*cino Work, Online, Organization, People, Three Rivers

Farewell, Annelie!

Last month, we said farewell to two community members who finished their year-long AmeriCorps positions. We weren’t able to hug them goodbye, but we sent them off with heartfelt messages, food dropped off for a special dinner, and even a dance party via Zoom! Annelie Haberman first came to *culture is not optional as a summer intern, and ultimately spent over two years living in Three Rivers. As an AmeriCorp participant, she coordinated details with the Huss Project Farm and its booth at the Three Rivers Farmers Market, contributed to a Community Asset Mapping project, and immersed herself in the Three Rivers community with great passion and care. She shared a reflection on her time here and what the future holds:

What first drew me to working with the incredible community of *cino was in finding a group of folks who not only were asking hard questions about what is the right way to live, but also taking action with creativity and a social justice mindset to go about addressing the systemic problems facing our society. Getting our hands in the dirt on the urban farm to take direct action around food and nutrition insecurities in our neighborhood was what first started to cultivate my understanding of how we make concrete steps to shape our culture and help fill the gaps that our society chooses not to address. 

While working in the forest of tomato plants or harvesting the never-ending zucchini, we would talk about everything from issues around immigration rights, the theology of a soul, and exploring permaculture possibilities of the farm. Through these conversations I found myself being challenged to ask deeper questions of all of my assumptions, reassess my values, and understand that my internal beliefs directly affected the people in my community. How was I going to shape myself to have a belief system that helped everyone thrive together?

My work and life with *cino beyond the farm was all over the map, from helping create an asset map of Three Rivers to making Christmas ornaments for one of our fundraisers. Helping plan the annual summer festival of Future Fest, I came to relish the act of celebrating our imaginative, playful minds as an act of building community together. Sharing food every week for potluck is where I learned the beautiful uniqueness of everyone’s personalities, passions, and peculiarities and how we can bring all those things into a room and let them unfurl in our laughter and thoughtful conversations. And living in our intentional community house, those will be the memories I hold closest to my heart from my time with *cino. Choosing to share the daily rhythms of life together with beautiful people and caring deeply about the work of nurturing each other’s souls, this way of being human together made me so happy to be alive.

I am incredibly grateful for my time with *cino and all you wonderful people, my dear friends. I go forward from here having learned so much and grown in mind and spirit, and I look forward to the next time our paths will cross.

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*cino Work, Leadership, Online, People, Three Rivers

Farewell, Ale!

Ale, taking photos at last year’s Future Festival.

This month, we said farewell to two community members who finished their year-long AmeriCorps positions. We weren’t able to hug them goodbye, but we sent them off with heartfelt messages, food dropped off for a special dinner, and even a dance party via Zoom! Alejandra Crevier (or Ale) contributed her writing skills and thoughtful input to *culture is not optional’s and the Huss Project’s online presence as well as a Community Asset Mapping project, and pitched in wholeheartedly with numerous other tasks. She shared a reflection on her time here and what the future holds:

I’ve really enjoyed the rhythms of small town life with folks at *cino—growing vegetables, making dinners, and going to poetry nights together. My time here has really allowed me to focus on issues I care about in concrete ways such as community living and sustainability; those opportunities are a privilege and a gift. I now have a much better understanding of local agriculture and community resources and the direct impact they have on areas such as Three Rivers.

 I’ve also seen how *cino is well-positioned to confront systemic issues like racism and classism that exist in the Three Rivers area due to the respect, connections and resources we possess. White power, privilege and supremacy have to be confronted directly, and it’s been difficult at times navigating with the community here the best approaches to what that directness looks like. The work we have done in the last part of the year will hopefully build upon and make manifest *cino’s desire for equity in all aspects of its organization, community, and broader influence.

I’m thankful for the people I have met and have come to know well. I feel more equipped to personally confront daily tasks with the lessons I have learned from community living, particularly the value of supportive friends during this pandemic. What has been cultivated in Three Rivers I will certainly carry into the future. Given the reality of the pandemic, I hope to do direct action work with mutual aid networks in Grand Rapids, MI. I’m trying at the same time to remain flexible.

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Education, Organization, People, Three Rivers

Meet the 2017 *cino interns!

Pictured above (L-R): Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma (*cino staff), Danielle Rendulic, Jerry Moreland, Deborah Haak (*cino staff), Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma (*cino staff), Annelie Haberman, and Mariana Perez

We’re excited to welcome a new group of summer interns to the *culture is not optional volunteer staff! We kicked off the summer with a weekend orientation, as well as walking in the Three Rivers Water Festival parade: we handed out over 1,000 flyers to the community with information about our summer events at the Huss Project.

