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WGNO Attends the 29th Annual Neighborhood Organizations of Michigan Conference

posted Sep 22, 2015, 4:35 AM by mail

WGNO Attends the 29th Annual Neighborhood Organizations of Michigan Conference


On August 18 & 19, 2015 West Grand Neighborhood Organization staff were able to attend the conference that was held in Grand Rapids. WGNO made the most of the event by splitting attendance between staffers over the course of the two day event. The conference included guest speakers from the Grand Rapids Police Department, the League of Women Voters and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to name just a few. Robert Tolbert, Executive Director commented, “We are excited to participate in events where we can share best practices and meet leaders not only in our city but also across the state.”

West Grand Neighborhood Organization selects Robert Tolbert, Jr. as Executive Director

posted Sep 16, 2015, 2:15 PM by Chi Benedict   [ updated Sep 26, 2015, 3:33 PM by mail ]

Contact: Erica Curry-VanEe, WGNO Board Member


Phone: (616) 451-0150




 West Grand Neighborhood Organization selects Robert Tolbert, Jr. as Executive Director

“Grandson of Gypsum Miner returns home to lead the West Grand Neighborhood Organization”

 Grand Rapids, MI – West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) ( announced today that Robert Tolbert, Jr. will lead the organization as Executive Director.  Tolbert brings a wealth of experience across both the public and private sectors as a highly skilled leader of collaborative change initiatives.  A native of Grand Rapids, Tolbert’s career includes corporate leadership roles on cost

reduction projects for global industry leaders in Transportation and Media (FedEx, Walt Disney, Time Warner, NBC Universal).  Since returning home he has consulted for a trade organization focused on minority business development (Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council) and worked in the Grand Rapids Public Schools as a substitute teacher.  Tolbert’s business skills combined with a sincere passion for helping people will ensure WGNO remains a strong voice for the neighbors it serves during this period of rapid economic development.  Tolbert is a proud graduate of Michigan State University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy as well as an MBA with a concentration in Supply Chain Management.  Robert also speaks Spanish and holds an Executive Certificate in Doing Business with Mexico and Latin America.

 Ed Ashbaugh, President of the WGNO Board of Directors said “I have been involved with West Grand for more than twenty years, and I am excited to bring Robert on board at this time of rapid change for our area.  We were faced with many decisions regarding the future of WGNO as a board, and we look forward to supporting Robert as he rolls-up his sleeves to take us to the next level.  Our vision for change is aggressive and we needed a leader who could execute and hit the ground running.   We are committed as a board to moving WGNO forward and supporting Robert as he executes this vision.”

 Tolbert joined WGNO as Interim Executive Director in July 2015 to steer and stabilize the organization through a period of leadership change and transformation.  Tolbert’s impact has been felt immediately by leading a record-pace of event fundraising and grant writing for the organization.  Most recently, Tolbert has secured grant support for technology resources which will result in the rebuilding of the website and membership database for the organization.  Tolbert will also oversee the implementation of city services provided by WGNO including Crime Prevention and Community Organizing; on the state level the Auto Theft Prevention Authority program, funded by the Michigan State Police Department.

 Tolbert comments “I am honored to serve at this time for a few key reasons.  First, my Grandfather moved from South Carolina to Grand Rapids to work in the Gypsum Mines on the West Side over sixty years ago and he took pride in being a part of that industry – always careful to show us “sheet-rock” so that we knew what it was.  I remember helping him pull his boots off after work and seeing his helmet with the light on top, which he would let me wear to hunt for Night Crawlers for our early morning fishing trips.  I smile when I think of how he moved the family to this town during The Great Migration period of U.S. History when many African-Americans left the south for new jobs in the north.  It was a different time then in Grand Rapids and I am sure he is smiling down from above on this day when his Grandson is taking the lead of this organization.  Also, I am excited to join WGNO during a time where there is a spirit of collaboration growing on the West Side between community-based organizations.  My experience lends to building teams and collaborating on projects to gain maximum return – it feels great to have this focused on helping my neighbors during this phase of my career.”

 Tolbert will kick-off his administration with a series of neighborhood listening sessions next month to gain even deeper understanding of the concerns of neighbors and businesses.  The listening sessions are being funded by the Non-profit Technical Assistance Fund (NPTA) and will be professionally facilitated and structured to gain insights from WGNO neighbors and community leaders.


About WGNO:

West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) is the second-largest neighborhood organization in Grand Rapids.  Its boundaries include the Grand River to the east, Bridge Street to the south, Bristol Street to the southwest, and the city limits to the north.  We are a non-profit organization.

WGNO has a great mix of residents and businesses and is home to two neighborhood business district within its boundaries –West Leonard and Stockbridge.  It is our goal to produce such programs that enable our residents and businesses to coexist in an environment that produces a healthy and vital neighborhood for all.

WGNO Receives Give Camp Grand Rapids Grant

posted Sep 16, 2015, 11:28 AM by Chi Benedict

Contact: Robert Tolbert, Executive Director

Phone: (616) 451-0150



New Website and Member Database: WGNO receives Give Camp Grand Rapids Grant

WGNO joins a list of well respected leaders in the non-profit community.

