Event, Organization, People

Retreating: Volunteer staff gathers to reflect

As the days in October wound down, the folks at *cino made a decision. We’d been through some transitory times this past summer, and we were feeling a pressing need to regroup. In sports terminology, we needed a rousing halftime speech after a first half full of ups and downs. This need manifested itself in a 24-hour retreat to St. Gregory’s Abbey on the outskirts of Three Rivers. The Abbey has long been a fixture in spring break trips and intern tours, and it’s a place where we all seem to feel a sense of peace. With all that has happened over the past year in our minds, and ideas for the future spilling from our mouths, we packed our sleeping bags and trouped off to the monastery.

So the simple question is: did we find our halftime speech? The easy answer is yes. We came away from the retreat with a clear vision of some things that need to be done, even if other things are perhaps still up in the air. We spent time together thinking about *cino’s vision, our roles within the organization, and what we need to communicate to the many people who aren’t directly involved in the week-to-week business.

In the 24-hour period that we spent at the Abbey, we were able to talk about some of the things that have occurred within *cino over the past few years. We’ve lost and gained people. We’ve raised a heck of a lot of money. We’ve brought ownership to the Huss Project, a building that serves as a foundation for *cino. We’ve brought members of the community into our fold, and made connections with people that are proving strong and enduring.

And so this retreat became more than just a getaway or a (very) short vacation. It was a much-needed break from the business of every day life, a chance for us to sit down and focus on one aspect of that life and try to see it for what it is. We hope in the coming year to continue to invite our many supporters and hopefuls into that vision. So stick with us, and see the best things that are yet to come!

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Building, Event, Hospitality, Organization, People, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

The end of another *cino summer

Summers are a busy time for *cino folks. We tend to cram as much as we can into the good weather, and this summer was no exception (or perhaps it was as we crammed in more than usual!).This is a short list of what we did during the hottest months of the year:

  • Paid off the mortgage on Huss, making it official *cino property!
  • Planned and executed Future Fest, our biggest summer event, designed to demonstrate what’s possible at Huss and build community through creativity and food.
  • Hosted Family Fun Nights every Tuesday from 6:00-8:00 p.m. to enjoy snacks, games and crafts with our neighbors.
  • Continued our series of Underground Supper Clubs, a brand new fundraising effort in Three Rivers that is definitely making waves.
  • Hosted storytelling nights for potential storytellers to come out to Huss and share their tales.
  • Added to our Huss Stories series, with pieces on Gail Walters, Carol Boulette and Luther Channey.
  • Worked on the school every Friday during the afternoon because there’s always something to be done.
  • Hosted school lunches four days a week in partnership with the local schools because kids need food!
  • Attempted to raise more money for the Huss Project through various grants and activities.
  • Hosted the Calvin College Service-Learning Center staff for a day of training.
  • And, of course, we continued to publish catapult magazine and the daily asterisk this summer before taking our traditional August publishing break.

With the end of summer upon us, we enter into a different phase of *cino’s work, one that is perhaps less stressful, but every bit as important. However, this particular year it is a bittersweet respite we face, as the end of this summer of 2013 has brought with it a host of goodbyes. The farewells began in the early summer with our first interns, Jonathan and Ginna, a pair from Costa Rica who came into the *cino community and infected us all with their enthusiasm and creativity. We then saw the arrival and departure of the other interns, Ainsley, Chelsea, and Jonathan (affectionately dubbed Jonathan #2), who brought with them new ideas and a willingness to explore the values and work of *cino. Interns coming and going is something we’ve grown used to at *cino, though we never relish the idea of their departure (and will often persuade them to stick around, if only for just a little while).

We also said goodbye to two longstanding *cino members in Stephanie and Chad, friends who have been integral to *cino’s development both as individuals and then as newlyweds. We know they will do great things in their new location, and their presence will positively impact all those they come across. Our final goodbye came recently, and it was with heavy hearts that the *cino moving crew packed up the belongings of one Emily “Battleship” Ulmer and docked her in her new home, where she will seek the degree she so richly deserves.

