GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — While some may see closed signs and vacant streets across West Michigan as just that, Karen Vander Werp looks at it as something else.
“What I really saw was dreams and aspirations and successes fading away,” Vander Werp said.
An interior designer in Kent County for more than 40 years, Vander Werp knows it’s hard for businesses to stay closed because of the coronavirus.
“The longer this goes on, the more likely a lot of small businesses will not be able to reopen because they have been without revenue for so long,” Vander Werp said.
However, Vander Werp believes that decision could be avoided if businesses don’t have to pay employees, for at least a few weeks, once Michigan’s stay-at-home order is lifted.
With that in mind, Vander Werp started “Community Reopen 2020” in mid-April.
“This would be a source of multiple talent, skills, people with different time schedules, that would be willing to go in and help them cut expenses upon the initial opening of these businesses,” Vander Werp said.
Vander Werp says they plan is to help small businesses who have not been able to get financial assistance during the pandemic.
Interested volunteers and businesses just need to fill out a form.
“We’ll try to pair them up … so that it’s convenient for everybody and then move forward,” Vander Werp said.
Once the businesses is in a better position, the goal is to then replace the volunteers with the old, or new, staff.
As of Sunday, Vander Werp said 30 people have stepped up to help.
“I’d like to help get our local community, companies, businesses, small offices or whatever up and running,” said Shelia Murphy, one of the volunteers.
Murphy wants to offer her background in healthcare and human resources to someone who needs it, but said she’ll do anything as long as it flips signs to open and fills the streets of West Michigan with customers.
“We can get them going again,” Murphy said. “We can get their inventory done. We can get them stocked. This is where our children will look for summer jobs, this is where our neighbors work. We want everybody to be successful and get back on their feet.”
“People helping people, filling needs and not expecting anything back,” Vander Werp said.
Interested volunteers and businesses can fill out the survey here.