Education, Organization, Three Rivers

Celebrating Tikkun Olam

Last week, counselors and campers from Camp Tavor joined the *culture is not optional community to help practice Tikkun Olam at The Huss Project. Tikkun Olam is a traditional practice of service and healing to the world that Camp Tavor practices with each camping session, and The Huss Project is one of various sites they volunteer with during the summer.

To begin the day, the Tavor and *cino folks got to know each other with a couple ice breakers, including learning where home is for each person and what each person is currently reading (answers included Florida, Israel, and England, and Harry Potter, The Hate U Give, and Instagram!). Afterwards, they began working with *cino staff on many interesting tasks, including getting their hands dirty to help pot 100 trees for an event at the Huss Future Fest,  laying compost on the site’s tomato patch, and ridding the garden of pests. To finish out their time at Huss, the Tavor and *cino folks joined the summer lunch crew in the front of the building to help distribute lunches to attendees.

We’re very thankful for Camp Tavor’s service and can’t wait to work with them again in the future!

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*cino Work, Education, People

Living intentionally: Danielle Rendulic’s reflection

As is tradition at *cino, we asked each of our 2017 summer interns to share a reflection on their time in Three Rivers. Below is Danielle’s reflection; above: Danielle organizing books in our rummage sale for Future Fest.


Danielle Rendulic

A time to plant and a time to uproot

I first heard about *cino at a time when I was contemplating how it would be possible for me to live the way I had dreamed of living. Rob and Kirstin came to speak at a class I was in and I thought to myself, “that’s it, that how I want to be living.” It started because I wanted to evaluate what I had done with my life and where I saw myself going. Up to that point, I was riding mostly on track with the the typical road laid out for your average 21-year-old. I had just finished my first semester as a junior in college, had a part time job, and was looking into the career paths my major would undoubtedly hurl me towards. I was living in complete accordance with the mundane and standard, and no part of me wanted to be there. Thus, my resolution was to start living with intent; find the things I wanted to do, and do them. My summer in Three Rivers working with *cino taught me the craft of intentional living; how to eat, play, work, and speak as if we if we actually meant to.

At the beginning of the summer we planted. Digging holes in the ground to place new seeds, eventually to become our sauce, roasted roots, and spiced everything. Each Friday night at the Rectory, we could expect to see *cino friends and neighbors gathered together to share stores and food creations, usually along some unspoken theme of whatever had been harvested that week. There is something about knowing the soil, from planting to watching the dirt run off your hands in the sink that connects you to your plate. During this internship, I spent a long time becoming connected to my plate. I prepared food with my roommates over long ambitious worldview conversations, road my bike to the Huss Project to snip herbs for our meal, and cooked with the knowledge that our food would soon be bringing people to our table. With *cino, I learned how to love my plate, the food that was on it, and the people that were around the table with me.

Growing up, having people over for dinner was rare. In fact having a dinner with my whole family was rare. In my pursuit of intentional living, I wanted to be in a place where it was common to know the faces walking on the street. In Three Rivers, people do. Not just because it’s a small town, but because the community is deeply rooted through generations of interconnected stories of this place. Working at Huss, I would meet neighbors frequently who would stroll up to the building and say, “You know, I actually went to Huss.” They were excited to explain their past and, for many of them, share why Huss is the reason they stayed in Three Rivers. In the months I stayed here, I learned what it was like to be late because you were stopped on the street by someone who wanted to say hello. I’ve always wanted to live in a place like that, and in Three Rivers it took less than two months to get there.

I started out in this internship thinking that the people in *cino were actively living the way I had dreamed of and I wasn’t wrong. I have had so many conversations about the way we ought to live and work and being here was like getting first hand experience into that life. For all of my three months here, I lived the way I had fantastically imagined only to be possible in a very distant future. I planted food that would feed our neighbors, started intentional conversations, shared stories, and purposely explored avenues of art and culture. At *cino I learned how to work, eat, and play as if I had intentionally meant to do so.

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*cino Work, Education, People

Becoming rooted: Mariana Perez’ reflection

As is tradition at *cino, we asked each of our 2017 summer interns to share a reflection on their time in Three Rivers. Below is Mariana’s reflection; above: Mariana working the coffee shop at Huss Future Festival.


Mariana Perez

A time to plant and a time to uproot

My time at *cino has come to an end. On Sunday (August 13), I will travel back to my other homes in Grand Rapids and Wisconsin with a familiarity I greatly cherish.

