Project Neighborhood combines service, community and learning


Photo by Jeffrey Schra

Project Neighborhood students and mentors at a September gathering.

Typical college living options consist of dorms or overused old homes. Calvin, however, offers something else: Project Neighborhood. PN is a program that offers upperclassmen living-learning communities in Grand Rapids neighborhoods where students build relationships and serve in an intentional Christian environment. 

PN is comprised of 23 students, six mentors and four houses and upholds five core values: vibrant community, loving neighbors, purposeful discipleship, committed sustainability and attentiveness to the ordinary. These core values are tied to PN’s rich history, dating back to 1998.

The program was established by Bruce and Sue Osterink and with the help of Calvin Chaplain Dale Cooper, the dream took off. According to Director of College Housing and Operations Jay Wise, a few old parsonages were not being used by churches anymore. To fill the empty homes, three churches contacted Calvin to see if some students and a mentor could live there in exchange for service.

Three houses today are still directly connected to churches: Fuller Avenue CRC is partnered with Fuller House, Eastern Avenue CRC with Peniel, and First CRC with Harambee. The commitment level is flexible; students are only required to attend their partnered church one Sunday per month and serve at least 20 hours per semester. The service hours are preferred to be with the church, but it is not required. Many students end up attending the church more often and completing much more than 20 hours of service, according to Wise.

Some of the most common service opportunities are to volunteer as a tutor, soundboard operator, student reader or participate in the food pantry program.

“We don’t want it to be drudgery,” Wise said. Students can tailor their service hours to what they normally like to do. Wise gave an example of a student who preferred being outside and using their hands; the student was provided the opportunity to do yard work for surrounding houses. 

One of the largest aspects of PN is the mentorship program. Colton and Paige Wolfe are in their second year as house mentors for Koinonia in Eastown.

We originally became interested in becoming PN mentors because of the chance to influence young people in a stage of life that we had just gotten out of ourselves,” Wolfe told Chimes.

Mentors are only compensated through free housing accommodations. Their work is entirely motivated by the desire to be in student lives. Colton Wolfe serves as the head baseball coach at Grace Christian University and Paige Wolfe is a social worker with Cancer and Hematology Centers of West Michigan.

Although they are considered the leaders of the household, the Wolfes described their role as much more than that. “Our role is to guide the house towards a style of living that promotes deep, life altering community, but ultimately it is an equally shared responsibility from everyone in the house to make that happen.”

A few of the mentors’ goals are to not control their students’ lives but rather live with open palms, to live outside of their comfort zones and to leave their community better than how they found it, according to the Wolfes.

Communal living is one of the biggest challenges to PN, Wise said. Dealing with conflict can be hard; however, learning to live together and creating common goals is one of the best ways to live out Calvin’s mission, he added.

“If someone is interested in applying for PN, I would say they should deeply consider why they want to do it,” said the Wolfes. “Living in an intentional community like this is beautiful and rewarding, but also challenging in many ways. There are no prerequisites for living in a Christ-like community except commitment.”

Applications go live in October 2021 for next year’s housing.