The earliest version of GR Outside started back in 2016 as a part of the national Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative, with the mission to connect children to nature more often and more equitably. They have since been the recipient of grants and partnerships which have helped them grow into a division of the Parks and Rec Department in Grand Rapids. With the support of the Parks and Rec Department, GR Outside offers residents outdoor equipment rentals, educational courses, and community events year-round.
Q: What do you do?
A: During my time as Equity and Outreach Coordinator, I helped kickstart the Thrive Outside Initiative through the City of Grand Rapids, centering co-creation and trust with the community. Our mission is to be a resource for historically-deprived communities by increasing accessibility to outdoor recreation. I identified barriers, co-designed and prototyped solutions with partners such as the Community Catalysts at WMCAT. In my role, I facilitated collaboration with diverse stakeholders, coordinated events to increase access to the Gear Library—a social innovation that functions as a free library for outdoor recreation equipment. In 2021, I was accepted into the city’s first ever Equity Champions Cohort to co-create strategies that further embed racial equity into the hiring practices, operations and retention of Parks Department employees. I continued this work on a larger scale as a design team member, developing the structure and experience of an Equity Learning Community for city employees (in short a multi-racial, multi-departmental ‘Employee Resource Group’).
Q: How did you get there?
A: Hok’in bi an, Akateko winaj jin’an; my name is Jorge, man of the Mayan Akatek indigenous group. I am an innovator, rebel leader, community and equity catalyst. My living compass, passion is co-designing real equitable change through creative problem-solving of inequitable systems. Before I started working with the city’s Parks & Recreation department, I had already been involved in the community through past employment with non-profits and other parts of local government. I had joined the Latino Community Coalition also around the same time I started work with the Gear Library. This was a steering committee already heavily involved on the south side that provided me with guidance and a sounding board for complex topics. Ultimately a general support position for the Gear Library had opened up on the city’s website, and I saw this as an opportunity to not only fill the job description, but take a leap of faith to practice innovation and equity. This led to the creation of my Equity and Outreach role as I naturally gravitated toward creating the infrastructure.
Q: What impact are you striving for?
A: I strive to build long-lasting social impact encompassed by obliquity as opposed to linear means of addressing inequities. Issues are constantly shifting in directions that we can’t always see. There is so much room to be creative. We want to support a more physically and mentally healthy community. In terms of the community and organization, we would love to witness the Gear Library in the hands of the community.
Q: What does a resilient future mean to you?
A: Liberation or a generative economy, where those most impacted by inequities are thriving through education, philanthropy, workforce development, reparations, green space, and much more.
Q: What barriers are you facing in your work?
A: Paragon barriers such as a lack of funding or transportation demonstrate direct results, and can be simple to spot but sometimes that’s not always the case. Surreptitious barriers which are not always easy to pinpoint can come from things like bureaucracy, inadequate systems, and policies, also operating under an institution like the City of Grand Rapids.
Q: What would we find unique about your organization and the way you operate?
GR Outside is a member of the Outdoors Empowered Network and connected with Gear Libraries throughout the country. We’ve collaborated with the Detroit Outdoors to go ice climbing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during Ice Fest.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m excited for the next opportunity to exercise equity and innovation, aside from studying for the LSAT I also love helping people craft their stories for small video projects.
Support GR Outside
Do you have an outdoor activity that you want to share with others in the community? The Gear Library accepts lightly used outdoor recreation equipment as well as donations directly on our homepage!
In this series, we highlight individuals and organizations that we have observed working toward creating resilient futures — anticipating and provoking atomic change toward sustainable outcomes for their communities and the world.