The SWAN project:

Ryan Jarvi

On a brick wall at the corner of Fulton Street and National Avenue, just a few blocks west of Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus, is a new mural that represents the changing landscape of the Southwest Area Neighborhood.

A group of eight students in the Kirkhof College of Nursing put the project together in collaboration with Karl Williams, the neighborhood engagement coordinator of The Other Way Ministries.

Maureen Ryan, assistant professor of nursing, said the project was part of the six-week community health rotation for nursing clinical groups, which was a continuation of their winter semester rotation.

“The way it is in (NUR) 417 is they do a community assessment of the neighborhood, and in (NUR) 467 they actually implement it,” Ryan said. “Part of the whole project is to get people involved with having a sense of pride in the neighborhood.”

The group began the SWAN (Southwest Area Neighborhood) project in January 2013 when it surveyed over 120 residents and talked to neighborhood leaders to gauge an opinion on the most important concerns of the neighborhood.

The responses showed that the majority of residents were concerned with crime and safety. After researching the literature, the students found that community beautification can affect a sense of neighborhood safety.

“Our research showed that improvements such as gardens, water fountains, benches, painted street murals and so on were intended to strengthen social networks and social capital by providing places for residents to engage in conversation,” said Gretchen Fader, a student in the group. “Our plan was to cover up graffiti and paint a mural that would be centrally located in SWAN to serve as a symbol of the community members.”

By making the environment more attractive, it can also make the neighborhood more walkable, which Fader and the other nursing students hope will contribute to an overall healthier lifestyle for residents.

After brainstorming and collaborating with community organizations, the group came up with its idea to use a swan with a handprint as the centerpiece of the mural.

“We believe, and found evidence to support, that community members who feel a sense of pride about where they live are less likely to commit property crimes,” said Jennifer Rice, another student involved with the project. “We hope that by creating this mural we can help to begin a decrease in crime in the
SWAN area by increasing community togetherness.”

Melody Russell, another group member, said the mural represents a step in the right direction for the neighborhood.

“Even though it’s something small we’re hoping that it creates a ripple effect, and that after being involved in this project, community members will want to become involved in other neighborhood projects,” Russell said.

Overall, the project has taken six months spanning from January to June, when the clinical group finished its rotation, but poor weather pushed back its completion date.

“The basis of the mural is done, but we hope to add more to it in the near future since our final plans had been rained out twice so far,” Fader said. “Our hope for the future is to add community members’ handprints to the wall all around the swan as a symbol of their neighborhood pride.”

The project was entirely a volunteer effort and relied on support from the SWAN community. Fulton Liquor Store gave permission to use its brick wall as a canvas for the mural.

“We were allowed to use tools, ladders (and) painting supplies from The Other Way Ministries,” Fader said. “We borrowed a power washer from a kind community member, the Nawara Brothers Home Store donated two gallons of paint, and the rest of the supplies were out of our pockets.”

In addition, the group also passed out information in the neighborhood and taught ways to help make the community a better place to live.

“After hearing about all of the information and the benefits of the mural, community members would sign a pledge to refrain from committing any property crimes, such as graffiti, and we would also give them the necessary resources to call and report property crimes that they witnessed,” Fader said.

A post-assessment survey the clinical group did showed the residents had increased the importance they placed on the appearance of their neighborhood and were also more informed on how to report crimes.

“For right now, we just hope that the Southwest area neighbors, and anyone driving through Grand Rapids, will notice the mural that we did and recognize that Grand Valley nursing students worked really hard to work alongside them to hopefully start a trend to beautify the neighborhood even more,” Fader said.

Kelli McGee said the mural represents a growing friendship between GVSU student nurses and residents of the SWAN neighborhood.

“Establishing a trusting relationship is the cornerstone to having successful health outcomes with the neighbors that we are working so closely with,” McGee said. “Additionally, I hope that this mural can serve as a reminder of how little things like painting a wall can make a big difference in a community.”