Sunglasses – Another LaughFest Record

GlassesCreated by Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids as a celebration of “laughter for the health of it”, LaughFest is now in its 4th year of operation as one of the Midwest’s largest comedy festival. A 10-day festival featuring some of the largest names in comedy, it has become the winter edition of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids as a large scale attempt to drive economic growth and community engagement.

This year, the lineup for the week-and-a-half long festival is as impressive as ever. With headliner names like Jim Gaffigan, Chris Tucker, Lily Tomlin, Sinbad, and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, it’s nearly impossible to find an evening without five-star comedic excellence.

But big-name headline shows aren’t the only thing going on at LaughFest that makes it worth adding to your to-do list.

As is with ArtPrize, and really anything else you find in the city of Grand Rapids, LaughFest puts a big dose of family friendly fun into the 10-day festival. At the kick-off event held on Thursday, March 6th, the LaughFest community continued their tradition of breaking world records by attempting to break a Guinness World Record for the number of people wearing sunglasses at night. The unofficial number of 1,675 people wearing sunglasses at the LaughFest kick-off party beat the previous record held by Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

A new event to the festival this year is the Clean Comedy Showcase underwritten by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The clean comedy showcase brings a refreshing cast of comedians committed to making people laugh without vulgar or crude language.

For a complete list of upcoming events, visit the LaughFest events page here.

As wonderful as an entire 10-days committed to fun and laughter is, it is important to remember the root cause of such a fundraiser – that’s right, fundraiser. The LaughFest fundraiser is brought to the community through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, a free


community with a comprehensive educational program, lectures, workshops, and social activities all designed with the intent of helping people deal with emotional health and wellness needs.






Photo Courtesy of Gilda’s Club


The Art Of Knowing People


It’s a huge corporate buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in sales and marketing meetings in corporations across the country and on campuses of business schools everywhere.

But what exactly does it mean to network? How does one build an effective social network? Most importantly, when do you know if you’ve mastered the art of networking?

For me, this whole idea of being really, really good with the art of knowing people is relatively new. I’ve always been obsessed with getting to know as many people as I can in as many different social circles as possible. This obsession includes, but is not limited to, coaching high school baseball, sitting on the boards, leadership seminars, getting nonprofit certified, attending countless business luncheon’s, charity golf outings, and a willingness to meet with anyone and everyone that will listen to me breathe during my undergrad at GVSU. None of this to sound egotistical, but I’m merely trying to paint a picture – I’ve met some people.

But it wasn’t until recently, however, I was able to recognize what it takes to make those connections count. What’s more, I was able to realize how to make those connections work for me and others.

For as long as I can remember people have joked with me – in a serious, not joking kind of way – that it was impossible for me to go anywhere or do anything without knowing somebody else in the general vicinity. I never thought much of it, I certainly didn’t think it was a good thing, and I typically tried to dismiss it and move on with the situation at hand.

Until recently.

I was out to drink with some friends (2 friends and a new acquaintance to be specific) when we began talking about potential job opportunities for this new acquaintance. She was a recent college grad looking to relocate to the Grand Rapids area to be closer to a significant other who she was rather serious with. Having been exposed to a number of different people in the nonprofit sector (the area with which she was interested in) via my experiences with the Grand Rapids Chamber and at work with Blue Cross Blue Shield, I offered to connect her with some people that may be able to help her situation. Almost immediately, the other two who were sitting at the table ceased their existing conversation and proceeded to give me the “you’re doing it again” look.

This struck me differently than every other “you know everybody” situation I’ve ever been in. I don’t know why, but this time it forced me to take a step back and actually analyze my interactions with people and my outlook on meeting new ones. So, from someone who apparently knows what’s going on, here is my ten-cents.

What does it mean to network?

When I think of network the one thing that sticks out in my mind is a spider web. A spider web is big, broad, interconnected, and sticky – but that’s a side note. The most important thing to note about a spider web though is that it keeps growing! If you were to put a spider in, for the sake of this discussion, a big, freaky attic somewhere and never interrupt its business, then over time you could probably guess the size of the spider web would continue to grow. So, when you think network think spider web. Here is how I grow my spider web:

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

How many of us find something we like/feel comfortable with and stick to it? *Raises hand* Exactly! Comfort is great. To be fair, having a place of comfort is a great thing to have. I have a group of 10-12 people who I see and interact with on the regular, but when it comes to growing my network constantly putting myself in situations that I do not often venture into has helped me develop and fine tune my ability to interact with strangers.

