FAQRob Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Why Three Rivers, Michigan?

Three Rivers is a small city of about 8,000 people in southwest Michigan with diverse resources and possibilities. It’s a community with a lot of needs and we hope *cino can help build imagination and friendship around those needs, but it’s also a community with a lot to offer–one that works its way into people’s hearts whether they live there or visit regularly.

The natural environment features beautiful lakes, forests and rivers, while the social environment offers ethnic diversity and a deep sense of history. In addition, the state of Michigan has the second largest variety of agricultural crops in the U.S. and this quality is reflected in a thriving local foods movement. Three Rivers also holds a lot of possibility for institutional partnership, with an art museum, retreat centers, many churches and other non-profit organizations serving people of color, special needs adults, the elderly, low-income families and more. Located at the intersection of M-60 and U.S. 131, the city is easily accessible from Grand Rapids, Chicago, Detroit, Goshen and further afield, which provides potential for inter-college and interdenominational partnerships.

A helpful resource if you’d like to dig into more demographic information is the interactive online map (http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer) in which the New York Times laid census data over voting districts.  Enter Three Rivers’ zip code (49093) and compare census tract 402, where the Huss Project is located, with other local districts.  Some of the challenges facing the Three Rivers’ community include economic and racial segregation, substance abuse and inadequate opportunities for youth.  *culture is not optional does not at all claim that the Huss Project will solve these challenges, but we do hope that creating space for conversation and imagination can help build our community’s resilience for approaching all sorts of brokenness with gratitude, friendship and joy.

 

How is the Huss Project funded?

The Huss Project was purchased and continues to be supported by a community of individual donors and volunteers.  This collaborative spirit, in which everyone gives what they can, will always be a significant part of the funding and programming at the Huss Project.  However, an audit contracted by the Three Rivers Community Schools in 2003 recommended additions, changes and updates to the Huss facility that totaled approximately $4 million.  Some of the audit’s recommendations, such as replacing the heating system and installing an elevator, are changes we plan to adopt, while others won’t serve our aesthetic or purposes.  That said, we still anticipate a multi-million dollar renovation.

We are currently researching potential private, state and federal grant sources and compiling a list of requirements and deadlines.  This process is taking place in consultation with local officials as well as organizations who have undertaken similar projects.  We are also seeking to build relationships with local donors who have a personal stake in the location and the overall vision.  Depending on how the renovation timeline evolves, there may be opportunity for organizations who wish to use specific spaces to do their own fund raising to develop portions of the facility.  *culture is not optional is currently conducting a Brick Campaign to raise $100,000 through the sale of 1,000 bricks for $100 each by June 15, 2013.

As spaces at the Huss School property become usable, there will be many potential revenue streams, including:

  • Tuition and program fees from the semester program, as well as shorter service-learning opportunities like May term, spring break trips and service groups.
  • Time share fees from partner organizations who use the space on a regular basis for services and activities.
  • Rental fees from permanent residents of the second floor.

Is the Huss Project a Christian thing?

The mission of *culture is not optional, which owns the Huss Project property, is to model and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ, in Three Rivers and beyond. The vision for the Huss Project grows out of *culture is not optional’s exploration of what it looks like to model the love of Christ in our way of life today, but it is not exclusively created by or for Christians.  In fact, because it is rooted in the love of Christ, the vision includes the embrace and acceptance of all people.  People from a variety of faith commitments and backgrounds have participated in the Huss Project at all levels and we look forward to continuing to build significant friendships across any of the boundaries that tend to divide us.  To learn more about how our community is seeking to live out our sense of mission, explore *cino’s core values.


I’ve noticed that many of the *culture is not optional staff people didn’t grow up in Three Rivers.  Why have you chosen to live here?  Are you trying to tell me what’s good for my town?

For many of us who have re-located to Three Rivers, we’ve done so because something about this place has captured our hearts.  We see its needs, but we also appreciate its many gifts: the natural beauty, the diversity, the arts and spiritual communities, the history.  Among *culture is not optional’s core values are compassionate listening, creative collaboration and radical hospitality.  Guided by these core values and aware that many of us are transplants, we seek to truly listen to our neighbors, proceeding in any planning or decision-making with humility and flexibility.

 

Why would I want to support the Huss Project if I don’t live in Three Rivers?

The majority of the households that supported the initial purchase of the Huss School property were not located in Three Rivers.  Why would this be?  Our address is in Three Rivers and there’s a side of the Huss Project that will be developed specifically with and for the local community.  However, we also hope that the Huss Project will continue *culture is not optional’s ongoing work to connect people throughout the country and the world around the question of what the love of Christ looks like when it’s lived out in a particular time and place.  Toward that end, the Huss Project has played host to students, church groups and other visitors who are developing their abilities to be faithfully present in the places they will be called to now and in the future.  Whether through online or print materials or field trips to Three Rivers, we hope the Huss Project will continue to be a living classroom for creative community development, for those near and far.