This summer has been a unique 10 weeks for me. I graduated from college in May, and I will start my job as a nurse in October. I did my best to keep my mind from wondering into the future of October—I didn’t want to be preoccupied with the excitement and anxiety and whirlwind of starting, officially, the post-grad life. I also did my best to keep my mind from lingering into the past—it was, is, bittersweet to remember my old house, my housemates, my neighbors, the familiar sounds outside my window that would lull me to sleep.

I wanted this summer to root me to the past and to orient me to the future. Over the past four years, there are values and things (that aren’t actually things) that have become especially important to me: community, faithfulness, sustainability, kindness, hospitality, inclusiveness, family, friends. I was kind of scared that I would lose sight of, or forget, those values moving into this new phase of life, that I wouldn’t be surrounded by (or that I would stray from, and/or that I wouldn’t seek) a community that would foster those values. As I’ve ashamedly sang many mornings in church, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.” Well, after this summer, after being in this place and being surrounded by the people I’ve been surrounded by, I’m less afraid of straying. I’ve become rooted enough, for now.

As for the oriented-to-the-future thing, well, I think I’ve come to a satisfying place with that, too. I think that I am sufficiently armed with the weapons I need to combat and not fall into the false ideas of what it means to live the good life. I’m still a pacifist; it’s just that it feels like a battle sometimes.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Three Rivers—strawberry milkshakes; the backroad to Huss; black cherry tomatoes; floating down the St. Joseph river; Thursday Farmers Market; blueberries; the light of the setting sun, eerie and beautiful, over the garden. I imagine that when I return to visit Three Rivers, I’ll return with a familiarity similar to the one I leave with.

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*cino Work, Education, People

Engaging community: Jerry Moreland’s reflection

As is tradition at *cino, we asked each of our 2017 summer interns to share a reflection on their time in Three Rivers. Below is Jerry’s reflection; above: Jerry at one of our storytelling events at the Huss Project.


Jerry Moreland

I am a student at Olivet Nazarene University studying criminal justice. It would seem unorthodox or untraditional for a criminal justice major to be involved in an internship with *cino. The reason why *cino grabbed my attention is because of the community engagement driven focus that this organization has. I want to strengthen my social and community engagement skills and this internship truly did just that.

Summer lunches brought kids together from 11:30am to 12:30pm for lunch every weekday. I was only able to staff this once a week, but it was the highlight of my week. It was a blessing to even have a brief moment to hang out with the kids of Three Rivers. I wish I had more time to invest in them. Pam, the staff person from the school district, invests hours of her day to prepare the meals and to provide them. I want to do something like this or spark this in the community that I have the blessing to serve.

*cino’s weekly potluck creates an intentional community of sharing. Each person brings something to the table. This is probably the part of the week that most people look forward to; to end the week with people who in time almost become a family to share a meal is amazing.

Seeing the yield and growth of Project Farm and the hard work that was done was truly empowering—urban farming is possible and with community support it can flourish. Working alongside community members is something I want to do as a police officer. It would be awesome to be a part of a community garden with the image of a cop. I believe that being seen as normal and equal it can create relationships between law enforcement and the community they serve.

Huss Future Fest probably impacted me the most. We as a group put a lot of time and stress into putting together the event. What gave this event such beauty was not our effort but the volunteers and community that came together. This event would not have been possible without them.

I have a lot of respect for Rob and Kirstin and that they started the spark that is now the Huss Project and *cino. If I can be or do anything like that which *cino has started and implement that with the role of law enforcement then that is the first few steps of impacting the field of law enforcement in a positive way.

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*cino Work, Education, People

Overflowing with gratitude: Annelie Haberman’s reflection

As is tradition at *cino, we asked each of our 2017 summer interns to share a reflection on their time in Three Rivers. Below is Annelie’s reflection; above: Annelie with a praying mantis she found while harvesting potatoes at Project Farm.


Annelie Haberman

The joy of sharing stories, questions, good food, and lots of weeding

During my past three years of college life, my heart has been full of many dreams and ponderings, tingling inclinations of radically different ways to live life that I’ve longed to explore but never felt the right opportunity to delve deeply into. Also my hasty pace of college life, although a very rich time of learning, has filled me with insightful words and theories untested outside of the intellectual bubble of the classroom. I was longing for the opportunity where conversations about what the good life looks in vocation, lifestyle choices, religion, farming, politics etc. transformed from words into a passionate experiment of life lived out with deep conviction in the messy chaos of life. On top of all that I also really wanted to spend a summer farming, a summer outside just growing things to see what it was like to live close to the earth and close to the people I’d work and learn with.