Get involved with young professional organizations such as the Grand Rapids Young Professional (GRYP) or volunteer with an organization you feel passionate about but may not be entirely familiar with. These types of volunteer opportunities can lead to a more significant role down the road, and more importantly provide an opportunity to meet people outside of your immediate social circle.


Again, how many of us find something we like/feel comfortable with and stick to it? *Raises hand* Exactly! I feel very passionate about all things healthcare- the administration of healthcare, quality, awareness of different health issues etc. However, if I fail to take time and familiarize myself with what is going on outside of the healthcare realm then I miss out on the critical element of perspective.

For me, coaching, nonprofit boards, faith-based organizations, and healthcare improvement teams make up a pretty diverse community of people.

What are some different areas you can learn more about in hopes of growing your personal network?

Draw Connections

Remember what the characteristics of a spider web are? One of them is interconnectedness.

What does it mean to be interconnected?

Well, if you live in West Michigan, you know exactly what it means. I once described Grand Rapids to someone who recently moved to the city as a “sick and twisted mess of interconnected lies”. Now that was a bit drastic but it paints a nice picture. To further illustrate, I met a friend named Kyle four separate times through four separate people on four separate occasions. How is that for twisted?

The point being, don’t be afraid to play social traffic director! I love meeting new people and my friends love meeting new people. You never know where one missing connection could lead to bigger and better things.

Never Burn Bridges

To play off of my previous argument, you never know who you will meet. What’s more, you will never know who other people know.

I like to think that I get along with everybody, but no matter how sociable I think I am there will always be someone I don’t see eye-to-eye with. In the event that something does go sour with someone I once was close with, I do my best to always see that things between us ended on a positive note.

I cannot think of many things worse than not getting that job because of a friendship that went rogue.

How about that social network?

We’re all familiar with the movie starring Jessie Eisenberg that tells the tale about the creation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg and his cast of Harvard roommates – essentially changing the course of social interaction forever.

Although this movie points out only one particular avenue for connecting with people online, it sets the stage for the countless social media platforms that would soon to follow in the footsteps of the mobile/online networking giant. Since Facebook was launched in 2006, hundreds of other social networking platforms have successfully connected people across racial, ethnic, age, and geographic boundaries.

But what does that mean for me? How does this benefit me?

Well besides making it more and more difficult to hide from your parents, it actually creates a very unique opportunity to meet and get to know people you may have otherwise passed over. Take Twitter for example. In my opinion, Twitter is the most underrated and underutilized of all the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now Pinterest). Twitter has the ability to open doors for interaction with people, organizations, potential donors for nonprofits, business opportunities, etc. that no other social network can provide.

For example, I work for a very large company. My office is located nearly two-hours away from our corporate headquarters on the other side of the state. As a way to stay connected, I follow a group of our senior executives, and have had interaction with them, on Twitter. One day while walking through our corporate headquarters for a training session, I was stopped in the hallway by the VP of Corporate Communications for my company. When he got my attention he said to me, “You’re Brandon aren’t you? We’ve met on Twitter.” From there we were able to establish that personal connection from an initially non-personal connection online. But had we never connected on Twitter he would have never known my face or anything about me, thus passing me by in the hallway like everyone else.

It’s important to be able to draw connections when on social networks as well. Think back to the spider web – interconnectedness.

How you approach social media is dependent on what you’re trying to accomplish and is specific to each and every user. I encourage people to participate in Twitter chats as a way to grow in their understanding of various topics, and as a way to meet with people across the globe who are experts in their field.

But most importantly always remember that in everything you do in an online environment is branding. You either build up or tear down your personal brand.

Let’s conclude…

I want to bring to light the fact that for as many people who desire to grow their personal network, there are just as many people, if not more, who are perfectly fine where they are. For me, a 22 year old single guy living in a moderately sized city, I enjoy putting time and effort into meeting new people and staying as busy as possible.

