*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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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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Building, Education, Hospitality, People, Three Rivers

Calvin College students explore Three Rivers on Spring Break

Every year, we look forward to a visit from Calvin College students who are ready to serve and learn about Three Rivers over their spring break. We had to cancel our plans last year on account of low registration, but this year we are grateful for a very enjoyable and productive week with five eager and passionate students!

Calvin College’s Service-Learning Center coordinates groups for a week of service and learning with organizations around the country. Along with the *culture is not optional staff, the five students followed a rhythm of life together: beginning each day with morning prayer, working for several hours at the Huss Project in the morning, eating lunch at the Rectory, visiting local community members around Three Rivers in the afternoon, and cooking and lingering at the dinner table in the evening over conversations both weighty and light-hearted. The group stayed at The Hermitage and St. Gregory’s Abbey, which offered an environment of rest and contemplation during a busy week.

At the Huss Project, the main focus of the work was preparing the gym to be converted into space for a woodshop. Willing hands took down the drop ceiling to make way for new lighting, installed pallet racking for storage, and hauled away metal for recycling. Removing the ceiling revealed that we might be able to collect rainwater from the gym roof for the garden! The Huss Project garden is nearly ready for planting, thanks to the students who pulled out last year’s plants and harvested over-wintered carrots. Some much-needed organizing also took place in the office and supplies areas of the building.

In the afternoons, we visited neighbors and community members to listen to their stories and to learn how they make Three Rivers a unique place. We visited with farmers (and harvested more carrots!), artists, business owners, civic and church leaders, and monks and spiritual leaders. We had excellent conversations about the challenges and the life-giving aspects of living intentionally in a place.

It was wonderful to spend a rich, full week with curious, engaged, hardworking students who are asking good questions about the world we live in. At the end of the week, instead of “Goodbye,” we said, “See you soon!”

Find pictures of the week on our Flickr album.

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Education, Organization, People, Three Rivers

Join us for our PAID summer internship!

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 2016 summer internship runs from June 3 to August 14. Interns live together in our community house, work alongside the resident community of the organization 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’s our illustrious benefits package this year:

  • Housing
  • $1,000 living stipend
  • 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 these reflections from former interns NateAlexandraSeth, and Kate.

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

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Event, Fundraising, Hospitality, People, Three Rivers

Creative collaboration at Harmony Fest

Each Labor Day weekend for the past 22 years, citizens of Three Rivers have been coming together across all sorts of boundaries to enjoy Harmony Fest, a day of live music in the historic downtown district.  For many years, World Fare, a fair trade store that *cino collaborates on, has been celebrating its anniversary during Harmony Fest.  This year was no exception, with the store celebrating 12 years in business.

But this year, we entered a new collaborative venture by helping launch Harmony Fest’s first ever beer garden.  For weeks leading up to the festival, *cino staff scavenged and hauled and strategized and painted to craft a beautiful environment that would encourage good conversation and responsible enjoyment of a great variety of Michigan microbrews.  We wanted to create a fun space that would honor the incredible legacy of Harmony Fest in bringing community-building art to our great city. The result was a 5,600 square foot garden featuring locally grown mums, handmade picnic tables, reclaimed pallets and fair trade planters.  Catch a glimpse by checking out our photos.  Our participation in designing and building the environment and recruiting volunteers earned a portion of the proceeds for the Huss Project.

Congratulations to the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and the Harmony Fest committee on another great event, and thanks for letting us be a part of it!

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People, Three Rivers

Helping hands for summer 2015

The summer of 2015 has proven to be an unusual but rich season for the core *cino community.  Instead of our usual collective of summer interns serving a term from June 1 through August 15, we’ve ended up with a different assortment of helpers, each of whom has brought heart and skill to our shared work.

Joel Altena was the first to move into the Rectory at Trinity Episcopal Church, which has served as our *cino community house for five years now.  Freshly graduated from Calvin College, Joel is taking a year before he begins seminary to explore ministry on the ground in a rural setting.  Serving part-time with Three Rivers Christian Reformed Church and part-time with *cino, Joel has been readily sharing his abundant gifts of enthusiasm, curiosity and humor.

About a month in, Joel was joined at the house by Ryan Weberling, a long-time friend of Rob and Kirstin who has been wanting to spend an extended period of time in Three Rivers for a while and things finally aligned for him to do so.  Also a Calvin graduate from several years back, Ryan is working on his dissertation in English Literature at Boston University.  His culinary skill, reflective nature and vision for community have been great gifts to all of us in his short time here.

And finally, an unexpected U-turn led Daniel Ferrell to the rectory as well.  A former roommate of Joel, Dan arrived just in time for the controlled chaos of Future Fest preparation and he willingly jumped in to help with whatever, whenever — including an array of outdoor tasks on the hottest day of the summer.  Where Dan’s gifts truly shine, however, are in media production, and in the post-Future Fest lull, he constructed a beautiful collage of footage from the festival that almost makes us want to do it all again RIGHT NOW.

We weren’t sure what this summer was going to hold, but we are truly grateful that it turned out the way that it did, with local and non-local friends pitching in on our common work at the Huss Project and beyond!


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Building, Education, Event, People, Three Rivers

Sixth annual Huss Future Festival to feature art, food, music and more!

In 2010, the seed of an idea began to sprout when Three Rivers citizen Julie Keefer asked a simple question: what would it look like to organize a summer fundraiser for the Huss Project, which is an effort to turn an old elementary school into a community center and residential space? In the years since, Keefer’s idea has blossomed into one of the area’s most lively community events, growing bigger and better each year. The sixth annual Huss Future Festival will take place on Saturday, July 18 at 1008 8th Street in Three Rivers.

“We are thrilled to be partnering for the second year in a row with the Three Rivers Area Faith Community to host the annual Back to School Celebration,” said Keefer, who has served as the Festival chairperson for six years running. All school-aged children who attend the celebration with a guardian will receive a backpack full of school supplies and the first 300 kids to register will also receive a slice of pizza from Hovey’s Pizza. The Back to School Celebration will run from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. alongside a Coin Carnival, with a variety of activities and crafts provided by local organizations.

Beyond the Coin Carnival and Back to School Celebration, the Festival will feature a wide variety of activities from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Local musicians will provide live music all day long, and a rummage sale with gently used items donated by the community will benefit the Huss Project. Those looking for something to eat and drink can enjoy the coffeehouse, bake sale and farmers market. The farmers market will offer prepared salads for lunch, with Ambassadors for Christ Church bringing their famous BBQ.

The Huss Project is currently raising funds to build an outdoor pavilion that will benefit ongoing summer programming at the site, including a community garden, summer lunches for kids and educational workshops. Tax-deductible contributions are welcome and can be sent to P.O. Box 1, Three Rivers, MI 49093. Three Rivers Area Faith Community also welcomes contributions toward the Back to School Celebration, which can be mailed to P.O. Box 273, Three Rivers, MI 49093.

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