Welcoming our new Caretakers at Huss!

We’re so excited to announce that our new Huss Project Resident Caretaker positions have been filled by the lovely Dan Truesdale and Margaret Wenger! Dan and Margaret will help us significantly in our efforts to build capacity at The Huss Project and The Huss Project Farm. They will be the “eyes and ears” of event and farm operations here, and will play a critical role in working with AmeriCorps volunteers over the course of the year. We’re so thankful for the support they’ve already provided this week as we’ve begun planting at the farm.

Margaret was raised here in Three Rivers and has been a long standing member of the *cino network. Dan grew up in the Chicago land area and has had significant experience with farming and community work in Georgia and Missouri.

“We’ve been enjoying settling into the neighborhood and starting to work on the farm and other projects at Huss,” they noted. “We’re glad to be returning to Three Rivers and look forward to putting down roots in this community as we work and live alongside those in the *cino community.”

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*cino Work, Hospitality, Leadership, People, Uncategorized

Welcoming new *cino staff: Ale Crevier

We’re glad to have Ale onboard with us this year at The Huss Project! Ale recently graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids with degrees in Literature and Linguistics, and is currently putting her love for writing to use at *culture is not optional with the storytelling team.

Ale grew up in the big city of Chicago with a big family of eight. Known as the “circus” to some, her family has fostered much of the craziness, joy and growth in her life. She and neighborhood friends would constantly be hanging out at the house in the summer, telling stories, building forts and playing frisbee. That the doors were always unlocked communicated a simple, but important message, (aside from a reminder to find the lost key) : belonging belongs in and outside of our homes and ourselves – with community. Hospitality isn’t really a choice we give ourselves, but an opportunity that lives in us and is required of us.

*culture is not optional’s commitment to hospitality – grounded in a vision toward play, food and art – was one aspect that attracted Ale to come to Three Rivers. She hopes to put her language skills to use as an AmeriCorps volunteer this year, researching the history of Huss, sharing community members’ stories and updating social media with The Huss Project’s programming.

Among other questions that she is asking herself, Ale is wondering how she might develop consistent, daily habits that contribute to her mental health and social life in positive ways.





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Welcoming *cino staff: Annelie

We’re excited to have Annelie on board as a year long VISTA member for *cino! Annelie has been a part of our community for a few seasons now, contributing greatly to The Huss Project Farm, Future Festival and the Three River’s Farmers Market. We have greatly appreciated her presence, joy, and work these past few years.

We’re continuing with a series of bios this week, questioning how the places we’re from inform our collective work in Three Rivers. Annelie was born in Corvallis, Oregon and has lived most of her life there. Corvallis is a “hippie” hub for environmental activism, Annelie said, laughing. “Growing up around agriculture and nature as well as seeing this very intentional way of viewing the earth and we interact with it were very influential.”

After moving from Corvallis, Annelie’s perspective on environmentalism has shifted. While the Corvallis community offers alternative ways in which to care for the world, such as implementing solar panels and growing organic foods, not all of their practices are economically accessible. “Moving [to Three Rivers], I realized that the environmentalist movement is not made for rich people even though a lot of wealthier white people have kind of dominated the conversation,” she said. She has found many examples here of folks using their resources, imagination and time to expand the definitions of environmental work.

Similar to Sugan, Annelie has found the social model for permaculture appealing, drawing particularly on activist Pandora Thomas’ work. Thomas’ model focuses on how to address the felt needs of people who find it most difficult to get their needs met, Annelie noted.

Annelie has recently been asking herself the question of how and where to invest her energy. “I used to think I wanted to invest most of my energy in farm work,” she said. “Recently I’ve wanted to invest my energy in education…and getting people connected to resources for their own benefit.”

More bios to come!

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Now accepting apps for year-long AmeriCorps VISTA positions!

We have some great news! Starting in May, we’ll have three full-time AmeriCorps VISTA positions for people who will help us take our work to the next level in the areas of food systems, education, and economic development through the Huss Project, World Fare, and other partners in Three Rivers.

Experience with activities like social research, community development, event planning, education, program development, volunteer coordination, permaculture design, food systems, non-profits … these are the types of things we’re looking for in people who will thrive collaborating at a high level with a grassroots org in a funky, small, Midwest city. We’re looking for people with solid enough experience to function as peer collaborators in creative design toward significant community outcomes, in a spirit of curiosity, joy, and accountability. Here are four words that are floating around for us at the moment as we search:

  • Compassion
  • Collaboration
  • Innovation
  • Detail-orientation

Visit our listing on the AmeriCorps site to submit your application. Applications are open until April 15, but we’re looking to fill these positions as soon as possible to allow our VISTAs to plan for the mid-May start date. The compensation package includes:

  • A living allowance (just over $12,000/year)
  • An educational award (or end-of-service stipend)
  • Health insurance
  • Reduced-cost housing

Thank you for your help in spreading the word and please let us know if you have any questions! We’re really looking forward to this next phase of our community’s work in Three Rivers.