The Official Grand Rapids Give Camp 2015 recipient list:

“We will rebuild our website and membership database with the help of Give Camp IT professionals.  We will provide resources to help our neighbors LIVE – LEARN – WORK & PLAY!”

Grand Rapids, MI – West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) ( announced today that it has been selected to participate in Give Camp Grand Rapids.  Robert Tolbert WGNO Executive Director said “We are excited to be selected by Give Camp for help with our website and membership database.  One of my priorities as the new leader for WGNO is to deliver tools that help us communicate with neighbors more effectively.  User friendly tools are important for everyone.  I believe that information should be easy to access and use.  We will overhaul our website with user-friendly tools as well as bi-lingual capabilities for our Spanish speaking residents.  By simplifying access to resources in our major categories of LIVE – LEARN – WORK & PLAY we will better support our neighbors.  I want to also thank Chi Benedict, our Interim Community Engagement Specialist for all of the work she has put into developing our website over the years – even as a volunteer.  Chi will be working closely with this grant to ensure our site is the best that it can be.” Chi comments, ”I am happy to be a part of this opportunity to help make our website more accessible to all of our residents. In the past three years I have spent many volunteer hours updating and creating content for the site. I am excited to see what we can do with our website with the help of Give Camp.”

What is Give Camp

Give Camp is a weekend-long event where technology professionals – from designers, developers and database administrators to marketers and web strategists – donate their time to provide solutions for non-profit organizations.  The event this year will take place Oct. 23-25th.

What this means for WGNO

WGNO’s proposal includes development of a new website with a fresh new look and feel - with more user friendly access, and bi-lingual capability.  Also there will be a modernized membership application process and database.  

About WGNO:

West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) is the second-largest neighborhood organization in Grand Rapids.  Its boundaries include the Grand River to the east, Bridge Street to the south, Bristol Street to the southwest, and the city limits to the north.  We are a non-profit organization.

WGNO has a great mix of residents and businesses and is home to two neighborhood business district within its boundaries –West Leonard and Stockbridge.  It is our goal to produce such programs that enable our residents and businesses to coexist in an environment that produces a healthy and vital neighborhood for all.

West Grand Block Party Named by as One of the Top 5 Things to do Around Grand Rapids This Week!

posted Aug 27, 2015, 7:56 PM by mail

August 27, 2015 recently named the West Grand Block Party on of the Top 5 Things to do Around Grand Rapids this week! Check out their article at: - Top 5 Things to do around Grand Rapids

A note from our Interim Executive Director, Robert Tolbert:

"Let's have some FUN!  We have partnered with three neighborhood businesses to throw a Block Party Fundraiser!

The Mitten, Two Scotts BBQ and Longroad Distillers have come together to donate proceeds to The West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO).  What a great example of how our businesses are making investments back into the neighborhood.  We'll identify even more areas where businesses can sponsor events to benefit our community.

Let's keep the growing spirit of unity alive in the neighborhood streets of the West Side.  Like never before our residents, businesses and community organizations are working together!  Collaborating and making our neighborhood a better place to LIVE, LEARN, WORK, and PLAY!"

West Grand Block Party event details:
West Grand Neighborhood Organization will host an inaugural block party on Saturday, August 29 from 12PM – 8PM. The party grounds will include the customer parking lots of Long Road Distillers (537 Leonard NW) and The Mitten Brewing Company (527 Leonard NW). A portion of Quarry Street NW north of Leonard will also be closed to accommodate. 
The purpose of the event is to inform residents about WGNO and its programs, raise funds for the organization, and to provide a forum for neighbors and residents to socialize. There is a suggested donation of $5 for admission. Paid admission to the block party will grant a one year paid WGNO membership to guests who live in the neighborhood. 
The block party will feature West Grand business vendors, and food from Two Scotts Barbecue, craft beer and wine from The Mitten Brewing Company, spirits from Long Road Distillers, and coffee from Ferris Coffee and Nut will all be available for purchase. Additionally, there will be live music from 2PM – 8PM featuring performances from DJ Vinyl Fetish, JOE, AOK, The Legal 
Immigrants, Shane Tripp and Boot Strap Boys. 
All profits will directly benefit WGNO, and will be applied to important neighborhood programs like Neighborhood Watch, National Night Out, Dumpster Days, Auto Theft Prevention, and more.  

For more information and details check out our website
To see the West Grand Block Party event on Facebook:

WGNO Receives Donation From Deportivo West Side Soccer Team

posted Aug 25, 2015, 8:09 PM by Chi Benedict   [ updated Aug 26, 2015, 8:57 AM ]

Grand Rapids neighborhoods came together for the first year of the GR Champions League; a new local community soccer league. Teams from different neighborhoods played each other once a week throughout the summer and early fall at area soccer fields. The league was started to celebrate and connect the unique citizens and neighborhoods of Grand Rapids through the sport.