Becoming a part of the *cino community this summer has been exactly this kind of opportunity and so much more. What I found in this place was the interweaving of hearts intentionally pursuing a truer, richer vision of life through everyday rhythms like sharing food together as well as through adventurously grand tasks like turning a hundred year old school into a community center and urban farm. What I especially enjoyed in this summer was not only getting to be in a space where things like lettuce sprouts and selling heads of kohlrabi at the farmers market were joyful occasions, but also being in a community where the practices of work, joy, searching, thoughtful conversation, laughter, and imagination were all being explored with a dedicated patience that is uncommon to find in the rush of this world.

Through all my experiences this summer—like working in the dirt every day, helping create and put on the Huss Future Festival, and sharing incredible food together every Friday night—I got to ponder and experiment with so many questions. What does joy look like when we’re covered in sweat and dirt? What does empathy look like when we have a difficult conversation ahead of us? What does experiential learning look like when the tomato plants aren’t doing well? What does honesty look like when we tell stories together? What does community look like when we want to celebrate together, share our gifts, or eat spaghetti together? What does thriving look like in the small everyday diversity, the ocean of moments of waves rising and falling, each moment different, each moment integral to our growth, moment by moment, stitch by stitch learning in every weave, tangle, and coming together of the colors of life. I have learned from being around such thoughtful minds to always be asking questions, pondering, and imagining in a deeper way and to relish the feast of learning that this brings.

I have also learned the bliss and deep-seated joy of getting to do work that I am so fully in love with and to do this beautiful work of farming, storytelling, and community growing with people who are filled with the passion for their work and the commitment to constantly learning how our work and passion can grow its roots into the many roots and stories of the community of Three Rivers.

This summer I have gotten to weed so much that dirt has creased itself deep into my hands. I’ve learned the touch and texture of the leaves, stems, and roots of all our plants so much so that our tomatoes have turned my hands green, then black from constant work with these free spirited vines. I’ve gotten to imagine art differently and create with unrestrained playfulness in planning the art tent for Future Fest. And most of all, I’ve gotten to do all these things with new friends who have become some of the dearest and most incredible people in my life because of the endless flow of laughter, honesty, and insight that we have shared with each other. I’ve been given the space and time (two tremendous gifts) to grow with such wonderful people, our four person summer house crew of diverse stories with a shared curiosity for how to live life intentionally together, the *cino community so full of encouragement, innovation, and joyful grit, and all the people of Three Rivers who I’ve gotten to learn from and share stories with this summer.

I can’t imagine a more impactful summer than this and I’m overflowing with gratitude for all the vision and determination it has taken to make this internship possible for us this summer. Thank you *cino friends, Rectory mates, and Three Rivers community for helping me learn a more beautiful way to weave my story into the community of stories that all join together in the great river of life.

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

Spend a summer (or a year) in Three Rivers!

Join us for our 10-week summer internship program in Three Rivers, Michigan! We’re looking for folks who are self-motivated and interested in the cross-section of social justice, local food, community, and deep-rooted faith values to join *culture is not optional (*cino) in Three Rivers as we work toward the flourishing of our rural city.

The 2017 summer internship runs from June 1 to August 12. Interns live together in our community house, work alongside our core community on our community development work, and learn together through an embodied curriculum. Interns are expected to contribute an average of 20 hours of work per week for *cino. Interns can also work up to 20 hours per week at local partner farms in the area to earn additional income. Here are the practical benefits of the internship:

  • Housing
  • Living stipend (up to $1,000)
  • Up to $2,000 at partner farms

If you have an interest in farming and gardening, planning special events, communications and promotion, or small business, read more about the intern positions we’re looking to fill this summer. Do you have a different set of skills that you think would benefit *cino and Three Rivers? Apply! Want to know more about what *cino interns actually do? Read reflections from last year’s interns: ChelseaLauren O.Lauren A.Tess, and Aubrey.

If you have have any other questions about the internship, please peruse our Internship FAQ or get in touchApplications are due April 30!

We’re also excited to announce our Yearlong Residency Program! Start as a Summer Intern and then continue as a member of the *cino community until the following summer. This program is a unique opportunity to experience the rhythm of intentional community throughout the year, allowing for deeper engagement with our neighbors and with the work. See our Residency FAQ for more information.

Send us an inquiry if you’re interested in our Yearlong Residency!

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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, 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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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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