Community Development

City of Kalamazoo Holiday Events

Downtown Kalamazoo came alive with the sights and sounds of the season in December 2022. To kick off the holiday season, Santa and Mrs. Claus joined residents at the annual tree lighting ceremony and took a stroll with the Mayor through the iconic Candy Cane Lanes as Bronson Park lit up with thousands of lights.
This was just one of the many holiday events supported through the generosity of the Irving S Gilmore Foundation. Santa’s Workshop provided a safe and fun way to celebrate the season and make sure Santa got wish lists from more than 4,000 children in time to deliver. Downtown merchants held special events to celebrate with residents and the pedestrian mall was lit up with more than 80,000 lights. Residents were also allowed to ride in style as the Holly Jolly Trolley provided free transportation across the Downtown network. It truly was a season to remember – community-building at its best – and residents and visitors alike kept the Kalamazoo holiday tradition alive this year.

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)

Since 1988, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has collaborated with local and national stakeholders to invest in Kalamazoo County, contributing over $140 million in outside investment in Kalamazoo’s core neighborhoods in the form of grants, low-income tax credits, new market tax credits, small business lending capital, and federal and state funding. As a comprehensive Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), LISC works across sectors to address the interconnected factors that influence inequality of opportunity.

LISC’s comprehensive programmatic approach combines people and place-based efforts, which we conduct with and through a local network of community-based partners, with the ultimate goal of making Kalamazoo County a great place to live, work, visit, do business and raise families. We do this by:
• strengthening existing alliances while building new collaborations to increase our impact on the progress of people and places;
• developing leadership and the capacity of partners to advance our work together;
• equipping talent in underinvested communities with the skills and credentials to compete successfully for quality income and wealth opportunities;
• investing in businesses, housing and other community infrastructure to catalyze economic, health, safety and educational mobility; and
• driving local, regional, and national policy and system changes that foster broadly shared prosperity and well-being.

In 2022, LISC leveraged local support to secure $8 million in additional resources for Kalamazoo County.

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Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership

While planning for the 2020 Holiday events in spring 2020, our community was hopeful that the COVID-19 pandemic would have run its course by November. We were greatly mistaken. As positive COVID-19 cases increased throughout the summer, the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, leaning heavily on Kalamazoo County Health Department guidelines, determined that it was not safe to proceed with the 2020 Kalamazoo Holiday Parade or the Holly Jolly Trolley.

With the cancellation of two well-attended holiday events, we understood that it was critical to the ongoing economic recovery of our downtown businesses to offer other safe opportunities that would attract visitors to downtown Kalamazoo. With the help of several partners, including the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the City of Kalamazoo, the Radisson Plaza Hotel, Consumers Energy and Meijer, we successfully offered 17 days of 2020 holiday programming.

“Santa Sightings” offered outdoor, safe visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Black Santa returned with increased program hours, and Black Mrs. Claus made her debut! Seven businesses partnered to help distribute two-thousand Santa Letter Kits to downtown visitors, giving them a variety of activities for children to do at home. Plus, Santa mailboxes were placed throughout downtown, encouraging repeat visits.

Twenty block faces were decorated with holiday tree lights, and a new 12-foot wreath offered photo ops. An outdoor holiday market, offered every Saturday in December, hosted 51 vendors, of which 91 percent were minority- or woman-owned. Businesses reported that 2020 sales were equal to or higher than the 2019 holiday season. 

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Kalamazoo Youth Development Network

KYD Network’s Community Learning Hubs are located at various sites around the city of Kalamazoo, supporting K-12 students in person with their virtual learning. The purpose of the art therapy in the Hubs is to educate youth on SEL (Social Emotional Learning) skills through an art lens.

Art therapy is a healing technique that involves making art through creative expression. It is about letting go and creating something; you do not need to be an “artist” to do these activities and with an art therapy outlook, everyone is an artist. The art therapy sessions are an hour long and consist of an inclusion activity in the beginning, an in-depth look at one of the eight SEL skills and how to apply it to the art technique we are doing that day, the art technique itself, and then a small reflection to sum up how the youth felt the session went.

Since we are living in a pandemic, our young visitors have been adjusting to the new normal, which involves wearing masks and social distancing. Despite the pandemic, the youth at the learning hubs are always enthusiastic and thoughtful when it comes to making art. Over the course of time that we’ve been doing art therapy at the learning hubs, the youth have created some really amazing pieces of art that they are able to share with their friends, peers and family members!

