GRAND RAPIDS — New City Neighbors is in the process of relocating its operations from Fourth Reformed Church following a dispute last year over the church’s position on sexual orientation and gender identity.
New City Neighbors, a nonprofit that provides students with job and life skills training through an educational farm, was founded in 2007 at Fourth Reformed Church.
The church has housed the nonprofit since its inception and has agreed to do so through the end of the 2021 growing season. New City Neighbors became an independent charity from the church in 2012 but continued to lease space from the church on Union Avenue NE.
However, Fourth Reformed Church cut ties with the nonprofit in July 2020, two months after New City Neighbors hired Ricardo Tavárez as its executive director. Tavárez is an ordained Christian Reformed minister who is also gay.
The church said in a statement at the time that the split was because of “theological differences,” including New City Neighbors’ affirmation of same-sex relationships.
Since that time, New City Neighbors has had “cordial and honest conversations” with the church, Tavárez said.
“We’re still leaving because we have to,” Tavárez said. “We’re not sure what’s happening to the property.”
New City Neighbors plans to relocate to residential property it purchased at 1115 NE Leonard St. on Oct. 23, 2020 for $260,000. The Grand Rapids City Planning Commission will consider the nonprofit’s request to operate on the property at its March 25 meeting.
“We’re really excited. We’ve come through a lot but we’re anxious to continue serving the community in a new location and having a place that is our own, but also where everyone is welcome,” Tavárez said. “A new value that emerged for us was radical hospitality — we want everyone to feel like this is a place to belong and gather around good food.”
The nonprofit’s mission is empowering youth through leadership training, anti-racism education, community involvement, as well as diversity and inclusion education through the vehicle of farming and growing food. Through this work, youth that volunteer also gain customer service, farming and marketing skills, Tavárez said.
The upstairs of the home will be converted into offices and programming space, while the downstairs will be retrofitted into a commercial kitchen, Tavárez said. The new property also includes 1 acre of land the group plans to use for farming and cooking. Construction work on the house is ongoing and is anticipated to be completed this spring or summer.
New City Neighbors will also be using 1 acre of Grand Valley State University property in Jenison for farming, Tavárez said.
“That will actually help us do more, and serve as a leadership pipeline by putting kids on a college campus and exposing them to the different food programs there, so we’re excited for that,” Tavárez said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, New City Neighbors relied on support from a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, grants and community donations, Tavárez said. Instead of in-person volunteering with children and teenagers, the nonprofit focused on community food donations during the pandemic, he added.
“Even though it was a challenging year, our ability to get this new location in the same neighborhood comes from donors who decided to essentially give us a really large donation to ensure we could keep operating,” Tavárez said.
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