It Takes a Village: Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma, Mr. Nonprofit

Rob and his partner Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma perform at The Huss Project in Three Rivers.

Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma has become a staple of downtown Three Rivers over the last 19 years, and is certainly worthy of the title Mr. Nonprofit. Whether it’s as executive director of Three Rivers-based nonprofit *culture is not optional, as part of the leadership team of downtown Three Rivers fair trade store World Fare or as board secretary and resident web designer of Watershed Voice, the man loves his nonprofits and in turn, his community.

Rob has made significant contributions to Watershed’s aesthetic as well as our core principles, and we’re eternally grateful for his continued involvement with and support of Watershed Voice. Learn more about Rob and his nonprofits below, and consider making a donation to WSV today.

Full Name: Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Occupation: Executive Director, *culture is not optional

Your connection to the City of Three Rivers and/or St. Joseph County (Including how long you’ve lived or previously lived here): 

I have lived and worked in Three Rivers since 2002.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: 

I grew up in South Holland, a suburb on the south side of Chicago. My partner, Kirstin, and I moved here in 2002 to live temporarily in her grandparents’ cottage on Pleasant Lake; however, we met so many wonderful people here, we decided to stay and to see how we might be able to plug in to the good work happening here. I helped start World Fare—a nonprofit, volunteer-run fair trade retail store and organic/local grocery in downtown Three Rivers—in 2003 and still sit on the board of directors.

I am the Executive Director of *culture is not optional, a small nonprofit organization in Three Rivers that does community development work with the goal of imagining and building collaborative flourishing in our rural city. We run the Huss Project at the former Huss elementary school site, which now features a summer Farmer’s Market, an urban farm, a weekly fresh vegetable distribution during the growing season, a summer lunch program in partnership with Three Rivers Schools, the monthly Fresh Food Initiative in partnership with the South Michigan Food Bank, and the Imaginarium, a whimsical, elegant public space that is a living example of what’s possible when we dream and work together as a community. I currently serve as the chair of the Historic District Commission, a position I previously held for six years. I have also served on the Economic Vitality Committee of the Downtown Development Authority since we started the Main Street Program in 2014.

Why is this project important to you: 

I fell in love with journalism when I served as a co-editor of my high school newspaper. Reading Mike Royko in the Chicago Tribune showed me that a writer embedded in a place could tell stories about that place in ways that no one else could. Since then, the importance of local storytelling has only increased in importance to me. Particularly in rural places like ours, too often our stories are told by others who don’t understand our day-to-day realities. A local, nonprofit news organization supported by its neighbors has the ability to tell our stories and to tell them ourselves.

Sometimes this means quotidian stories about community bake sales or church events; sometimes it means writing stories about local government so we can be better citizens; sometimes it means knowing about upcoming events so we can support our neighbors; and sometimes it simply means providing a venue for conversations about things we love. All of this and more is why Watershed Voice is important to me and to our community. As with any community project, we need you to help make this project the best it can be—whether through a subscription, a donation, or by providing content for us to publish. Let’s work together to tell the stories of our community!