Personally I feel that we as humans were created for relationship – dating and professional, short-term and long-term, meaningful and not-so-meaningful. So the question to me becomes, “what’s to lose?”

So go! Get your spider on.


photo courtesy of

The “S” Word

winter wonderland


The Christmas season simply wouldn’t be the same without it. The sad truth about snow is that as much as we hate it – driving in it, shoveling it, getting it down those unmentionable places – we hate it in the most necessary way possible. We dislike snow the in same way we gripe and moan about going to the gym each week.

Here in Grand Rapids, we have recorded 13 of the last 18 days of significant snowfall! I think I speak for everyone in the metro area when I say it would be super if mother nature could just chill for a day or two!

All of this said, one observation has been made clear to me throughout this unseasonably wintery stretch. The spirit of Christmas is noticeably stronger and more effective when the ground is littered with powdery, white Christmas snow!

It all makes perfect sense. Humans are visual beings, and the more visual support we have for something the easier it is to shift our attitude towards seasonal emotions. Its hard to sing songs like “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bells” when its 75 degrees and sunny outside!

In Michigan, we have the great opportunity to experience a season called “Fall”. For those who know what I’m talking about, how inclined are you to go apple picking if it’s 102 degrees outside and it hurts to sit on the leather seats of your car after 10 minutes in the sun? My guess is not very.

Christmas spirit has a snowball effect – pun intended.

One of the beautiful things about living in Grand Rapids is the abundance of seasonal activities to take part in – public ice skating, ski hills, carriage rides, etc. The common denominator to all of these family friendly activities being SNOW! Another holiday necessity that seems to blossom with the presence of snow are all of the holiday decorations. Christmas lights, and lots of them!

Lets conclude.

I understand that with snow comes a long list of headaches; long lines on the road, time spent scraping cars, even the occasional snowball to the face. But, at the end of the day, take some time to realize the beauty that comes with it as well!

Most importantly…

Have a Merry Christmas


A Week Of Grand Rapids – Summer Edition


I love summer.

Now, you’re probably thinking “DUHH”. Beaches, warm weather, bonfires, social gathers, etc. are beautiful things. But my appreciation for summer, however, goes far beyond the typical response of warm weather and going to the beach on the weekends. I love summer, especially here in Grand Rapids, because there is NEVER a dull moment. Within a ten-minute car ride (or bike for that matter), you can find almost anything to fill that 5 o’clock void.

I recently had a discussion with a good friend of mine that only reiterated just how eventful the summer months are in the city of Grand Rapids. We were able to come up with something awesome and family friendly to do for every day of the week! Here are my favorites:

Sunday – Praise In The Park

Rockford is just a stones throw away from downtown Grand Rapids. Its beautifully set on the banks of the Rogue River and is home to an abundant selection of small-town shops and eateries.

Sunday evenings from 6-8pm the city holds Praise in the Park on the banks of the Rogue River. Its a great opportunity for the family to unwind after an eventful weekend and spend some time in worship with a supporting community.

Monday – GRSSC Softball

It took me a while to realize just how serious this city takes its slow-pitch. After playing on the same team for a few years I decided it was time to branch out and meet some new people. The Grand Rapids Sport and Social Club (GRSSC) is the place to go if you are new to the city and looking to make some connections. With over a dozen different recreational leagues to join, it’s your own fault if you cant find something you enjoy. Complete with post-game “socializing” at the local pub, the GRSSC is a great way to stay competitive and meet new and exciting people each and every week. For more information, visit the GRSSC website here.

Tuesday – Free Admissions At The GRAM

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is host to the world-famous Art Prize competition that takes place throughout the city of Grand Rapids during the month of September. Enjoy Free Admission Tuesday at the GRAM courtesy of Meijer.

Wednesday –  Blues On The Mall At Rosa Parks Circle 

Blues on the Mall is a free live music concert right in the heart of downtown. The event runs every Wednesday night from 6:30pm – 9pm from June 13th to August 15th. Complete with lots of local vendors featuring a variety of food, services, and goods, Blues on the Mall is a great opportunity for families to get out of the house and enjoy some hometown entertainment.

Thursday – Line Dancing at Backforty

Backforty Saloon is the only country bar in the heart of downtown. Thursday is line dancing, so strap up those shoes and bring your country spirit to enjoy good drink specials and plenty of live entertainment.

