*cino Work, Organization, People

Internship application deadline

We are quickly approaching our 2014 summer internship application deadline:  April 15.  If you are still interested in joining the *cino intentional community for this summer, please get your application in as soon as possible. We’re getting excited for all of the new energy to join us as we prepare for summer programming!

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Education, People, Three Rivers

Project Neighborhood visits *cino

Part of what we do at *culture is not optional is to show people why culture is not optional and one of the ways we do that is by introducing various visitors to our rural city of Three Rivers.

This past Saturday, 45 students, mentors, and even a few children from Calvin College’s Project Neighborhood program piled in vans and drove down to Three Rivers for a day of learning and community. Project Neighborhood is a collection of living-learning communities of Calvin students who live in an intentional community for an academic year.  In many ways, the *cino intentional community in Three Rivers is another model for intentional community post-college, providing a basis for interesting conversation throughout the day.

Our day was divided up into segments. We began with an introduction to Three Rivers, to *culture is not optional and to the Huss Project. After lunch, we split into three groups. One group visited a Bluebird Farm, a small local, very organic farm replete with chickens, cows, sheep, maple trees, bees and even a few ducks. One group ventured to St. Gregory’s Abbey, to get a small taste of what it’s like to live a monastic life in rural Michigan. One group toured Downtown Three Rivers, learning about historic architecture and small, local businesses in the the heart of the town. All three groups also toured the Huss Project and were introduced to our current programming as well as our vision for the future.

We then convened everyone for a panel discussion with our intentional community members, specifically the ones living together in *cino’s community house — the Rectory at Trinity Episcopal Church. We finished up the day with an early dinner of soups, breads, conversation, and the feeling of having shared a good day with good people.

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*cino Work, Organization, People, Rectory Stories

Seeking 2014 summer interns!

Although I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into when I moved to Three Rivers as a *cino intern, I had a good feeling about it: I had spent a week in Three Rivers a few months before, and I had gotten a glimpse of what this whole *cino thing is. I saw people doing their part to live simply and to work in community with each other, with their neighbors, with the earth, and with God. I got hooked by the compelling vision and values of the organization.  I was invited into those moments that every non-profit experiences — moments that make the heart sing and moments that make the stomach turn. I’ve been able to utilize my gifts, and I’ve been challenged to improve my weaknesses. I’m happy to say that, over two and a half years after moving here (and after graduating from “intern” to “volunteer staff”), that good feeling remains.

We welcome flexible and committed individuals who wish to embrace community, simple living, social justice and spirituality in everyday life. Interns who are independent self-starters, have some experience living independently away from their parents’ home and work well under little supervision are often best suited for *cino internships. The 2014 summer internship runs officially from June 1 to August 15. Interns live together in a house, alongside the more permanent resident community of the organization, and are asked to contribute an average of 20 hours of volunteer work per week for *cino. Interns can also look for part-time employment in the community if necessary.

If you have an interest in farming and gardening, planning special events, or communications and promotion, read more about our intern positions! Do you have a different set of skills that you think would benefit *culture is not optional? ApplyWant to know more about what *cino interns actually do? Read these reflections from our 2013 interns GinnaJonathanChelsea, and AinsleyWondering what you’ll get out of the internship after two and a half months? Glad you asked! What about jobs, loans, fundraising, and other details? Find the answers to these questions and more here.

If you know someone who would be a good match, please pass along the encouragement to apply!

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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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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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People, Rectory Stories

Una despedida a nuestro amigo, Ginna!

We bid our friend Ginna a fond farewell on Monday as she headed home to Costa Rica via California.  Ginna served as a *cino intern for two months and did a ton of work to help get Triple Ripple Community Gardens up and running for its fourth growing season.  But much more than the sum of her hard work, Ginna was a joyful, affectionate presence in our community and we all miss her greatly already.  We wish she could have stayed longer, but certainly understand the pull of home on her heart.  Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo, Ginna!

For a more complete picture of Ginna’s time here, check out what she wrote for the Huss Stories series.

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