Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Project Neighborhood invests in this year’s small cohort while planning for the future

Koinonia can house up to 9 students, as well as the house mentors. Photo courtesy of Paige Wolfe.

Lake Drive runs from Calvin’s north entrance all the way through Eastown, where Calvin students frequent restaurants like Yesterdog and Wolfgang’s. A little further down the road sits a massive house named Koinonia — a building with tan bricks and three large attic windows —  where students involved in Calvin’s Project Neighborhood live.

Project Neighborhood is an off-campus living-learning community that encourages community engagement by focusing on five value pillars — “attentiveness to the ordinary, purposeful discipleship, commitment to sustainability, vibrant community, and loving neighbors” — according to Hannah Bechtold, a former Project Neighborhood mentor for the Fuller House and current Project Neighborhood support staff. 

In the last few years, student participation in the program has declined significantly. The decline is likely due to a number of factors, including COVID and increased student involvement in other areas of campus. However, program leaders are hopeful that the proper steps forward will revitalize student interest and investment in Project Neighborhood. 


To start the program, Calvin bought the Koinonia house twenty-five years ago, with a vision of guiding students through “living in intentional community,” Bechtold said.

Project Neighborhood expanded in the following years, running six houses at its peak. Churches offered the use of their parsonages in exchange for students’ service in their community. 

In 1999, Calvin students started living in First Christian Reformed Church (CRC)’s parsonage named Harambee. In 2001, Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church offered their building — named Peniel — for use in the program. In ensuing years, two other churches offered their buildings; these buildings would become Fuller House and Nizhoni. In 2009, the Gordan family donated the Travis Street house specifically for use by Project Neighborhood. Calvin itself only owns two of the six Project Neighborhood houses, Koinonia and Travis Street.

Last year, three houses — Koinonia, Harambee and Peniel — were open with 14 to 15 student participants. Travis Street and Nizhoni closed five years ago, and Fuller House closed last year. 

This year, only Koinonia remains open. Harambee and Peniel closed after the 2022-2023 school year. Eastern Avenue is now selling its Peniel property. Currently, five students live at Koinonia, and two more students will be joining in the spring after their study abroad programs end. 

However, Bechtold told Chimes that at least two of the former church partners are “eager” to reignite their partnerships with Project Neighborhood, if student interest grows again. To achieve this, Bechtold is hosting a series of front porch or fireside chats from Koinonia with members of the Calvin community or Grand Rapids community, with the goal of raising awareness about Project Neighborhood.

Student Experience

Project Neighborhood’s focus on service and engagement with the community attracted Katarina Woldt, a senior living in Koinonia, to the program. “You’re not only being a part of a neighborhood you’re helping serve a community and make it better,” Woldt said. 

Sam Sparling, also a current Project Neighborhood resident, told Chimes that living out the service commitment could be accomplished in many ways. So far, Sparling has helped neighbors with yard work and played games with local kids. “It really forces me out of my comfort zone in a good way,” he said.

The intentional mentoring and Christian community were a big draw for Talisha McCullough, an alumnus who lived in Koinonia last year. “I really appreciated that accountability of being in the word and praying with one another as a house,” she said. Living together and “getting to cook with people from different cultures and walks of life was also super special.”

According to McCullough, she enjoyed deep conversations and relatively frequent game nights during her time in Project Neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Paige Wolfe.

Evelyn Marcrom, a senior who lived in Project Neighborhood last year, also valued her time spent with Project Neighborhood. “It teaches you how to live well in whatever place you’re in…you’re always living somewhere…so learning how to live in a place well is really critical to just being a person,” Marcrom said, “I loved my time there.”


While Marcrom had a great experience, she also felt as if she lived through a bit of a transition while the program tried to find the right balance between considering a student’s workload while also offering a well-developed program. “I think that part of the reason why students may not apply for Project Neighborhood is they worry that it is too much of a time commitment,” she said.

“I would say students feel more stretched thin these days, so when they see our program they might be intrigued, but they see the commitments to these routines and that might scare them away,” Colton Wolfe, one of the Koinonia house mentors, said.

Woldt didn’t participate in her junior year for that very reason; she was busy and did not feel like she could invest 10 hours a week.

However, both Woldt and Marcrom emphasized that the program was less of a commitment than it looked. “On paper, Project Neighborhood looks like it will be your whole entire life,” Marcrom said. “But when you’re in it it’s actually not that much work.”  

Bechtold echoed this, emphasizing that Project Neighborhood’s commitments are things “most students do anyways, like going to church and cooking meals.” In Project Neighborhood, those things happen with a group of the house members.

Bechtold told Chimes the decline was also probably accelerated by the pandemic.“Since COVID I think people are slower to commit to things, and have different fears or anxieties about the unknown,” she said. The potential unknowns of living in Project Neighborhood include not knowing your housemates before committing to living with them and possible transportation issues. 

When asked if he would return to Project Neighborhood next year, Sparling said he is “fully planning on it” and encourages people who may not have an established social group to apply because the program intentionally cultivates community. 

Looking Forward

While Project Neighborhood’s size, structure and focus have evolved over the years, the program remains a valuable part of the Calvin experience. “Students have come back to me and said that in terms of their Calvin experience, nothing made the mission and the vision of Calvin come alive more than living in a Project Neighborhood house,” Wise said. 

The Koinonia house mentors are hopeful that increasing enrollment will translate to an expansion of Project Neighborhood in the coming years. While the program is unlikely to operate all six of its former houses anytime soon, it’s not unreasonable to expect a network of two or three Project Neighborhood houses to be up and running in the near future, according to Colton Wolfe. 

In the meantime, the mentors and students are taking advantage of smaller program numbers to really “get back to the roots of what Project Neighborhood is,” Paige Wolfe said. “We hope that we grow –– but we hope that we grow in people who are committed to this kind of lifestyle and see the value in it, not just growing for the sake of growth.”

Project Neighborhood applications open later this fall and are due in early December. Anyone interested in learning more about living in Project Neighborhood can reach out to Paige Wolfe ([email protected]) or Jay Wise ([email protected]).

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