These are bittersweet farewells, certainly, but they are also hopeful ones because the connections we find and cultivate at *cino are the kind that last lifetimes, and we know that these goodbyes are temporary things. So we say ‘so long,’ though it may be with heavy hearts, and we take heart from a great human who once wrote, “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

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Publishing, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

My summer at Muggle Hogwarts: Ainsley’s reflection

The people around me heard me reference my semester in Budapest, Hungary at least a jillion times, so it’s only fitting for me to mention it once more as I reflect on my summer in Three Rivers. While in Budapest, I made friends with fellow Calvin College students who worked at the Service-Learning Center back on campus. They essentially forced me to sign up for a Service-Learning spring break trip and I wrote my name down for “Three Rivers, Michigan,” when I heard the other, more far-flung and admittedly more exciting-sounding trips were full. So I spent my senior spring break in Three Rivers and realized I really liked it. Basically I hauled around large sticks behind Huss, weeded in some hot crusty soil, met community members, got the giggles around a dinner table heavily-laden with alarmingly good food, squirmed through the “strongly-encouraged” daily quiet hour, and took walks around the Rectory neighborhood. It was a genuinely good time. When I found myself abruptly unemployed (fired) and in need of a summer (or any) job, I remembered Three Rivers and its knack for welcoming students, thinkers, dreamers and even awkward post-Calvin stragglers. I was drawn to join *cino, knowing the people involved are working toward intentionality, health-full living and meaningful question-asking. And they’re fun and nice. Their food tastes really good. We can make each other laugh.

I came at the end of May ready to join in on the Huss Project, since I saw it as an artsy Muggle Hogwarts, and any Harry Potter fan can understand why that sounded good to me. I helped put on Family Fun Nights and loosely supervised many of the weekday lunches distributed to kids at Huss. My new friend Ginna taught me about permaculture and guided me in my first gardening experiences. I volunteered at World Fare and learned about fair trade while eating chocolate and drinking coffee — a prime way to learn.

Joys hit me like runaway filibuster fireworks as I listened to Ginna gush about goats and how to sew together trapezoidal fabric segments, saw Huss come brilliantly alive for Future Fest, watched Jonathan demonstrate his knowledge of the weirdly-good tight pants song, witnessed Rob bike over a child’s skate ramp, and walked in on David celebrating the completion of that kitten puzzle. Hats off to him for that.

It was tricky adjusting to a new pattern of eating and to the lack of formal structure of class schedules and a consistent job. I didn’t know what to do with certain produce or how I would pay my rent come September. The stress of the unemployed unknown was often dissipated by friendships — a wacky variety of them — among housemates and neighborhood kids. Chelsea and I spent a good amount of time with two kids in particular, and traded funny, funny stories (like when one kid thought his mom was an alien), blunt advice (we adults need to stop being so obsessed with our cell phones) and bewilderingly hilarious comments (“one time, I mashed up some flies and made them into a goopy paste”).

I remembered that I can live on far less than I think, that kids are smarter and wiser than most people give them credit for, and that concepts like “radical hospitality” and “faithful presence” will never become clear-cut directives for living, but will take daily thought, trial and error. I want quick answers and comprehensive understanding, but I learned to let go of that a little more. I learned that I need to be braver and take more initiative and I learned that when I put myself out there, it’s usually worth it. I learned that clover roots lock in moisture and aerate the soil and they feel awesomely soft on your feet, so don’t weed them out of your garden. I learned it’s imperative for me to drive less and take more walks and more bike rides because that’s how you find the cool stuff.

I hope *cino will continue to be a place that invites and welcomes new people and I hope that *cino will keep growing into a place where individuals of different ages, races and backgrounds can hang out in one room and feel truly comfortable together. I hope the Huss Project will continue to keep its doors open to children (and forgive them when they sprint through the halls and interrupt prayers), support neighbors and local businesses, and value learning and friendship above material gain and expediency.

I write this having just gotten back to my home in Grand Rapids. I’m going to do what I can to save some money (find a job — any job!) as I spend time with friends and family members and try to decide if teaching in Hungary and beginning midwifery school are life routes I will pursue next. I will also be trying to send snail mail more regularly, since I’d like to combat transience in small ways, because I have a box of totally fantastic envelopes from Harriet E. Jackson, and because I’m downright attached to the beautiful people who made these weeks so worthwhile.

