by Kayla Sosa | photography by Two Eagles Marcus
Many Grand Rapids residents know the familiar name: Maranda, the energetic woman on WOODTV8 who is always talking with kids and parents in the community. You may also know her from her annual Maranda Park Parties, which kicks off its 25th year this month.
At WOODTV8, Maranda serves as the Children and Family Services Manager, which means she does “all kids and family things” on TV, online and in the community. She produces content Monday through Friday for the two channels run out of the station: WOODTV8 and WOTV4Women.
“We always focus on all things kids, all things family,” Maranda said. “Usually it’s fun things, but sometimes we get into deeper stuff. Yesterday I was at Wedgewood, and I sat down with four teenagers and they told me what life is really like as a 16-year-old at a public school.”
Maranda, 55, was born and raised in Grand Rapids. She attended Hope College and even studied Shakespeare at Cambridge University in England. After college, she lived in Chicago for a short period of time before moving back to West Michigan and landing a job at an AM kids’ radio station. She was 22-years-old at the time, and that was when her passion for children and family began. At the station, she was told they needed a character for a
“There’s a mermaid in The Tempest [by William Shakespeare] named Maranda, so I took that name on and I did a show called, ‘Maranda in the Morning,’” she said. “We played Mr. T and Alvin and the Chipmunks and all kinds of great kids’ stuff.”
After the radio station went bankrupt, Maranda worked full time for an advertising agency while she started a children’s show at Wyoming Public Access Television.
“It was great because I had my mom doing the videotape, my husband did camera work and the voice over stuff,” she expressed. “We brought together a collection of people and every Tuesday night we made awesome TV.”
As her show began to gain traction, she gained the attention of local TV stations. WXMI, now the Fox affiliate in Grand Rapids, picked up her show in 1985.
“I said, ‘You know, I’ve got this idea for a kids’ show, and I know it’s going to be completely different than what you’re used to,’” she recalled. “‘It’s going to treat kids with respect.
We’re going to showcase kids. They’re going to tell their stories and we’re going to give them a voice.’ And they took a chance on me.”
The show ran once a week, and Maranda continued her other job at the advertising agency. In 1990, when WXMI became Fox17, the station asked Maranda to run a kid’s club. Eventually, she came to WOODTV8 and now produces Maranda Where You Live.
There’s no longer a weekly show, but instead smaller video segments played on TV throughout the day.
“We share stories about kids and families,” she recalled. “It’s more targeted towards moms and adults. Sometimes we’ll do a half hour special at the public museum with dinosaurs and we bring in tons of kids, and it’s old school TV.”
Maranda said kids don’t watch TV the same way anymore, so she and her coworkers at the station have to be strategic about reaching their young audience.
“It’s funny, for the first time in my career, probably a year ago I’m out at a school talking to all these kids, everyone’s excited, and they’re like, ‘What’s your Youtube channel?’” she smiled. “That’s the future. We have to rethink how we do what we do. So it’s very important that I put content online all the time, because I know that’s the future.”
One way she connects with kids all over West Michigan is through her annual Maranda Park Parties, which she started in 1994.
“I was on TV all the time talking about fun places like Cedar Point and Michigan’s Adventure and all these things, and then it hit me that most — kids are just sitting there thinking, ‘That’s fun for the kids who have money,’” Maranda said. “And then there’s a lot of kids who just don’t have the ability to go somewhere, because transportation issues, parents are working … It’s not fair that I’m on TV all the time talking about all this stuff that costs so much money; we need to bring the party to the kids.”
Maranda partnered with local companies Meijer, Craigs Cruiser’s, Priority Health and Cheese Kurls to create a free party for kids with tons of games, food and prizes.
“We were just having fun,” she said. “I had no idea this thing would go on and on and be what it is. And I think that’s the beauty of it, it’s an organic experience and every year that we get to keep doing it, I just feel so blessed.”
Today, six parties are held throughout the summer at parks all over West Michigan and serve approximately 5,000 to 6,000 kids at each party.
A little over a decade ago, Maranda partnered with the Michigan Department of Education and USDA to make sure that nutritious meals were offered at the park parties.
“We became the largest feeding site in the country,” she said. “Our program, we’re feeding 20,000 kids every summer.”
Since the beginning of her career, Maranda has had a passion for kids and families. Through tears, she explained how she loves children and feels that what she does is her calling.
“I just have a love and respect for kids and to think about parents who are struggling, if I can come alongside them and help them in some way, just give a kid a break, that’s what I want to do,” she said. “I want to be known for that.”
This summer, catch Maranda at one of her park parties, kicking off on June 13 at Lamar Park in Wyoming. Each party goes from noon — 2 p.m., with a free lunch offered to any under 18 at 11:30 a.m. while supplies last.
Maranda Park Party Schedule
June 13 Lamar Park, Wyoming
June 20 Smith-Ryerson Park, Muskegon
June 27 Bronson Park, Kalamazoo
July 11 Kollen Park, Holland
July 18 Carson/Rizor Athletic Field, Battle Creek
July 25 Garfield Park, Grand Rapids