Small town + big hearts = social capital in Grand Ledge

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By Kaitlin Petrillo
Living in the Ledge Staff Reporter

“I’ve worked in Grand Ledge for almost 30 years,” said Lynne Vermillion, a hairstylist at Talk of Town Hair Care. “Everyone is really close, and very supportive.”

That’s not an unusual assessment of Grand Ledge, primarily known for its long-time, small-town feel. Whether it is hosting several different parades each year, organizing community events for all ages, rooting on the Grand Ledge Comets, or just grabbing a bite with a neighbor; Grand Ledge is all about its community relationships.

And that matters more than you’d think.

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“When people know each other they have a greater sense of what is called collectivism,” said Joel Stillerman, Professor of Sociology at Grand Valley State University.

“Collectivism means that there is a sense of trust in other people. You know you can communicate with others so that when there is a problem or a challenge, you have people you can turn to for help.”

Stillerman referenced the American sociologist James Coleman and The Social Capital Theory. Social capital is the connections people have with others. It is the trust and expectations they develop when they’re connected to people.

“We’re one of the rare communities that has the city as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the school super intendant as a member, and  different community groups that are members,” said Larry Austin, an active member in the community. “We bring organizations together and really try to pool resources as much as we can.”

The Austins have been involved in the Grand Ledge community for several generations.

“I’ve grown up here and growing up, my parents were involved,” said 51-year-old Larry Austin. “I started helping out at 8 years old.”

Larry Austin, his three sisters, and his parents have all been involved in the Grand Ledge community. The Austins are just one of many families that have committed not only their social lives, but also a lot of their time to the small-town of Grand Ledge.

“We’re kind of integrated into Grand Ledge,” said T.J. Bucholz, President of Vanguard Public Affairs, and Grand Ledge parent. “We’ve lived here 15 years and we’re still kind of new to the community. There are people who have lived here their whole life.”

“My wife is the president of one of the elementary schools here and she can’t even go to Meijer without seeing former students, current students, and staff.”

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The school district does a lot to bring the community together. The Grand Ledge High School Comets are known to put on concerts, sporting events, and other activities.

“It really promotes that feeling of community, you see it at the sporting events,” said Larry Austin.

The high school sports help to bring the community together in a variety of ways. Both parents and non-Comet parents form the booster clubs and fill the stands during those big games.

“Everyone affiliates with the Comets, and that to me is a powerful icon that everyone can relate to,” said Bucholz.

Stillerman said it’s those networks that make a difference in the quality of life.

“It makes it easier for everyone, that support-net, as I call it. When a business or community member needs something, they have a dozen or so people they can call to find that information out,” he said.

“You really see the school system, local businesses, and a lot of the community work together for one common goal.”

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