Friday – Fulton Street Farmers Market

The Fulton Street Farmers Market is the oldest and largest farmers market in Grand Rapids. The market currently resides in Grand Rapid’s “Eastown” district and is home to more than 200 different local food vendors. Nearly 11,000 shoppers cruise through the market on a typical week, and provides customers with an assortment of homegrown fruits and vegetables. The market is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8am-3pm.

Saturday – West Michigan Whitecaps.

There are few things that scream summer more than a night at the ballpark. Hot dogs, cotton candy, and a family friendly atmosphere make for the perfect summer combination. The Whitecaps are the Single A affiliate for the Detriot Tigers which means fans have a chance to see some of tomorrows biggest stars before the rest of the world. The West Michigan Whitecaps doing a great job at providing a large-town baseball experience with that small-town feel. For a complete schedule click here.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The events listed above are recurring events during the summer months in Grand Rapids. That means, there are countless other one-time events that take place in and around the city on a daily basis that are worth seeing as well.

Clearly there is not enough space to dive into those events here, but for more information on whats happening in and around the city, visit

Emerging Leaders 2012



The ELS Experience

It’s been almost a year since I completed the Emerging Leaders Series 2012, a professional development program under the Center for Community Leadership within the Grand Rapids Are Chamber of Commerce.  The ELS program is designed for the up and coming young professional who wants to grow professionally and develop a grassroots sense of leadership and community involvement. Now believe me when I say that I never would have expected myself to enjoy a program such as this. As much as I do not particularly love responsibility (but who really does), I seem to do my best work when the heat is turned up and I am just about as uncomfortable as humanly possible.

That being said, I continue to reference experiences and lessons learned from the ELS program in my professional world as well as on a more personal level.  Here are some reasons why YOU should join the Emerging Leaders.

Professional Development

Because of the way the ELS program is designed, the city of Grand Rapids becomes the classroom and you are never in the same place twice. Places we traveled to include the Grand Rapids Public Museum to learn about the history of the city of Grand Rapids and how it has developed into what it is today, to Steelcase to learn about new and innovative ways organizations are designing a workplace culture that is beneficial to employee work habits. In addition to on-site learning, key community leaders visit and provide insight into how they achieved success. For me, I was able to relate most to Deb Bailey’s illustration of a career as something that is created rather than one that is decided.

I was the only member still in college, but by having these conversations with key community leaders I was able to relate to the experiences they’ve had and was able to apply them to my own situation.


When 30 driven, young professionals are placed in a room together for 12 weeks the only direction to go is up. On the very first session we were put through an icebreaker/team building session, but due to the outgoing and committed personalities of everyone in the room it was far from your typical icebreaker.  More importantly, these individuals represent some of the largest and most influential employers in the area so you never know who is going to end up where.

“It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, but it’s who knows you.”


One of the unique qualities of the ELS program is its emphasis on innovative community initiatives that help address of the city’s most pressing issues; child hunger, affordable housing, impoverished families etc. These programs would not be possible if it were not for the support of local leaders and the leaders of the future (shocking why we would be introduced to these).

I had the opportunity to meet with organizers from Kids Food Basket, Inner City Christian Federation, and United Way to learn about what they are doing in the community. Having grown up in Grand Rapids, it was a surprise to learn about these organizations and all that they are doing in the community. It helps provide some perspective on what it means to have a community responsibility.

Non-profit Certification

Philanthropy in Grand Rapids is like filmmaking in Hollywood. It’s the one thing that truly has made the city as successful and enjoyable as it is today – except maybe beer but that is for a different day. We have the privilege of being under the direction of many successful and outrageously wealthy individuals to want nothing more than to see their city succeed. One result of this philanthropic culture is the birth of a nonprofit sector that is among the most productive in the country.

The exposure to the nonprofit sector through the ELS program gave me the opportunity to experience the needs of my city. For someone who grew up in this community, it was not uncommon for members of my class to say “we have this need here?” The nonprofit board certification element of the ELS program gave me yet another avenue to focus my efforts on, and moving forward gave me an additional lens by which to see the world. It will be a skill that will prove to be useful as I grow to be a decision maker in my community.