Our Community Engagement team is headed up by Danielle Rendulic and Jerry Moreland. They’ve already started posting on our social media sites, sending out emails, hanging up posters, and cooking up creative ideas for the Huss Project. Danielle heard *cino’s co-founders, Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma, when they spoke at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, this past winter. Jerry got connected to *cino through a professor at his college, Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois, who is good friends with *cino volunteers Derl and Karen Keefer.

Mariana Perez and Annelie Haberman are leading our Agriculture team, and they are quite busy at the ever-growing urban farm at the Huss Project! Mariana, who hails from Wisconsin, just graduated from Calvin College and heard about *cino through its partnership with Calvin’s Service-Learning Center. Annelie learned about *cino from her friend Lauren Otto—one of our interns from last summer— and joined her on a cross-country road trip from Oregon to be with us for the summer. Lauren joined us in May and June and was a great help getting Project Farm prepared this spring.

With the fresh talent, new ideas, and helping hands of these individuals, we believe that have a great summer in store at *culture is not optional and the Huss Project. Stay tuned!

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Education, Hospitality, People, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

Food and community: Chelsea’s reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to respond to their time in Three Rivers. Below is Chelsea Smith’s reflection:

My summer in Three Rivers gave me a glimpse into community life and left me eager to experience more. During my time with *cino, I stepped into a community that overflowed with creativity, joy, work, and rest. My role in the community manifested itself in many ways, mostly revolving around time and food. I grew food, cooked food, and shared food. I co-planned community events and enjoyed time with community members.

In college, I studied community development, so I came into this internship with some expectations of what I would learn and do. In many ways, working with *cino exceeded and reconstructed those expectations. Prior to this past summer, I would have said that I desired a lifestyle without rhythm and regularity. I liked switching things up and not falling into the same weekly routine. But I have grown to miss Monday night gatherings at the Riv, Tuesday “Garden of Your Mind” meetings, Wednesday communal work and pizza nights, etc. I realized during my *cino internship that rhythm is a sacred part of community. Gathering together regularly and sharing time (and food!) together is essential for building relationships and connections, especially when spending time in public spaces. These predictable gathering times were refreshing and restful times of my week.

When I studied community development in school, I dreamed of an exciting life as a “community developer” (or however that work would manifest). I thought the day-to-day life would be filled with inspiring actions, important decisions, and influential conversations. I learned this summer that those things do happen, but much more sporadically than imagined. The day-to-day role is filled with smaller moments of connection, commitment, and creativity. The details matter much more than I realized. Somewhere between planning kids’ crafts, cleaning the soon-to-be wood shop, and sewing countless feet of bunting, I discovered that there’s a sacredness in the details. After all, it’s the details that make the larger picture come together.

The connections I made during the ten weeks in Three Rivers were richer than connections I halfheartedly formed over double that amount of time. I felt more present working with *cino, where my priority was to invest in the community. This reflection was somewhat difficult to write, because I don’t feel like my time in Three Rivers is over. There is more to learn working with *cino, and I am still processing the impact of this summer internship. I am filled with gratitude for my experience in Three Rivers and still feel connected to the rich community there. I have a feeling this won’t be the end.

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*cino Work, Organization, People, Three Rivers

Come and see: Lauren Anderson’s reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to respond to their time in Three Rivers. Below is Lauren Anderson’s reflection:

It is so interesting to look back and think that the first time I learned that *culture is not optional even existed was nearly one year ago. I was introduced to this community when we at the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College began our annual training with an overnight retreat to Three Rivers in August of 2015. After that initial introduction, I was enthralled. It was the first time I witnessed young adults choosing to live radical, counter-cultural, creative lives that were inching towards something so much greater than their personal or family benefit. The people involved with *cino are interested in a much bigger picture of shalom, which includes the wellbeing of the Three Rivers community.

When the call for spring break trip leaders went out and there just happened to be a trip to Three Rivers, you can imagine my excitement for another opportunity to be near such a life-giving community. Then, while on spring break, I learned about the summer internship with *cino. The more I prayed and let the idea bounce around in my head, the better I felt that this was the place for me this summer.

Looking back, I have not been disappointed. Especially after a difficult year of school, I am very grateful that I was enveloped into such a tight-knit community of visionary, educated, earth-loving, and people-loving human beings this summer. One part I appreciated was the unique rhythm of work and rest here; I even found some of the work to be restful in and of itself. Weeding, painting, and harvesting were all tasks that kept my hands busy, but gave my mind the freedom to pray, ask questions, and dream — something often forgotten in the busyness of the school year.

