TAAR and Norte Join Forces For 2020 Explore Academy

The Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® (TAAR) has received a $4,250 Smart Growth Grant from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) in support of Norte’s Explore Academy. The Norte advocacy training program introduces teenagers to smart growth principles through its hands-on, active curriculum. Through the course, students are empowered and encouraged to impact their community in positive ways. TAAR is contributing a $475 local match to the national grant funding.

“We are thrilled to work with such a positive and impactful organization like Norte,” said Kim Pontius, CEO of TAAR. “This type of program directly advances smart growth principles like walkable neighborhoods and community planning. It’s these types of partnerships and educational opportunities that will help our region continue to build strong and resilient places to live, work, and play.”

TAAR’s support of Norte’s Explore Academy is rooted in the shared goal of broadening understanding of the role that citizen advocates play throughout their lives in community development and planning.

“Teenagers are a key part of our communities, and their voices are not only important, but they are also insightful and rooted in a desire for positive change. I’m excited we will be able to offer the course—whether in person or virtually—this fall,” said Gary Howe, advocacy director at Norte.

Partnership with TAAR puts the Explore Program in a strong position as it enters its second year. The inaugural six-week academy in fall 2019, Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community, introduced students to community design, infrastructure, and advocacy. “I was blown away by the enthusiasm and interest of the students,” Howe said about the first group of 25 students to graduate from the course.

Classes explore the way the built environment impacts the experience and access people have in a community. Topics covered include planning concepts, mobility challenges, and the role citizen advocates play in shaping solutions to common community problems.

This fall’s program is open to all teens in the Grand Traverse Region, ages 13-18. The course can satisfy community service and extra credit requirements. Enrollment opens at the beginning of the fall semester. Howe and Megan Olds of Parallel Solutions co-developed and co-facilitate the course.


Learn more at Norte’s Explore Academy. Businesses and individuals interested in donating to the program’s scholarship fund or in becoming corporate sponsors can email Gary Howe at


The Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® is dedicated to promoting advocacy, education, ethics and professional standards for REALTORS® in the five-county Grand Traverse area, which includes Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Antrim, Kalkaska, and Benzie Counties, as well as the immediate surrounding counties of Missaukee, Wexford, Manistee, and Charlevoix. For more information about the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS®, please visit or call 231-313-9826