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City of Kalamazoo, Parks and Recreation Department — Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market

The Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market on Bank Street in the Edison Neighborhood attracts several thousand residents every Saturday from May through November. This popular activity provides residents and non-residents with fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, pastries, delicious food truck cuisine, and a variety of handmade crafts and artisan items.

The market is a place where many Kalamazooans do much of their weekly grocery shopping, visit with neighbors, enjoy live music, and support their local economy. Monthly night markets on Thursdays have turned into a great event for the community with live entertainment and activities for families.

The City of Kalamazoo and key partners like the People’s Food Co-op have been working for several years on improvements to the market. The City has convened numerous meetings with stakeholders to determine desired improvements and upgrades for the site. A plan was finalized in 2019 that includes upgrading existing vendor sheds, constructing a new vendor shed along the western edge of the site, improving parking, upgrading the restroom/office/storage building, creating a fruit and vegetable-themed playground, adding an indoor market event building, and realigning Bank Street and the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.

Phase I construction will begin September 8, 2020, and will include upgrades to existing vendor sheds and the restroom/office/storage building, the new vendor shed to the west, new concrete/asphalt paving in some areas and the realignment of Bank Street.

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Vibrant Kalamazoo — Eastside Gateway and Pocket Park

Vibrant Kalamazoo supports the Kalamazoo County Land Bank’s work to “Repurpose, Renew and Reconnect” abandoned and blighted properties in Kalamazoo County. Our shared goal is a county where residents in every zip code enjoy economic stability and quality of life. 

Vibrant recently supported the community-defined and embraced Eastside Gateway and  Pocket Park, a mixed-income, energy-efficient, small housing development on East Main Street and Foresmen Avenue. This project is the neighborhood’s first new construction housing development in over 50 years. The Gateway was the result of intensive community engagement and the generous support of more than 50 local partners. Over 200 people attended the Open House & Eastside Celebration in May 2019 to celebrate its near-completion.

As a community that has at times felt forgotten, Eastside residents feel a resurgence of neighborhood pride. Eastside stories were showcased in an intergenerational oral history project, Eastside Voices, a companion Gateway project co-sponsored by the Eastside Neighborhood Association and co-coordinated by artists Buddy Hannah and Sid Ellis. Art elements inspired by the stories are featured in the Eastside Gateway and Pocket Park  and in a mural at 1616 East Main, future home of Eastside Square, a mixed-use development of affordable, energy-efficient housing units, commercial space, and a pocket plaza, also envisioned by residents.

Vibrant’s work is uplifting Eastside voices through story, art and new developments that represent the community’s vision in residents’ own words of a “can do,” “safe,” “warm,” neighborhood with additions that “blend in, but stand out” and “reflect the comforts of home.”

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Douglass Community Association

Douglass Community Association has two youth programs: Douglass Young Men of Promise and Girls Inventing Real Life Solutions. These are both offered after school.

Douglass Young Men of Promise was created after Grad Nation Summit in which young men expressed a desire for a program in which they received mentoring programming that was reflective of who they were and also who they could be. The youth expressed a need for connection with men in the community and an opportunity to connect in ways they had not before. Through this program young men are connected with men in the community who can show them their options for opportunity while also simply showing up to support the youth who are present. The end goal of the program is to assist the young men in obtaining their “promise.”

Girls Inventing Real Life Solutions is designed for girls to have a strong sense of self in a world in which they are bombarded with messages that tell them that will never measure up. This program is about affirmation and connection to the community and one another. The work that is done is both trauma informed and culturally relevant. Girls are connected with women in various careers and provided opportunity to explore what it means to be who they are in a judgment-free environment.

Youth voice is the most important aspect of both of these groups. The young men and the young women both have input into the design and many times the day-to-day of what they will receive from participating. Youth participate in volunteer/community service within the community in which they reside. This creates a sense of responsibility for one’s own environment. We are reaching youth ages 13 – 25. The youth also participate in social-justice learning opportunities. Creating equity in opportunity for those who need it most, that is Douglass Young Men of Promise and Girls Inventing Real Life Solutions.

