Across the past several months, Centennial Park and Herrick District Library just west of the Hope College campus have been enlivened with sculptures celebrating Holland’s connection to author L. Frank Baum’s beloved Oz series.

That history — Baum penned portions of his stories while summering at Macatawa Park — inspired the name of a new program at Hope designed to connect the college with community partners to address Holland’s most pressing needs.

Titled “There’s No Place Like ‘Home,’” the initiative has been established through a 42-month, $800,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The program will be guided by an advisory board including community leaders as well as college faculty and staff. It will link the talents of Hope faculty and students in the arts and humanities, and financial support, with local organizations in developing projects focused on bettering the community and its quality of life.

“We’re excited by the opportunity that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is providing for Holland and Hope,” said Hope College President Matthew A. Scogin.  “‘There’s No Place Like Home’ connects two of the college’s priorities: providing outstanding, transformational learning experiences for our students, and serving as a resource for the community that is home not only for Hope but many of us who work here.  At a time when our world is characterized by discord, this grant will provide an opportunity for Hope and our community to focus on finding harmony in our diversity.”

“Subtitled “The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Community-Based Partnerships Presidential Initiative of Hope College and Holland, Michigan,” the program will run through 2023.

“Our guiding objectives include celebrating diversity and cultivating unity,” said Dr. William Pannapacker, a professor of English who as senior director of Mellon programs at Hope wrote the grant proposal.  “What does it mean to be home? How do we expand that vision? How do we educate our students and prepare them for lives of leadership and service in a changing local community? And how do we as a community address the challenges that prevent Holland from being even more inclusive, welcoming and oriented towards the flourishing of everyone?”

The program will begin seeking project proposals this spring, with the plan being to add more in several cycles across the next year and a half.  Pannapacker noted that variety and creativity are encouraged.

“We anticipate projects focused on local challenges such as inclusion, housing, health care, environment, technology, infrastructure, education, incarceration, employment, social mobility, entrepreneurship, economic development and civic culture,” he said.  “But the form that they take can involve nearly anything, as long as they weave together the needs of the community with our faculty and students and engage with the liberal arts mission of the college, especially including the humanities and arts.”

Providing a sense of what might result, preliminary discussions have included creating a speaker series and speaker bureau focused on challenging local issues, supporting humanities students focused on local non-profits through the college’s entrepreneurship incubator, cross-generational reading activities, involving students in the services of the Holland Community Action House, and engaging more students with the community through internships.

“The student-learning component is a critical piece of this,” Pannapacker said.  “The initiative will enhance the civic-mindedness, learning outcomes and vocational readiness of students. We aim to re-affirm the relevance of the arts and humanities to the so-called ‘wicked problems’ of our time and place.”

The program’s advisory board, which will review the proposals, consists of representatives of community organizations as well as the college, including Nancy DeBoer, who while mayor was active in its development; Denise Kingdom Grier, lead pastor of Maple Avenue Ministries; Elizabeth Kidd, vice president of community impact with the Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation; Dr. Sandra Visser, dean for the arts and humanities at Hope; and Shonn Colbrunn, director of the college’s Boerigter Center for Calling and Career.  In addition to Pannapacker, the leadership team includes Dr. Annie Dandavati, professor of political science, as associate director.

“There’s No Place Like ‘Home’” builds on the success of other programs in the arts and humanities at Hope established with Pannapacker’s leadership through major gift support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities, which began in 2010, integrates technology, experiential education and faculty-student collaborative research, extending a teaching model for which the college was already nationally acclaimed in the natural and applied sciences and social sciences.  The Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative, which began in 2017, has developed linked courses across disciplines and has also provided faculty-student research opportunities built around large-scale, relevant themes such as the environment, feminism and gender issues, immigration and reconciliation.

“We’re grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its long history of support of student learning and engagement in the arts and humanities,” said Dr. Cady Short-Thompson, provost at Hope.  “Our Mellon programs have had a significant impact both in enhancing collaborative learning in the arts and humanities and helping prepare our students for success in the workplace as well as graduate school.”

The college, and Hope faculty, staff and students, already serve the community in a variety of ways, individually as well as together.  Community-focused programs at the college include Hope College TRIO Upward Bound for high school students, established in 1968; the Children’s After School Achievement (CASA) program for elementary school students, established in 1987 and housed at Hope since 1989; the Step Up program for middle school students, established in 2010; and the Hope College-Holland Sustainability Institute, a partnership between the college, City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works that began in 2015.