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Published in Nonprofits
New City Neighbors’ new location at 1115 Leonard St. NE in Grand Rapids. New City Neighbors’ new location at 1115 Leonard St. NE in Grand Rapids. COURTESY PHOTO

GR nonprofit relocates to renovated farmhouse after split from church

BY Thursday, May 12, 2022 10:09am

GRAND RAPIDS — Nearly two years after splitting from a church over “theological differences,” Grand Rapids nonprofit New City Neighbors is set to unveil its new location at a renovated urban farmhouse that sits on a 1-acre plot in the city’s Creston neighborhood.

New City Neighbors — which focuses on youth empowerment, workforce development and increasing access to locally grown food — sought a new location after splitting from Fourth Reformed Church in July 2020.

The church, which housed New City Neighbors since 2007, cut ties with the nonprofit two months after it hired Ricardo Tavárez as executive director. Tavárez is an ordained Christian Reformed minister who is also gay. 

New City Neighbors became an independent charity from Fourth Reformed Church in 2012, but continued to lease space from the church on Union Avenue NE until church leadership took issue with the organization’s affirmation of same-sex relationships, the church said in a statement in 2020.

“(Moving locations) was an unexpected change, and it certainly came with some difficulty and challenges,” Tavárez said. “But on the other side of that, our capacity is much larger to impact our community now that we have this new location. It wasn’t the path we would have chosen to get here, but being where we are now, we don’t take it for granted.”

Nonprofit leaders and local families sought to continue operations in the Creston neighborhood on the city’s north side. The group identified a residential property at 1115 Leonard St. NE and purchased the property on Oct. 23, 2020 for $260,000. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation contributed a $150,000 grant to New City Neighbors in 2021 for the new location. 

Construction on the renovation is mostly finished. Originally built in 1859, the home was renovated to include offices, programming space and a commercial kitchen. An outdoor pizza oven along with outdoor seating still needs to be installed, Tavárez said. 

Because the nonprofit focuses on developing youth employment and job skills, New City Neighbors was able to carry on programming during the renovation work and have students help during the construction period, Tavárez said.

“Our director of operations formerly worked in construction and he was pretty easily able to include the youth,” Tavárez said. 

Farming — the organization’s main operation — also continued during the transition period at New City Neighbors’ farm on Grand Valley State University’s campus, Tavárez said. 

Before transitioning to the new location, New City Neighbors operated a once-a-week community cafe during the summer at Fourth Reformed Church where the organization would make pizza, salad, soups and baked goods sourced from its garden that people could buy as they picked up their weekly farm share, Tavárez said.

The new location will allow New City Neighbors to do “so much more,” and possibly allow them to have a pop-up cafe more frequently, as well as more year-round events, Tavárez said.

The organization serves between 15 to 35 students a year that help run the cafe and farm, in addition to running leadership training programs that teach local youth about food justice, anti-racism and how to be involved in the community, Tavárez said.

“New City Neighbors plays a vital role in our city, providing access to healthy, local food, green space that benefits many neighbors by cutting food cost and building community cohesion,” Eugene Sueing, program director at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, said in a statement.

Plans at the Leonard Street location include creating a community cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, along with an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. Soups, salads and pizza with fresh produce sourced from the onsite farm will be served at the cafe. 

New City Neighbors is hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony and public open house at noon on May 20.

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