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People, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

What to expect: Chelsea’s reflection

I made the decision to go to Three Rivers in an end-of-semester panic, and entered the town in a post-grad daze. Interning with *cino had been in the back (and occasionally in the front) of my head since spring of 2012, when I visited the organization through Calvin College’s Service-Learning Center. However, living a half hour from my hometown was far less exhilarating than the traveler’s life I’d long dreamed of for myself.

With the end of school approaching, I scrambled for an answer to the question we anxious, indecisive students hate most. (Though this question persists throughout one’s college career, for me, it wasn’t until senior year that I actually let it tangle up with my romantic thoughts regarding the future.)

Dialogue that included said question went as follows:

Relatives I rarely see, acquaintance-classmates, dental hygienists, etc.: “So, what are your plans after graduation?”  


Chelsea’s Mouth: “Yeah. Um. Yeah. I’m not really sure yet. I’ve thought a lot about teaching abroad, so that’s a possibility. Eventually grad school. I’d kind of like to lie low for a while, though, so we’ll see.”



In the end, *cino was a solid response — something to halt the caps lock in my head, if you will. Three Rivers seemed like a good place to pause and breathe while continuing to learn and be useful. It was a new orbit, which I needed, but one containing familiar values and concerns. The welcoming tone that each of *cino’s emails contained didn’t hurt either. When preparing to leap, it’s nice to know there are friendly arms on the other side… friendly and willing to help carry your excessive amounts of clothes and books on move-in day.

As these things tend to go, when I first arrived in Three Rivers, expectations were quickly shaken and made to adjust. Those expectations remained unmet, but that’s because they also remain oblivious to the needs of a fledging nonprofit and to a town experiencing various forms of injustice. During the readjustment, Ainsley (good pal, fellow intern, fellow Trinity Episcopal basement dweller, zooby zooby) and I decided to be “yes” people, because that’s all we could do in a semi-foreign place — feel around for gaps to fill and hope our efforts helped. Consequently, my role with *cino involved a little of this and a little of that. I did primarily communications work, making promotional videos and writing blog posts, but I was also able to interact with the community in some unexpected ways. As much as I enjoy piecing together footage or interviewing adult members of the community, an afternoon of reading Holes and talking technology with a soon-to-be-eleven-year-old will always stand a little brighter in my memory than any field-related task. (His life advice, by the way: “Put away the electronics.”)

I’ve heard some great visions for the future of *cino and for Huss School, and hearts of staff members and volunteers are aching to move and love in radical ways, but it’s not always easy to stay positive while maintaining an organization. It’s a stressful gig, and it takes moments like this, simple, yet profound, to keep us calm and steady. My hope for *cino is that they continue to listen to their neighbors, no matter how small, and to care for their wounds. As a result of this attentiveness, I hope that current expectations are thwarted in beautiful ways, just as mine were, to reveal a space impossible to imagine.

After a memorable summer, I’m now back in Grand Rapids, working in a couple cafes and considering my next move. Teaching abroad is still on the table, but if I’ve learned anything in the last few months, it’s that these strange transitional days matter, and that you can’t go wrong when you pay attention to those around you and invest your energy in the present.

Thank you, *cino & company, for supporting me this summer, for expanding my understanding of hospitality, and for giving the people of Three Rivers a safe place to learn, play and create.

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People, Rectory Stories, Uncategorized

Food, shelter, commmunity: Jonathan’s reflection

Food. Shelter. Community. Little did I know that these three would become buzz words for my friend, who was asking me about my summer. “Do you have any plans?” she had asked. “Not that I know of,” I replied. Ideally, I had hoped for a summer job, but that seemed hard to find. I settled for the three essential needs.

Almost instantly, my friend sent me a link to *culture is not optional, telling me that it sounded a bit like what I was describing in my summer hopes. “I’m not suggesting you should apply,” she said. That afternoon, as I read the mission statement on the website, I felt a growing rush of excitement rise within me. I applied anyways.