Currently there are six neighborhood teams including:

Deportivo West Side - Home Field: Harrison Park School

Downtown Heartsiders - Home Field: Heartside Park

Eastown United - Home Field: Wilcox Park

FC Southtown - Home Field: Burton Elementary

Heritage Hill Lyons - Home Field: GRCC

Southeast United - Home Field: Congress School

Each player was asked to donate $10 at the beginning of the season. Each neighborhood team then took the donations and together picked a local nonprofit where they would donate the money. Deportivo Westside whose home field is at Harrison Park School donated their money to the West Grand Neighborhood Organization this year.

Deportivo West Side in action.

Players on Deportivo Westside included people from Challenge Scholars, the Literacy Center of West Michigan, D.A. Blodgett St. John's, Kent School Services Network, Kids Food Basket, Bridge Street House of Prayer, Partners for a Racism-Free Community, Union High School, Keystone Community Church and The Other Way Ministries.

On August 24, 2015 Sergio Cira Reyes and Ben Oliver (Team Captain) of Deportivo West Side present West Grand Neighborhood Organization's
Interim Executive Director, Robert Tolbert with a check for the money raised by the players of the team.

West Grand Neighborhood Organization would like to thank the players of Deportivo West Side for their generous donation and we are glad to have them be a part of our community! 

If you would like more information about the GR Champions League contact: Bill Kirk

Deportivo West Side and West Grand Neighborhood Organizations Interim Executive Director, Robert Tolbert.

Westside Walk for Gilda's

posted Aug 22, 2015, 11:23 AM by mail

Gilda's Club of Grand Rapids Presents:

For Registration and more information, please go to:

Free Auto Theft Prevention VIN Etching Event

posted Aug 13, 2015, 7:58 AM by mail   [ updated Aug 18, 2015, 5:47 AM ]

Auto Theft Prevention VIN Etching Event

Date: Monday, August 24, 2015
Time: 9:00 AM - 11 AM
Cost: FREE
Location: In the municipal lot behind the WGNO office at 415 Leonard St. NW Grand Rapids, MI 49504

WGNO will be doing FREE VIN etching from 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM on Monday, August 24th!


Protect your vehicle with this free service provided by the Michigan State Police Auto Theft Prevention Authority. Etching your vehicle only takes 7-10 minutes!


A specially designed program to combat auto theft, ATPA is supported by a Michigan State Police grant. Through ATPA, each automobile's Vehicle Identification Number is engraved on all pieces of auto glass with a stencil and special acid. Because thieves can't re-sell a VIN-etched car without exposing their activity, and because replacing auto glass is prohibitively expensive, research shows that autos with VIN-etched glass are far less likely to be stolen. Many insurance companies offer reduced premiums to owners of cars with VIN-etched glass. Two retired policemen, Jim Brower and Rob Prescher, coordinate the ATPA program throughout southern Michigan, and work out of the WGNO office.  

 For more information contact Jim or Rob at 451-0150.

West Grand Block Party

posted Aug 8, 2015, 2:11 PM by Chi Benedict   [ updated Aug 19, 2015, 10:41 AM by mail ]

The Mitten Brewing Company, Two Scotts BBQ and Long Road Distillers Present:

On Saturday, August 29th the stage is set for the first annual West Grand Block Party! Quarry St. will be closed North of Leonard to accommodate.

12 PM - 8 PM
$5 Admission

Live Music & DJ sets from 1 PM - 8 PM and Include:

DJ Vinyl Fetish will spin sets before and between sets
2-2:45 Joe
3:15-4 AOK
4:30-5:15 The Legal Immigrants
5:45-6:30 Shane Tripp
7:15-8 Boot Strap Boys

Beer from The Mitten Brewing Company
Food from Two Scotts BBQ
Spirits from Long Road Distillers

All proceeds to benefit West Grand Neighborhood Organization.

Brought to you by:

Mercantile Bank Of Michigan
616 Development
Open System Technologies 
Westside Garage
Ferris Coffee
Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.
Rockford Construction

A word from our Interim Executive Director

posted Aug 4, 2015, 7:22 AM by mail

Hello Neighbors and Friends,

The news of the suicide shooting at our local 5/3 Bank Branch at the corner of Leonard & Alpine was a sad and disturbing incident to learn of yesterday. Our Interim Community Engagement Specialist, Chi Benedict happened to be near the location following the event and immediately called me with concern about the police activity outside the bank.  Together, we learned of the details as more information was released.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all involved.  Witnessing such an act is traumatic. It should also make all of us as neighbors take a moment of silence to reflect.  We will follow the investigation and keep you posted.

What you can do?
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call police at 616-451-3604 or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345 or online at

Also don't forget about TONIGHT 6-8PM: National Night Out
Stocking Elementary
-Crime Prevention
-Food / Games / Raffles & More


Robert Tolbert, MBA
Executive Director - Interim
West Grand Neighborhood Organization

GRPD Press Release: Citizen Police Academy 2015

posted Jul 31, 2015, 11:09 AM by mail

Press Release: 
The Grand Rapids Police Department will be hosting its 19th Citizen Police Academy beginning Tuesday, September 15, 2015. The Citizen Police Academy (CPA) is a ten (10) week program that meets once a week on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. This program is designed to provide members of the Grand Rapids community with additional knowledge about their police department. The deadline for accepting applications is Friday, August 21, 2015. 

Additional details are in the press release below:

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