Accelerating Downtown GR's transition to a best-in-class American city.
In 2003, two local family physicians founded a group called the Doctor Ko Foundation to promote preventative healthcare in underserved communities in the Philippines, but they soon realized their help was also needed here in Michigan. Many immigrants from the Philippines and other Asian countries have a hard time getting the care they need in the US due to language barriers, cultural differences, and lack of familiarity with insurance and other aspects of the US system.
In 2006, the Asian Professionals Organization was founded to provide networking and professional development opportunities for Asian Americans in the area. The two groups, which had overlapping members, both realized that while immigrants often organize themselves around nationality, communities from various Asian countries had many needs in common. In 2010, the two groups merged to form the West Michigan Asian American Association.
Continuing the healthcare work started by the Doctor Ko Foundation, the group now has three specially-trained “Patient Navigator” volunteers who can guide patients through various aspects of the healthcare system, such as signing up for insurance. One works with the Chinese community, another with the Vietnamese community, and a third with the Nepalese and Bhutanese community.
Each year they hold an annual “Asian Gala” with prominent keynote speakers such as Amway President Doug DeVos and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. In 2017 they organized he first ever Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Festival, which will happen again on June 9, 2018, in Rosa Parks Circle, culminating a week of related events around town. The festival will include Lion dances, martial art demonstrations, a fashion show, and traditional and modern performances.
The Associations’ website offers a directory of Asian-owned businesses, which they estimate make up 2.7% of business in Kent County. According to the 2010 Census, about 2% of Grand Rapids residents identify themselves as Asian or as Pacific Islanders.
Cover photo: grasianfestival via Instagram.