When Janean Couch was young her mother died and she was raised by her sister, Kyrra, who is 16 years older. Despite her youth and limited experience, Kyrra did her best to teach Janean about the world.
“Her sacrifice, and her commitment to making sure that I was successful is what I really admire about her,” Couch said. “That, to me, is the most selfless act in the world.”
Couch is the assistant director of the Career Center and helps students create resumes and cover letters, assists with job searches and works with students to find internships.
Couch’s sister was the inspiration for her own life of community service, which led to her to be named one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “40 Under Forty.” She was nominated to the list of local business leaders and change makers by a co-worker and a classmate from college. Each person nominated her independently.
“I was completely surprised, but absolutely humbled to be recognized in such a great publication in a citywide way,” she said.
Her nomination was, in part, due to her involvement with BL2END, a group for young professionals of color in the greater Grand Rapids area.
Couch co-founded BL2END with three other Grand Valley alumni shortly after graduating in 2005. She and her peers were intrigued by the Grand Rapids community but unsure of how to participate. They launched the organization to help other professionals of color in similar situations.
“Ten years later, it’s the premiere organization for diverse young professionals,” she said.
Couch said she and the co-founders of BL2END were at the right place at the right time.
“Grand Rapids was just at the beginning of wanting to diversify,” she said. “It was time for Grand Rapids to focus on getting diverse young professionals of color to get jobs here, stay here and want to live here.”
Serving one’s community is something of a family tradition to Couch.
“I watched my sister and my grandmother be servants,” she said. “They were both great examples of what it means to serve other people, what it means to serve something greater than you.”
Couch was born in Flint and moved to Grand Rapids in 2001 to attend Grand Valley, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Through Couch’s life of service, one activity stands out to her the most: she has mentored a girl for the past seven years, from ages 7 to 14, as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
“To see her grow up has been phenomenal. She’s an amazing young lady,” she said. “She’s already dual-enrolled at GRCC.”