*culture is not optional (*cino) spoke to my interests in living communally with others and practicing my faith in tangible, transformative ways. I also wanted to exercise my abilities in writing and the arts by helping with the communication department of the *cino group. When I finally heard back with an invitation to join the summer program, I readily accepted, without really knowing what I was getting myself into.

Some things were expected. I quickly fell into the role of being a member of the communications subcommittee (lots of “comm”s happening here) and got to take pictures at events, meet and interview local members of Three Rivers, paint cool things and take notes during staff meetings. And, living in the Rectory, I got to enjoy homemade dinners every night and sleep in a real bed with real blankets and be surrounded by people who quickly became my friends. Food. Shelter. Community.

Much of the kindness shown to me has been a surprise. Even apart from the overwhelming generosity of *cino, Three Rivers been a welcoming town and I encountered several manifestations of that kindness, from strangers at the gas station going the extra mile to direct me to places, to being invited to the young adult group at the church I was attending, to the kids in the neighborhood around the Huss Project who pulled me into their games and their lives. These unexpected experiences make up some of the best moments of my time here in Three Rivers.

I’ve learned a lot about working alongside others for the same common purpose. The height of that learning experience was at Huss Future Festival 2013, when, all of a sudden, the space that I had been working in and preparing for nearly two months came alive with the presence of many other organizations from Three Rivers. I saw artists from Three Rivers Artist’s Guild next to local jewelry makers, listening to music played by local bands serenading guests as they chewed on food made by Three Rivers Area of Faith Community (TRAFC) and the Triple Ripple Community Garden.  In the meantime, a coin carnival run by members of Red Cross, Animal Rescue Foundation, and other groups catered to kids’ interests on the field nearby. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful display of collaboration at its best — people coming together to serve their community in the same place.

I’ve learned that I truly love doing something that puts me in close proximity with people. I’ve learned to value what they value and respect their needs. I’ve discovered that the image of God is more than the list of attributes I have in my head, but radiates from every beautiful thing that is life and love. And that motivates me to appreciate His goodness more deeply in whichever place I find myself in, and among whichever people I’m surrounded by. As I move forward, or rather, back into college life, I hope that I can take with me the passion to serve and the eagerness to know others and put it to use in the community around me. In the meantime, I hope that *cino continues to seek after the needs of the people in Three Rivers.

In parting, I might end my journey with two thoughts, or stories, that I started my internship with:

What life have you, if you have not life together? There is not life that is not in community, And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

-T.S. Eliot

My precious child, I love you and would never leave you.When you see only one set of footprints in the sand, it was then that I carried you.

-Footprints in the Sand

Thank you, to everyone I’ve met here in Three Rivers. From the storefront at World Fare to the brick walls of Huss School, to the white porch of our Rectory and the churches that surround us: thank you. Thank you to the ones I’ve been able to share life with for two and a half months.

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Event, Hospitality, People, Three Rivers

Final summer storytelling night

It’s been a week of closure for *cino and the Huss Project. Earlier last week we had our final Family Fun Night of the summer, this week saw a bittersweet farewell to our remaining summer interns, and last Friday we had our last Storytelling night. The final Storytelling in our series of nights at Huss drew quite a crowd. Some were there for the food, some for the stories, and all for the chance to be around others and engage in something unusual for Three Rivers.

One thing we pass along during each storytelling night is the reason why we do this: *cino is passionate about storytelling. “The stories we tell and hear teach us and shape us,” said Emily Ulmer, *cino’s staff coordinator for this storytelling series. “Stories can challenge us to empathize with people greatly different from ourselves and stories can give us comfort at the end of a hard day. We are so grateful for all those willing to listen to the stories of others and those who are willing to share.”

And we are grateful. People who we might never have expected to share have come out to Huss and allowed us to empathize with them. We’ve had poems and prose, tears and laughter, and plenty of food to absorb it all.

