[cmsmasters_row data_padding_bottom=”50″ data_padding_top=”0″ data_bg_parallax_ratio=”0.5″ data_bg_size=”cover” data_bg_attachment=”scroll” data_bg_repeat=”no-repeat” data_bg_position=”top center” data_color=”default” data_bot_style=”default” data_top_style=”default” data_padding_right=”3″ data_padding_left=”3″ data_width=”boxed”][cmsmasters_column data_width=”1/1″][cmsmasters_text animation_delay=”0″]
By Camille Allen, communications intern
Live jazz, soul food, spoken word and poetry: this is what any given first Friday of the month can look like for CEDAM member Linc Up, an organization that once primarily focused on affordable housing but has expanded to become a community revitalization agency in Grand Rapids.
For the past six years Linc Up has hosted an event on the first Friday of every month where neighbors, friends and coworkers alike can get together and socialize in a relaxed environment. The organization saw a demand for something that wasn’t being met by anyone else in Grand Rapids. What started as an idea is now a monthly happening, drawing in a couple hundred people to each event.
“Grand Rapids just does not have African American oriented entertainment options for professionals,” said Jeremy DeRoo, executive director of Linc Up. “We wanted to create a professional environment where you can run into people in an informal setting, meet some new folks or have a place where you can reconnect with old friends that is an authentic experience.”
Though First Friday is a night of entertainment and socializing, it also serves as a way to change economic patterns in Grand Rapids. By increasing social connectivity, the event aims to bring people together and further build the networks that residents naturally have, and a great place to start is with good food, good music and a good environment.
DeRoo noted that the organization has seen projects set in motion and business move forward because of the connections people have made at First Friday.
Linc Up centers all of its efforts around four core ideals. The first is Who You Know, which deals largely with the networks that form within communities that have a positive effect on engagement and development. The second is What You Know. Focusing on education, the organization provides leadership training services. The third core concept is Where You Live, which includes Linc Up’s affordable housing developments and neighborhood revitalization efforts. The fourth and final concept is What You Make, which centers around business development. Linc Up assists businesses and programs throughout the city and provides co-workspace at an affordable price. These core ideals intersect to foster resilient neighborhoods.
“Neighborhood revitalization is important because where you come from contributes to where you’re going in your life, and some neighborhoods produce different results,” DeRoo said. “Some perpetuate success for the kids who grow up there, the companies that open there and the people living there while others aren’t because they don’t have the necessary opportunities available for their residents.”
DeRoo notes that the organization’s name is derived from its dedication to restoring connections, and one way they stay true to this is through referrals. Last year Linc Up connected more than one hundred residents to businesses in Grand Rapids. Not only do they refer residents for employment, but the organization also connects residents to nonprofits that offer services from which they can benefit, acting as an important channel in the community.
“Grand Rapids has a ton of great nonprofits, so our work isn’t about building programs because most of the time these programs do exist,” said DeRoo, “they just don’t always reach the people that need it the most.”
Linc Up is in a unique position where they have the opportunity to connect. They connect residents to the nonprofits that aim to help them, they connect residents to businesses and the most important, overlooked connection is that amongst people. Connected neighbors lead to friendships and partnerships that create a larger professional network in the area. First Friday is just one way they continue to foster connections, and it has been working exceptionally well so far.