McLaughlin commitment to neighborhood improvement pays off

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– PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE EXCEPT WHERE NOTED

By Cynthia Price

Eight years ago a small group of determined McLaughlin residents decided they wanted to make their neighborhood better by turning a small park into a community meeting place.

These residents dreamed, planned, and fund-raised, but it was not until the neighborhood development organization, Community enCompass, received a $44,000  from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) that the plans could be fully realized.

Now, among other improvements, the small, well-groomed park has a lovely pavilion with a bright blue roof for the enjoyment of the neighbors.

“This is really a community story,” says Kimi George, Rehab Specialist and Special Projects Manager for Community enCompass, which has any number of projects that benefit community members, including a youth camp and affordable housing through its Bethany Housing.

“Community members are the ones who approached the city about the park in the first place. Neighbors maintain the park, and they came up with this plan for the pavilion eight years ago. They didn’t just forget about it, they stuck with it.”

According to Tonya Young, the Neighborhood Enhancement Program Team Manager at MSHDA, NEP was started in 2016 after the state asked neighborhood development groups what they wanted to fund. Money must go to housing enhancements; neighborhood beautification; and/or public amenity enhancements. Priority is given where there are engaged residents.

“What that means is that we want to assist neighborhoods where there is something actually going on,” Young said. “We’re prioritizing making noticeable change happen.”

In addition to the park, McLaughlin will help three senior citizens make housing improvements. The City of Grand Haven also received an NEP grant for housing improvements.

As far as the use of the funds, George says, “We got quite a lot out of it; we really stretched that money.” The price tag for a steel pavilion increased a lot from the time the neighbors first started planning, so they changed to a wooden pavilion and received labor help from the City of Muskegon. They were therefore able to afford a new shed and two concrete pads for picnic tables.

In addition, The Rotary Club and the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra helped install “Wee Notes”?­– two units similar to a xylophone and one taller unit like organ pipes – near the existing playground equipment.

MSHDA has also given McLaughlin a pilot MOD grant to create modular housing that will expand Bethany Housing’s capacity to supply affordable homes.

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