This last night of storytelling was a strange mix. We had long moments of pause, people deliberating on whether or not they wanted to brave the microphone. But we also had more stories than on any other night, to the point where it seemed like we might keep telling stories until the moon passed overhead. In some ways, that’s the best type of storytelling experience. Knowing that people want to keep telling stories and keep listening is magic in its own way. And it was a lovely send-off to a summer full of stories, both told and un-told, and we hope that we can do even better next year. There are always more stories to tell, and the story of *cino’s journey in Three Rivers, and that off The Huss Project, is only getting stronger. We hope to see you, whether or not you’ve joined us so far, at next year’s summer series of stories. Until then!


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Event, People

Summer storytelling: My neighborhood

The idea of a neighborhood can take many forms, from a dorm community to a country road to a typical suburban lane. We found all of these archetypes and more as we gathered on July 12 to tell stories at Huss, a building in its own neighborhood with its own neighbors and enough stories to fill even its cavernous halls. If you listen closely, preferably at night when the story ghosts are strong, you might even hear one or two. We heard nearly a dozen.

  • Our first story involved the vandalism of a street sign by a spelling-conscious young lady; a woman whose convictions to see words rightly displayed overcame any reluctance she might have felt at tearing down a piece of city property.
  • Next up was a visual story, a snaking map of overlapping roads depicting important neighborhoods in the artist’s life; a picture worth a thousand words and probably more.
  • The third story was about pranks, and how a good-natured prank can help build the bonds of community just as well as a meaningful conversation or a shared experience.
  • The fourth story was about a neighbor, an older man helping out a younger, less knowledgeable man with the vagaries of controlled burns; a cautionary tale that warned us to be wary when lighting fires because you might lose control and need to be saved.
  • Our fifth story took place in the past, or at least in a re-enacted past on the East coast where history can seem both richer and more cruel, a place where the history of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars is as every bit as relevant as it was in its own time.
  • The sixth story was about Three Rivers itself, and how important it is to come together and be neighbors, and tell stories and heal wounds. We learned through the storyteller’s eyes what it was like to grow up in Three Rivers, something the majority of us had never done.
  • The seventh story felt like something from a Murakami novel, a surreal look into the differences of people’s lives when viewed from the alleyways behind their homes. We saw the difference between neighbors in Tuscon, who are forced to remain sheltered in their air conditioned lives, and neighbors in Three Rivers, who can often be found strolling along sidewalks, enjoying the often moderate climate.
  • The eighth story told of a darker time in Detroit, when anger and heat came together to cause riots in the streets, fueled by racism and influential to a young man’s path to ministry.
  • Our ninth story related to days of youthful judgement, and how parental choices in where to live can often be confusing until later in life when we’ve seen more of the story and can find understanding.
  • The tenth story was one of loss, and how the absence of a parent can alter our lives and neighborhoods in incontrovertible ways. We saw in this story how even parents can be neighbors (particularly if they live in the apartment above your own).
  • The last and final story told of foreign neighborhoods, and how different neighbors are in Peru compared to neighbors in Three Rivers. We learned that sometimes it can take more than a freshly baked pie to crack the shell of American privacy.

We will soon tell more stories. Our next storytelling night will be on August 9, and our stories will revolve around the theme, “When I Grow Up.” Join us at 7:00 p.m., bring a dish to pass, and tell us what you want to be when you grow up. All answers are acceptable.

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*cino Work, Event, Hospitality, Uncategorized

First summer storytelling night focuses on decisions

The summer storytelling season kicked off down at the Huss Project on Friday, June 28 with the thought-provoking and (to some) deceptively intricate theme: The Best Decision I Ever Made.

A day of cleaning and decorating again transformed the old kindergarten room of Huss School into a place of hospitality and attentiveness. As will be the custom for each storytelling event, food came first — potluck style — to quiet our bellies, lift our spirits and ease us into a mode of comfortable conversation after a long week of work and responsibilities (or night travel and weddings). Potted centerpieces sat on softly patterned tablecloths, and the light from assorted chandeliers mixed with the warm summer sunbeams that slipped in through the open door. As a first time attendee, let me say: *cino staff knows how to set the mood, y’all.

