enjoy activities at a Block Party held by the Nizhoni House.

Neighbors enjoy activities at a Block Party held by the Nizhoni House.

By Linnea

Tucked away amidst a flourishing business district, a vibrant neighborhood association, and several active non-profits, two intentional community houses also call the Creston neighborhood home. The Nizhoni and Travis Street houses are part of Calvin College’s Project Neighborhood Program, where students live together in community and invest in the surrounding neighborhood through volunteer work and daily interactions.

“College kids bring a certain vitality to a neighborhood,” says Andrew Harmon, a former Nizhoni resident who now lives one block away. “Sometimes that means loud raucous parties, but in this case, the Travis and Nizhoni students are new young neighbors that sit on porches, walk around the neighborhood, occasionally plan a block party or similar community event, and only rarely have loud parties.”

The houses are co-ed communities of about six students and one or two mentors who share groceries, common meals, house meetings, and devotional times together each week. The students also volunteer in the Creston neighborhood and host community events. Neighbor Daina Kraai describes the program as “a learning opportunity [for students] to see what it takes to invest in a neighborhood and what it's like to be a good neighbor.”

Noah Kruis, another neighbor and former Nizhoni mentor, feels that the houses “provide some youthful investment into the community, both from students who live there for a year, and from some graduates who have settled more permanently into the community,” such as Harmon. “Nizhoni has even been recognized by CNA as the volunteer of the year!”In addition to volunteering with the Creston Neighborhood Association, students have been involved with Catherine’s Health Center, New City Urban Farm, the Creston Community Gardens, local animal shelters and Creston Christian Reformed Church, of which Kraai and Kruis are members. The church actually owns the Nizhoni house and partners with Calvin College to support the program, making its relationship with the house a special one.

The biggest challenge for students and neighbors is the yearly turn-over within the house. “College students are by their nature transient, so neighbors have to start over every year getting to know a new batch of them,” explains Kruis. Harmon agrees that “only having nine months to live there made it easy to feel transient.” But Harmon’s commitment to the neighborhood has lasted more than nine months, and this year four other alumni of the program have returned to the neighborhood as residents.

Despite the transience, students still value their time in that community. Former Nizhoni resident Katie Lampen describes it as an “environment that asks [students] and their neighbors to reach out to one another to build relationships and, therefore, a stronger, closer community in Creston.” Current Nizhoni resident Nic Scobey is also hopeful that “the houses bring down barriers among age and social classes,” since the program locates students in neighborhoods that are more diverse than the college setting.

The commute to Calvin from Creston is not a short one, but Noah’s wife Megan Kruis hopes students can embrace this not as an inconvenience but an opportunity “to really see that [neighborhood] as your place.” Likewise, the Kruises hope the neighborhood can continue to embrace the students. “Get to know them,” Noah urges other neighbors. “Model for students what it looks like to be an engaged member of your community. Invite them to your home or to events in the neighborhood so that they can see what life in a neighborhood can really look like.”

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.

Browse