WMCAT – Trout Unlimited and the Rogue River Watershed

Trout Unlimited is a cold water conservation organization that works on a national level conserving and protecting cold water fisheries and watersheds around the country. The
organization partnered with Rockford Public Schools in 2016 and the surrounding communities to analyze the rivers and test the waters to see how it affects the Rogue River watershed.

Trout Unlimited worked specifically with Parkside Elementary and their students to install a rain garden. During the process the kids were able to research rain gardens and learn how they can help divert water from storm drains that feed into the Rogue River. The students put an action plan together and presented their findings and suggestions to the school board for approval to start the creation of the rain garden.

The rain garden at Parkside Elementary is still up and running and consists of native plants from the area. Students of all ages participate by helping to keep it clean and to weed it, as needed.

Students who attended Parkside Elementary and participated in the project said that it was very beneficial and a completely new experience for them. The project also helped them realize the difference it was making on the Great Lakes as well as the rivers around them. Tara Dzirbowis, a teacher at Parkside Elementary explained, “It gives the kids a real world experience in doing the research and informs them on how projects like these can help the rivers and the community.”

The rain garden project has had a huge impact on the community and the students involved by informing them about rain gardens and giving them insight on what they can do to
help their rivers. Trout Unlimited has also worked on other projects throughout the community by turning areas that used to be lawns near storm drains into an area where native plants can grow.

Nichol Demol, who is a part of Trout Unlimited shared, “Over the course of nine years we have been spreading the word about stormwater practices in Rockford and have seen how it has affected the local government’s way of seeing the river and its tributaries.” Nichol encourages those interested in helping conserve local watersheds or streams to research watershed organizations in their local communities. Many offer various volunteering opportunities such as spring and fall stream clean-ups, and ways to invest in protecting local streams and rivers.

Trout Unlimited Project Student Names 

  • Article by Arieal Jackson
  • Photography by Dagan McClure-Sikkema
  • Videography and editing by Tris Cunningham, Micah Garmon, Arieal Jackson, Elias Vandyke-Titus, and Mike Saunders

WMCAT – Restoration and Rehabilitation of The Highlands

The Highlands can be remembered as a pesticide and fertilizer-filled golf course. “It was a very manicured land with short grass just over two years ago,” said the Stewardship Director at the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Justin Heslinga. Over the course of two-and-a-half years, the Land Conservancy has focused on renewing the land back to its original state and giving way for wildlife and habitat to flourish.

Joe Engel, the Executive Director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan said: “Not every day you get an opportunity to have a ‘redo’ on a piece of land that once was a 100-year-old golf course.” He shared that it will be a laboratory for today’s kids and for generations to come.

During the end of phase one, which was restoration, community members came to speak about the process and how it has benefited them, as well as the overall community. One community member, Bill Faber, shared that he runs on the property a lot. The Highlands provides access to the community for exercise purposes as well as educational purposes for students.

The Highlands is the Land Conservancy’s first major project in the City of Grand Rapids. The majority of their projects are in rural areas that are not accessible by public transportation. However, now, one can simply take The Rapid’s Route 7 bus line to The Highlands.

Not only is The Highlands accessible to the whole community but it is now a home for wildlife. Mary Jane Dockeray, the founder of Blandford Nature Center told how she can now hear the bird songs that she once could not hear in her own backyard.

Phase one is only the beginning of the restoration of The Highlands. It has already been a big accomplishment and future phases promise an even greater benefit to the whole community. More importantly, it will benefit the environment.

Highlands Project Student Names

  • Article by Arieal Jackson
  • Photography by Dagan McClure-Sikkema
  • Videography and editing by Tris Cunningham, Micah Garmon, Arieal Jackson, Elias Vandyke-Titus, and Mike Saunders

WMCAT Rhymes with ‘WINcat’—For Good Reasons

West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology, an afterschool program for urban high school stdents, opened in 2005 downtown after three Steelcase leaders flew to Pittsburgh to learn about a similar non-profit there. Spearheaded by Jim Welch, the trip convinced Jim Hackett and Peter M. Wege that what Bill Strickland had started in Pittsburgh could be replicated in Grand Rapids.

A gang member growing up in the 1960s, Strickland was headed in the wrong direction until he stumbled on pottery making. Because this creative activity saved him from street life, he started a program called Manchester Bidwell offering after-school educational classes to inner-city teenagers.

Today WMCAT is serving 150 GRPS students who come after school to their building on Fulton where they take classes in the Teen Arts + Tech program. Class size is limited to 12 students and all the art classes are taught by professional teaching artists.

Art students learn ceramics, illustration and fashion design. Students in the technology side learn to make video games, create audio and video productions, and study photography.  In addition, WMCAT has 36 under- or unemployed adults who come four days a week to learn  medical billing, coding, and pharmacy tech so they can find good jobs in the healthcare field.

WMCAT—pronounced WIMcat—also operates a commercial screen-printing business called Ambrose that trains five-ten apprentices  a year. The apprentices graduate from the program with a marketable job skill, knowledge in entrepreneurship,  and the real-world experience of having run a for-profit business.

Last fall WMCAT’s success was recognized nationally. At a November  White House ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama named WMCAT one of the top 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Awards from among 251 nominees. Along with a $10,000 grant, this honor identifies the nation’s best after-school and out-of-school youth programs that use the arts and humanities to improve academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollments.

Pictured Above: From the left, Gen-Dairec  Buchanan and Earl Shepherd, two Ambrose apprentices, Jody Price and Kary Furtado Wege Foundation, Wege family members Patrick Goodwillie, Jenny Wege, and Christopher Carter holding the new bags they made  in Ambrose, the closeup shows the WMCAT logo. Supporter of WMCAT from its beginning, The Wege Foundation provides multi-year grants supporting the Teen Arts-Tech program.

Ambrose apprentice Gen-Dairec Buchanan helps Patrick Goodwillie make his screen print. In the background is Adam Weiler, WMCAT’s Director of Social Enterprise. The Wege Foundation is a lead supporter of WMCAT’s l $8.5 million campaign to double their space by moving to the west side of Grand Rapids.