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My Story Started at GRCC: Ricardo Tavárez leads New City Neighbors, providing job skills and leadership training

Dec. 6, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Start at GRCC and go anywhere. Every former student has a story to tell about how GRCC gave them the education and opportunity to be successful.

Ricardo Tavárez liked one of his GRCC classes so much that he took it twice!

Tavárez enjoyed the creative writing course taught by poet David Cope, and what he learned there still plays a role in his daily life.

“Exploring writing and literature with my peers in that class gave me a lifeline in communication skills that I still use to this day, in every area of my professional life,” he said.

Tavárez came to GRCC after a year at a four-year university, an experience he describes as “suffocating.”

“GRCC is a breath of fresh air,” he said. “It welcomes students from all walks of life, from those fresh out of the halls of their high school to established individuals seeking to make a career change to retirees just looking to learn something new.

“GRCC provides opportunities for connection, exploration and discovery, with the benefit of an affordable tuition.”

Connections are important to Tavárez, who has crafted a career in community development. After receiving his associate degree in Business Administration, he earned a bachelor’s degree in international business and marketing at Kuyper College and a master’s in divinity from Calvin Theological Seminary.

“Community development has become my niche over the last few years,” he said. “I’ve done some community development training in Latin America, for example, and served as a consultant with churches looking to get involved with their community with a more socially equitable lens around ethnicity and LGBTQ+ inclusion.”

In 2016, he founded En Vivo Church, a nondenominational ministry that welcomes people who identify as LGBTQ+. He also continues to write and acts in community theater productions.

He now uses his community development skills to work with youth as the executive director of New City Neighbors. The nonprofit organization provides job skills and leadership training while running a three-acre urban farm and pop-up cafe.

“My journey has been about making meaningful connections with people that help me better understand who I am and, subsequently, what my goals should be,” Tavárez said. “That, with quite a bit of grit and what Jaime Escalante would call ‘ganas,’ has got me a long way.”

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