The hardest part was conveying to others unfamiliar with *cino both an accurate and a concise snapshot of my summer here. Lumping the summer into the phrase “community development” is true but also is vastly incomplete. Yes, I have had the opportunity to live and share daily dinners with seven other beautiful humans. Not only that, but I have also participated in “Garden of Your Mind” meetings to discuss and live into *cino’s core values; I have helped coordinate Community Fun Nights and Summer Lunch volunteers. And as Huss Future Fest rapidly approached, I was able to help beautify the photo booth, make a display of all the photo booth props, help with signage, and help with whatever else needed to be done.

The best explanation I have is one I learned from Jesus, which has also been implemented by other good teachers: come and see. Come for a potluck; come to a work day; come to the Huss Project; come to Future Fest; come to Three Rivers. Come and see for yourself the ways the upside-down kingdom is evident here in this beloved community. Come.


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*cino Work, Organization, People, Three Rivers

A full plate: Aubrey’s reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to respond to their time in Three Rivers. Below is Aubrey Laubenthal’s reflection:

When I arrived, it was instinctual for me to go into a state of stress and anxiety about nearly everything to do in the summer ahead. However, I now look back and find that there was an incredible balance of sweat AND play, elbow grease AND rest. In the midst of busyness and mess, I found myself stable and determined. The ever-so-brief amount of time that I spent in Three Rivers was unexpectedly full and uniquely good. I found myself surrounded by people who pour themselves into each other, their work, and this community. I experienced the unified mission of neighbors who collaborate. I couldn’t have made it through the summer so peacefully and joyfully had it not been for the beautiful community here, especially my fellow *cino friends. I learned so much about committing to a place and pursuing good things by doing good things. That includes eating good things… a LOT of good things.

Living with the other interns, I noticed and appreciated each person coming with amazing passions and quirks. Each person taught me something valuable, which I believe will increase in value as time goes on. I saw how to be shameless in the unconventional, vulnerable in receiving, cheerful in the mundane, humble in boldness, adventurous in the rain, and genuine in honesty. Today I am thankful for it all, and someday I will be more thankful than I could today imagine.

There is something simple here, and there is something deep here. At *cino, there is no static or lukewarm. There is heart, mind, soul and strength, all woven together in a really cool tapestry which is continuously being sewn. So as brief as it was, I leave knowing that the impact we shared was anything but brief. My heartfelt thanks, everyone!

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*cino Work, Education, Organization, People, Three Rivers

A sense of place: Lauren Otto’s reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to respond to their time in Three Rivers. Below is Lauren Otto’s reflection:

How can I possibly explain how my internship changed my sense of what “place” means to me? Place used to be simply a collection of geographic data. My home town of Newberg, Oregon is not so different from Three Rivers, Michigan if you describe it geographically. Both towns are distinct for being centered around waterways and railroads; both have a manufacturing history and are surrounded by farmland; both have historic theaters, local watering holes, and a handful of residents usually described as “characters” (although that is often not a fair description).

Three Rivers had so many geographical similarities to Newberg; the only difference was that it was a new place. Despite this sameness, uprooting myself and moving to a new place made me reevaluate. And yet, in Three Rivers I felt a connection to its landscape, places, and characters. This was novel, since I regarded my own town with affectionate apathy. Three Rivers was not my town, but it was a town that embraced me with such kindness that I wanted to move there immediately and settle there forever.

This left me wondering what on earth my town was doing wrong to make me feel so ambivalent towards it. But as summer went on and I kept spending my days working in Three Rivers, growing food, playing with kids, and interacting with the local communities, I realized that the problem was not my town: it was me. My town has good communities, it has gardens, it has characters, but none that I invested in. My internship has prepared me to connect with a community and build relationships. At home, I had to work at it, and I had failed to invest in my own community and as a result had not reaped the benefits of a connection. I resolved to go home at the end of the summer and approach my town with new eyes. I would not look at my place with apathy, but would resolve to work in it and for it, for its good and my own.

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*cino Work, Organization, People, Three Rivers, Uncategorized

The sum of its parts: Tess’ reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to write a reflection on their time in Three Rivers. Below is Tess De Jong’s reflection:

Over the course of interning for *culture is not optional in Three Rivers, Michigan, this summer, I met plenty of new people. As is natural, they would usually ask me where I’m from. “Kalamazoo,” I would say. “Oh, so not too far at all!” they would respond. Outwardly, it was easier just to agree. But what I wanted to say was, “Actually, this is an entirely different place.”

