Mayor Heartwell’s Community Conversations Initiative – Findings

At Mayor Heartwell’s State of the City Address in January 2012, he asked citizens to have Community Conversations About Children asking three questions: Do we value our children equally and are we prepared to prioritize their needs?; What clear identifiable needs do our community’s children have?; and What can we do individually and collectively to address those needs? In the first six months, 250 youth and over 500 adults replied. Teens said they do not feel valued in society whereas adults felt children were.  Adults identified numerous basic needs to be met, but teens consistently said they needed mentors and caring adults in their lives.

“I am pleased that citizens used this platform to express themselves candidly. Now that we’ve heard from the people, our deeper challenge is to make sure that we respond to their thoughts and concerns in ways that keep our children’s needs prioritized,” said Mayor Heartwell.

Data from some these conversations were collected by the Grand Valley State University’s Community Research Institute at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and the Office for Community Engagement. Those participating  came were teens ages 15 to 17 attending City, Creston, and Ottawa Hills High Schools and  over 500 adults from the Grand Rapids Rotary, Kent County Health Department, Grand Rapids City Managers, Healthy Homes Coalition, Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids Press, and resident meetings within each of the city’s three wards. Below are some of the key findings:


>80% stated they needed adult attention and guidance

>62% said they did not feel valued or believe their needs were a priority

>59% identified enrichment activities and adult mentors as important to their success


>Needs of children focused on the basics: food, shelter, and housing

>Education and a safe community were mentioned frequently

>Themes from the GR Youth Master Plan of needing to prepare children for college, work and life were mentioned frequently.

The discrepancies between youth and adult responses raise additional questions about how to address the needs of children and while supporting and empowering parents in the community.