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Parks and Recreation Department, City of Kalamazoo

The entire community benefits as a result of recreation programs, special events, and parks as they all help us develop better citizens. How adolescents spend their leisure time undoubtedly impacts their developmental trajectory. As such, a focal point of examination for those in the fields of youth development and delinquency prevention is how adolescents spend their leisure time after school and during the summer months.

Living in a playful city brings the community together with activities that focus on youth and families. The offering of recreation programs that engage youth and families and provide the opportunity for play is one strategy that helps individuals establish a sense of community and belonging. These programs also attract citizens across generations, which is also instrumental in the growth and development of youth.

Youth Development is one of three priorities addressed in the Parks & Recreation Department’s Strategic Plan. We define youth development as: “The intentional efforts of staff, residents, and partnering agencies to provide opportunities for youth to enhance their interests, skills, and abilities into their adulthood.”

Two programs that address the leisure time needs of youth in Kalamazoo are After School Programs and “Super Rec” (supervised playground sites). After School Program sites include the Youth Development Center and Station 5. Both sites are staffed with amazing young people who desire to positively impact youth in our community. Homework is a priority and must be completed prior to any “play” time.

“Super Rec” is offered at four sites in the city (Hispanic American Council, Oakwood Neighborhood Association, New Horizon Village, and at LaCrone Park). Youth attend this free program that is staffed with young adults who coordinate a variety of activities during the day. This program is offered from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and averaged 30 youth per site in 2017.

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Vibrant Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo County Land Bank Authority) / Fare Games

1301 Portage Street, located in Washington Square, has undergone dramatic changes over its history: a bank, drugstore, and then, finally, L.A. Insurance, which was abandoned. Kalamazoo County Land Bank has worked to uncover the former beauty — the ornate historic molding, grand ceiling, and the corner façade — of this space in the heart of the Edison neighborhood.

Investments on Portage Street are starting to make a difference, enhancing the vibrancy of this important commercial corridor, but healthy food options are still a challenge in the Edison neighborhood. Fare Games was an exciting means of introducing a competitive element in order to engage local businesspeople and residents in identifying a new tenant for 1301 Portage. Each budding food entrepreneur was asked to develop a business plan for this space, then competed for incentives, such as pro-bono legal services and restaurant supplies, to launch their business. Supporting and enriching the cultural, social and economic life of Greater Kalamazoo.
The winner of the competition, Pho on the Block, will celebrate their grand opening in May 2017. Their plan promises an exciting new modern Vietnamese dining concept with locally sourced produce. This restaurant will serve as an anchor for Washington Square, encouraging people from Kalamazoo and beyond to connect with one another.

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Kalamazoo Astronomical Society /Astronomy Day

Every spring thousands of astronomy clubs, museums, and planetariums around the world celebrate Astronomy Day. Its purpose is to bring science alive for the entire community through educational displays, hands-on activities, special presentations, and sharing the splendors of the night sky. The Kalamazoo Astronomical Society (KAS) has been holding its day-long Astronomy Day celebration annually since 1997. Our free event, aimed at families with school-aged children, is intended to widen knowledge and appreciation of science, particularly the field of astronomy.

KAS Astronomy Day features day and evening activities. Daytime activities have been held at a variety of partnering organization locations throughout the Kalamazoo area such as the Air Zoo, Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and the Kalamazoo Nature Center to reach as broad an audience as possible. Solar observing is a popular activity, allowing attendees to safely observe solar phenomena such as sunspots through member telescopes. Displays highlight member astrophotography, light pollution, and our exploration of the solar system and universe. One of Astronomy Day’s feature attractions, hands-on activities, provide a fun learning experience for our key audience: children.

Evening activities are hosted by our program partner, the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Our Astronomy Day Keynote Presentations have featured many renowned astrophysicists and educators, including astronomer and author Phil Plait, retired astronaut Story Musgrave, Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, and SETI scientist Jill Tarter. Astronomy Day wraps up under the stars at our observatory, located on the grounds of the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Guests observe craters and mountains on the Moon, the rings of Saturn, distant galaxies, and much more.

KAS Astronomy Day has garnered many awards and is a four-time winner of the Astronomical League’s “Best Event” in the medium population category; more than any other organization. We have also won their “Quality Event Year After Year” category on three separate occasions. The KAS is proud to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education throughout our community.

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