Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community

Members of Norte’s Youth Leadership Council gathered in July to provide feedback on the program

Sign up today to ensure your spot!

Calling all 13 to 18-year-olds who want to change the world: Enroll in Norte Advocacy’s course for future leaders, budding city planners, and engaged citizens who make positive change in their communities.

This fall, Norte Advocacy is offering teenagers a six-week practical course in neighborhood design facilitated by Traverse City’s leaders. Weekly meetups are designed around real-world experiences that give students new lenses for seeing the ways neighborhood design shapes life for residents and visitors, and how citizens can, in turn, shape their communities. This program is a spinoff of our annual Advocate Academy and similarly geared at providing tools and training for engaged citizens to impact change.

This program is for students who learn best when they’re hands-on, out in the world and having fun. Observation, group dialogue, creative writing, drawing, photography, videography, interviews, and interactive lectures and discussions will be woven together with class choices. Students will be directly involved in charting the course’s direction. They may also adopt an advocacy project that lives beyond the course. If they do adopt a cause, Norte is there to help!

Students will graduate with advanced participatory observational skills, an informed passion for community engagement, and the ability to apply their insights as citizen advocates for happy, healthy, strong communities. This course will also stand out on a college application!


  • Who: 13-18 year olds
  • What: Six 90-minute meetups (with some reflection or prep work required outside of meetups)
  • Where: The inaugural meetup will be at the BATA Station conference room at 115 Hall St, Traverse City. This will be home base. Locations are expected to change with student input and planned experiences.
  • When: Sundays beginning September 29 and ending November 3. 
  • Cost: $35 per participant. Thanks to our lead sponsors, League of Michigan Bicyclists and Parallel Solutions, we have many scholarships available. Learn more about financial assistance: Scholarships and please let us know your interest at hello@elgruponorte.org.
  • Limited Space: Sign up soon to be ensured a spot!
  • Program facilitators: Megan Olds and Gary Howe (bios below)
  • Guest Speakers: The program will include additional guest planning and advocacy experts. Invited guests include:
    • Claire Karner–Associate Planner, Beckett & Raeder
    • Shawn Winter–Associate Planner, Beckett & Raeder
    • Tyler Bevier–Transportation Planner, BATA
    • Jim Moore—Executive Director, Disability Network
    • Jean Derenzy– CEO, Downtown Development Association
    • Russ Soyring–City Planner, City of Traverse City
    • Tim Lodge–City Engineer, City of Traverse City
    • Leah Bagdon McCallum–Board Chair, Downtown Development Association

Lead Sponsors



If your business or organization would like to support “Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community”, please email us at hello@elgruponorte.org or call the Clubhouse at 231-883-2404 

Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community Press Release (August 21, 2019)

Course Outline

  1. Your Neighborhood, Your Community – Perspective-busting exercises can expand the way we experience our surroundings. Once we see some things, those things cannot be unseen!
  2. The Constructed Neighborhood – Hone observational skills and construct the language of the neighborhood. What values are hidden in built environments?
  3. The Experienced Neighborhood – Out on the streets, experience the way spaces can create isolation, exclusion, or belonging.    Why does this space make us feel so ___?
  4. The Mobile Neighborhood – Jump on public transportation and see what’s up with mobility. Public infrastructure is dedicated to moving us around like busy ants. Are we getting anywhere?
  5. The Delightful Neighborhood – Quest for things that surprise and delight us most in our neighborhoods at the penultimate meetup. Advocacy can lead to changes big and small, fast and slow, and it can make things stay the same. 
  6. The Neighborhood Experience – This course in advocacy grows from participant-defined goals and projects. At our final meetup, we explore the past, present, and future efforts of Norte’s inaugural Advocacy students. The final meetup is just the beginning.

Are you ready to explore?

You will need to work with parents to register. If you’re interested in financial assistance learn more at Scholarships and please let us know your interest at hello@elgruponorte.org

Program Facilitators


Megan Olds has dedicated her 20-year career to community growth and development, land and water conservation and restoration, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation. She was a former Director of Regional Planning at Networks Northwest, and served as a past board member of the Michigan Association of Planning and of Michigan’s Complete Streets Advisory Council. She worked for seven years as the Associate Director and Director of Development for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Pairing her professional experience in community and organizational development with a personal zeal for building trust and openness in decision-making, Megan founded Parallel Solutions in 2014. You can find out more about her firm’s services, clients, and recent projects at www.parallelmi.com.


Gary Howe brings over 10 years of direct experience in creating and advocating for public policy and planning processes that support healthy transportation and socially-engaging public spaces to his role as Norte’s Advocacy Director. He served as a City Commissioner for the City of Traverse City from 2013-2017, in addition to serving on the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, and on the boards of Neahtawanta Center, SEEDS, and International Affairs Forum. He is also a writer and New York Times-published photographer with over 20 years of teaching experience in China, Taiwan and Traverse City, including 15 years as an adjunct instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. You can see some of his photography on Insta at @GLH_Image and follow his writing and advocacy on Twitter @GLHJR.


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