When I am here, present, in Three Rivers, it does not seem like I can just hop in my car and be in my bedroom at home in thirty minutes. Going back and forth between the two places takes more than a block of down time between activities and an eighth of a tank of gas: It requires a total mental shift in the way I view living, and it’s difficult to keep switching.

Here in Three Rivers, I am living more intentionally than I ever have before. We think about our food sources, consumer ethics, community vision, the environment, local businesses, and take time and space for rest and contemplation. We try to make our lives visibly different because of what we believe about these things. An example would be cooking only with vegetables that are in season at the time, or manually pulling weeds instead of spraying them all. At first, it was hard to get used to. It felt exhausting and a little limiting. But it turned out to be so freeing and empowering. By living daily with more hospitality, simplicity, and imagination, I felt like I had more agency and a wider platform on which to live out my faith.

I have never felt more tied to a place after a time as short as 10 weeks. This is not in a “tied down” sense, but in a way that makes it sad to leave, and easy to come back to, even if a few years have passed. I guess that is what happens when you see the mayor at the bar, play board games with the Downtown Development Authority director, meet new people for the first time at a children’s-book-themed dinner party, get invited to pesto-making night with your bosses, have your house “mom” be the pastor of a nearby church, help plan the highest-fund-raising Huss Future Festival yet, eat meals with incredible flavors you have never even tasted before, and share a house with 6 other amazing interns who share your experiences and bring them all to life.

This summer I painted dozens of signs, sorted a hallway of heavy and dusty rummage, played my fair share of kickball with kids, became really good at washing dishes, and weeded for infinitely more hours than I had in my entire life combined. And somehow, the sum is so, so much more than its parts. What a truly indescribable and pivotal summer I had.

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Organization, People, Rectory Stories

Welcome to our 2016 summer interns!

After a full weekend of orientation, an al fresco potluck, and an outdoor workday, we’re excited to welcome six new summer interns to Three Rivers! Each of them comes from different places around Michigan and the country and brings enthusiasm, a fresh perspective, and an array of skills to our group.

Our Community Engagement team is headed up by Lauren Anderson and Chelsea Smith. Lauren has visited Three Rivers a handful of times through Calvin College (including the most recent spring break trip), and is eager to stay longer this time. Our word-of-mouth network is growing, as evidenced by Chelsea, who got in touch through a good friend of *culture is not optional. They will be coordinating events such as Community Fun Night, summer lunches at the Huss Project, Friday night potlucks, and Storytelling Nights.

Tess De Jong and Aubrey Laubenthal will work together on communications and event promotion through social media and website posts, as well as business support for World Fare, a fair trade store and sister organization to *cino. Tess will soon be the sister-in-law of Joel, a former intern. Aubrey was introduced to *cino during a class that *cino’s Director, Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma, taught at Calvin College and is looking forward to learning more.

Much of our work has at least something to do with food (which is the way we like it), and Jordan Moore and Lauren Otto are working together as our agriculture interns. They’ll be the point people for Project Farm (at the Huss Project as well as a new location!), Community Gardening Nights, and the Huss Project table at the Three Rivers Farmers Market. Lauren, who got connected through her father, traveled the farthest to be here—all the way from Oregon! Jordan, a recent graduate of Spring Arbor University, heard about happenings in Three Rivers from a former intern.

And finally, we’re happy to welcome back a married couple who first met at their internship two summers ago! Alexandra (who invited Jordan to check out *cino) and Nate Harper-Brees recently exchanged vows, and they will be spending five weeks in Three Rivers before heading out to Kazakhstan, where Nate will teach at an international school. We’re glad for their leadership at the Rectory, where they’ll share the intentional community household with the six interns.

With these helping hands on deck, we’re confident that there are many good things in store for this summer, and we hope that you’ll stay tuned!

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Education, Publishing, Three Rivers

2016 Local Food & Recycling Guide now available!

*culture is not optional is once again partnering with the St. Joseph County Conservation District to produce and distribute the River Country Local Food & Recycling Guide for 2016. A group of local citizens interested in local food issues started the guide in 2009 and passed it off to *cino and the Conservation District in 2014. The guide provides listings of the numerous farms and markets in southwest Michigan which offer fresh produce, meats, baked goods, maple syrup, honey, and other items. One of *cino’s passions is eating and sharing the food grown by our neighbors, and we love connecting people with local food sources! Also included is a guide to locations at which you can recycle a variety of items.

You’ll find free copies of the guide in businesses and institutions around Three Rivers, Centerville, Sturgis, Vicksburg, Mendon, White Pigeon, and Constantine. You can also find listings and leave reviews for your favorite farms at our Food Guide web site!

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