The work of cultivating connection and change in the Westcore neighborhood is spearheaded by Amy Mares. Amy directs the efforts of Westcore Neighbors, an independent nonprofit neighborhood development corporation. Westcore Neighbors manages Nuestra Casa (a neglected property that residents purchased and restored to use as a community center), recruits, equips and mobilizes block connectors, supports neighborhood gatherings, like summer block parties, organizes an annual visioning event, and much, much more.

After struggling to feel at home for many years, Paul Bowles decided to take a chance and relocate to Holland, MI. Since moving to his current neighborhood in Westcore, Paul’s life has improved in ways that he never would have imagined. He found a community and forged connections that transformed his mental, emotional, and physical health. We were fortunate enough to chat with Paul and learn more about his story.

How did you get involved?

Through my involvement with Circles USA, I was able to form concrete relationships with people in the community which have been really impactful on my life. I’m now involved with the organization Westcore Neighbors as a block connector and my job is to be available for members of this block and help them find solutions for problems that arise. I also have the privilege to develop block parties and ultimately try to get people to come out of their shell and become neighbors.

Can you talk about the relationships you have formed in this community?

My friendship with Jay [of CommunityWorks] has been really important. He has helped me to prosper in life in so many ways. He’s the one that pushed me to get to know others in the area by saying, “Paul, be a neighbor. Go knock on the door and introduce yourself and say hi.” So, I did, and now I have a great friendship with my next-door neighbor, and they have become just like family.

How does having a stronger sense of community improve your life?

I know I’m not alone. Growing up, I came from a family that wasn’t very sociable and didn’t have any community or relationships with extended family. When I got to Holland, I started developing significant and loving relationships with people that I had never had before. I’ve planted roots and found myself at home.