After the meal, emcee Jonathan Huang (a summer intern) took the stage (a stool) and began by reminding us why we dare to let our guards down and share a few pages from our personal stories: to cross barriers and learn from our neighbors. With that, the microphone was left to wait for the first brave soul. Nudges and whispered “No, you go’s” continued until *cino staff member Jay Howard groaned, “Fine,” and jaywalked to the stool. He was the first of many to fill the room with the tale of a single, often casual, choice — a choice that continues rippling through one’s life, rich and transformative, years after it’s made.

I didn’t share a story that evening — I’m still exploring my history of stellar decisions — but I felt just as much a part of the occasion as those who were bold enough to sit exposed. There’s nothing like a living room full of thoughtful friends, and that’s exactly what we found in that half-renovated learning space. We lent our eyes and ears for as long as any speaker needed, opened our minds to memory, and even hung on during the inescapable pauses that followed each, “Oh, shoot … I’ve got to backtrack.”

Join us for the next summer storytelling night on Friday, June 12 at the Huss Project (1008 8th Street in Three Rivers).  Bring a dish to share for the potluck at 7:00 p.m. and a tale to share for storytelling time from 8:00-9:00 p.m.  Listeners are welcome, too!

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*cino Work, Organization, Three Rivers

June 2013 *cino board report

After meeting online for several months in a row, the *cino board enjoyed a face-to-face meeting in Three Rivers on June 26.  We gathered at the Huss Project for conversation that primarily centered on future strategy and funding resources.  Then, we headed to the rectory where the *cino intentional community lives and Gail Heffner, a board member with extensive non-profit experience, led a workshop on writing fundraising letters with our new summer interns and several other leaders within the organization.  Finally, as is our habit, we shared food!  A variety of summertime delights filled our table at the rectory as we connected with old friends and new, continuing to build the kinds of relationships that sustain us in our ongoing work.  We are grateful for all of the partners who join us in this work and would appreciate your prayers as we seek to be faithful stewards of our mission to model and encourage creative communities rooted in the love of Christ. Current *cino board members are Jeff Bouman, Grant Elgersma, Gail Heffner, Tim Raakman and Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma.

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*cino Work, Building, Event

Summer full of art, play and gardening at the Huss Project

With the event calendar filling up for the Huss Project, spending summer days at school has never sounded so appealing! From June through August, the *cino staff and local volunteers are offering an assortment of community-building activities centered on creativity, eating well and growing together.

Through August 6, Family Fun Nights are taking place from 6:00- 8:00 p.m. every Tuesday evening, and feature summertime games, crafts, healthy snacks and plenty of space to chat and relax. “There’s a little something for everyone,” said *cino co-director, Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma, “And all ages are welcome, not just families with kids. We think of ‘family’ in terms of the supportive connections we grow with all people—not just those we’re related to.”

Botanical growth is also abundant down at the Huss Project this sunny season. People of all gardening skill levels are invited to come get their hands dirty and cultivate good food with neighbors at the Triple Ripple Community Garden, located behind the school building. “We hope that the garden will not only grow healthy vegetables, but healthy community as well,” said Vander Giessen-Reitsma. Volunteer hours are Tuesdays from 6:00-8:00 p.m. (during Family Fun Night) and from 8:00-10:00 a.m. Thursday and Saturday mornings. All are welcome and no experience is necessary! Interested volunteers can check out the citizen interest form online.

Also taking place at the Huss Project this summer is “Meet Up and Eat Up,” a program organized by Three Rivers Community Schools for school-aged children and teenagers. From June 17-27 and July 8-August 8, lunches are being distributed Monday through Thursday between noon and 12:15 p.m. Adults are also welcome to bring a lunch and enjoy it with the kids in the beautiful, shady yard along Broadway.

Finally, the fourth annual Huss Future Festival is just around the corner! The celebration, which will take place on July 20 from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., will “offer a glimpse of the potential for the old Huss property and provide space for people to get to know their neighbors and enjoy good food, creative activities and each other,” according to Vander Giessen-Reitsma. Alongside a wide range of both indoor and outdoor activities, there will also be an art installation, a rummage sale, food, a bake sale and live music featuring local bands.

All of *cino’s neighbors near and far are invited to join in summer activities at the Huss Project, which is located at the historic Huss School property at 1008 8th Street in Three Rivers.

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