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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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The value of contemplative activism

The *cino community gathered again last week to discuss the ninth core value of the summer, contemplative activism, and how it continues to shape *cino’s work and our lives. Our time together began rather untraditionally with the viewing of a stand-up clip by comedian Louis C.K. in which he rants on the stupidity of why self-proclaimed Christians, of all people, royally screw up the natural world (NSFW). We then took a sharp turn away from the cynical, navigated our way towards thoughtful, practical and hopeful, and arrived at two pieces written this past spring in response to the crude oil pipeline put in across land owned by The Hermitage, a silent retreat center in Three Rivers, as well as other natural space. The pieces, one by Peggy Deames and the other by Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma, highlight the importance of lament in our responses to injustice.

As a student at a mid-size public university, I often witness angry marches around campus in protest to local or global injustices. Some seek to raise awareness amongst the student body, others want university officials to be held accountable, and some seem to just want attention. By no means should the value of public activism or civic duty be diminished; however, the term “contemplative activism,” as we at *cino have come to understand it, helps to distinguish between different attitudes when acting in response to injustice. As our friend Kate pointed out, oftentimes, angry protests with picket signs and coordinated chants merely serve the purpose of “screwing up someone’s day” — whether that be a city official, corporate CEO, or rival dodgeball team. Very rarely do they offer alternative solutions to the supposed problems being proclaimed; additionally, those protesting almost never explicitly acknowledge their own participation in the cycles of injustice being criticized.

This brings us to the responses to the oil pipeline addition this past spring in Three Rivers. Those who gathered at The Hermitage expressed their obvious feelings of anger, dissatisfaction, sadness and fear for “what will be done next?” But they also expressed their sorrow for a culture that is dependent upon the extraction and shipment of crude oil, and in doing so, acknowledged their own dependence on the very thing they lamented. Other than the few folks within walking or biking distance to The Hermitage, most of the folks present drove there in vehicles powered by oil-based gasoline. They recognized that to reign down righteous anger on the companies (or even more ignorantly, the workers) responsible for the pipeline would be a failure on their part to see the small puzzle piece this incident plays in a larger picture of ecological desecration fueled by a consumerist culture in which they are immersed.

This is where the value of contemplate activism is shown. By laying down our stones (or picket signs) and, instead, offering up our hands in lament, we stop drawing boundaries between the “persecuted” and the “persecutors” because we begin to see that such strict labels are never as simple or permanent as we may like. Additionally, by letting go of bitterness and hate, we open ourselves up to empathy and understanding, which creates space for entirely new possibilities for creative collaboration alongside those we may have otherwise called our enemies. Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma gives us an example of the hopeful and imaginative envisioning that is possible when we practice this new form of activism:

I envision a picnic with those who come to work on the pipeline in Three Rivers, perhaps on a grassy slope overlooking the spectacle of de/construction. It will be about more than just lemonade and sandwiches, offering the nourishment of hospitality to those who’s migratory lives have been as disrupted as the soil along the line. Call it idealistic, precious, cute — but counterspeaking contradictions in such ways puts us in good company with each other and with a mysterious Word, lonely no more in our present taste of the life to come.

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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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*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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Make neat things, buy neat things … support *cino!

Imagining Space, the project that *culture is not optional (*cino) has undertaken to renovate the former Huss School building in Three Rivers, Michigan, is a venture in creativity. Our vision is to develop the site as an intergenerational community and educational center and an semester program for college students. Already in place at the property is a community garden that donates over a thousand of pounds of fresh vegetables to families in need every year. Also, two annual “Future Festivals” have drawn the community into the space for summertime fun. Imagination and creativity are central themes which drive this endeavor’s efforts toward hope, justice and grace, and the Culture Make Sale as a fundraiser is a perfect fit for the spirit being cultivated at the Huss School property.

Handcrafted items and customized services of all sorts are available for sale online through September 30, and all proceeds will benefit the continuation of the building’s revitalization. Goods such as stationery, art, photography, clothing, poetry, ceramics, and more have been donated by supporters all over the country. In addition, the sale features many services, such as a session with a consultant on writing a college application essay, a website design, and a customized handmade quilt, love letter, embroidered icon; the list goes on.  Browsers are encouraged to check back often, as new items are being added weekly. Some services are only available in the Three Rivers area, and free pick-up on select items is available.

*culture is not optional is still accepting handmade items and services as donations to the sale. Visit the donation page to find more information about contributing.  The page also includes a list of ideas for what to donate.

The sale’s name comes from the book Culture Making by Andy Crouch, which challenges Christians to be actively involved in culture, creating rather than simply consuming or condemning what’s going on around them. “We’re really excited about how this sale reflects our future hopes for the Huss School property,” said *cino co-director Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma.  “We hope it will be a space of creativity, joy and collaboration, which is what the Culture Make Sale is all about.” Participate in “culture making” by purchasing homemade goods and services, or by offering to donate your own talents and gifts!

Links for more information:

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Culture Make Sale coming soon!

The Culture Make Sale held a wonderful preview event at the Huss Future Festival on July 30, featuring jewelry, stationery, framed photographs, *cino mugs and more. There will be so many great items to choose from when the online store launches on September 1 to help fund the development of a community center and off-campus program! Supporters from all around the world can participate in this project by donating and purchasing a wide array of handmade goods and services. On the list of items so far: a web site, a customized love letter, a customized icon, a handmade jewelry box and college application consultation sessions. What can you contribute? Please get in touch if you have something to give…and watch the Culture Make Sale web site for more details!

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