I was elected as the secretary for the Western Michigan Mountain Biking Association (WMMBA) in 2009, and treasurer in 2011, an advocacy group that builds, maintains, and supports mountain biking throughout West Michigan. In 2011 we announced our new "50 in 5" campaign, which is our goal to build 50 new miles of mountain biking trail in the next 5 years. We are one of the first mountain biking organization to be included in a master city recreation plan and are working with the city of Grand Rapids to complete the "Grand Loop" which will connect all existing mountain bike and road bike trails into a single "loop" that circles Grand Rapids and West Michigan. In 2010 we completed work on the Grand Rapids Urban Bike Park, which is an inner city BMX and mountain bike park that was built in an area that was previously abandoned softball fields, heavy in drug use and gang activity. Having witnessed the transformation our bike park had on this area we plan on building many more similar parks in the near future.
Catherine's Health Center is a free health clinic for uninsured patients in Kent County. They recently moved into a new facility and were looking for some help in configuring an Electronic Medical Records System called OpenEMR. Because of my background in Healthcare informatics and software development I decided to help them out and will be spending some time helping them to fully integrate this system into their practice. Hopefully this system, once fully implemented will allow them to provide even better service than they already do.
On many occasions I've had the opportunity to observe Dr Jack Walen, Catherine's Medical Director as he sees patients. I've seen firsthand that most of the "uninsured" patients that he sees are not the stereotype that media portrays uninsured patients to be. Most of these people are hardworking and for the most part educated people. Simply bad luck or lack of medical benefits has left them in a situation in which they don't have access to basic healthcare. Not anymore!
In the past I've doubted the idea of true altruism, but after being involved with Catherine's I think I've changed my mind. These doctors, nurses and volunteers are by far the most selfless caring individuals I've ever met. I'm impressed with everything they have accomplished and even more amazed by their mission and commitment to it. Wow!
Bethany Services New Neighbor Program matches volunteers within the community with newly arriving refugees to help make their transition into the "American life" a bit easier. I began working with Dinesh and Phurni, a young couple from Nepal in 2010 shortly after they arrived in Grand Rapids. I meet with them at least once a week and help them with anything from showing them around town, working on English, figuring out how to pay taxes, or getting a cell phone. Last October they invited me to Deepavali (festival of lights) one of their most important holidays, and taught me a lot about their traditions and culture. I've tried to make it a point that for each "American" thing we do now, I have them show me something from Nepal. In May of 2011 they gave birth to their first child, a boy named Dashan!
In 2010 I helped my good friend Casey O'Neill run for Kent County Commissioner. As his campaign manager I helped him by setting up a website, getting campaign materials made and printed, and raising campaign funds. The incumbent defeated us, but we both learned a lot about the political process and will be running again two years from now! Not only did I learn about campaigning but I gained an in depth understanding of some of the most important financial decisions affecting our county. While most of us focus on political issues at the national level, this has made me value the importance of local political education and involvement. These are the issues that directly impact us and local political seats like a county commissioner are the ones that made those decisions.