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Pontiac's Libby the Lizard helps children speak out against abuse and neglect

Her abusive childhood was a secret Toni McMorris kept for more than 30 years. As an adult, she sought professional help to heal and to reckon with the impact the experience had on her life. She adopted a personal mission to prevent children from experiencing any type of abuse and neglect.

McMorris got creative. Empowered by a journaling habit that was so critical to her recovery, she wrote a children's book and conjured a reptilian ambassador in an idea that was beginning to take shape.

Today, Libby the Lizard is an educational program based on a children's book that explores the concept of secrets, good and bad.

"Having someone to talk to that you trust is very important in terms of awareness, prevention, and intervention of child abuse," says McMorris, who explains the concept behind her book "Good Secrets and Bad Secrets."

"We teach children to always tell, to report, when bad things happen. In the book, we introduce a resource called Libby's Trust List."

McMorris, who has a master's degree in health administration, founded the nonprofit Good Secrets and Bad Secrets in 2015, together with Larry Mathews, an Army veteran officer, instructor at Oakland Community College, and healthcare researcher for Wayne State University.

Mathews himself suffered a dysfunctional childhood yet sought out positive experiences by participating in the swimming and diving team and devoting himself to schoolwork.

"Larry's experience tells us he was able to avoid normalizing the behavior after the seventh grade," says McMorris. "One of the goals we have is we don't ever want children to normalize abusive behavior. We want to help them distinguish appropriate from inappropriate."

The nonprofit's sister organization, Libby International, serves as a for-profit retail arm for book sales and eventual branded material, including Libby backpacks, t-shirts, and shoes. A $10,000 grant from Flagstar Pontiac Big Idea program helped purchase a life-sized Libby costume and publish and print books to give to children.

"We have had Libby attend events in Pontiac, and when the kids get to know Libby through the book and then see her, they just swarm her," says McMorris. "It's a beautiful experience."

Libby is the featured star of an entire curriculum for social studies and reading that meets Michigan educational standards, says Mathews. Intended as the first in a series of books and programs, "Good Secrets and Bad Secrets" sets the foundation for other child safety topics such as internet safety, sports, drugs, weapons, and suicide.

"Parents and teachers can use Libby to help kids feel safe," says Mathews. "Libby can be a touchpoint for when there is a school shooting, for example."

The team has presented the program to students at Inkster Preparatory Academy, and during afterschool programming at Schulze Academy in Detroit. With their business based in downtown Pontiac, the team is working to provide similar instruction in the Pontiac School District.

"The issue is funding," says Mathews. "We are working to identify corporate and school foundation funding for our programs."

Through Libby, McMorris and Mathews are confident they will provide information, support, and resources to kids so they don't have to suffer abuse and neglect.

"Protecting our children requires a disciplinary approach, with multiple levels and multiple resources at every developmental age, says McMorris."

Little village powered by big volunteer base

Franklin may be “the town that time forgot,” as the unofficial slogan goes for the quaint Oakland County village, but its residents certainly never forget to donate their own time. From historical societies to fire departments, volunteers power an impressive number of local organizations in the historic village.

Tony Averbuch has been the Fire Chief in Franklin for almost ten years, but his career fighting fires began as a volunteer in 1991. Of the 31 members in Averbuch’s current department, 29 are volunteers, and they manage to staff the local station around the clock. Averbuch believes everyone volunteers for different reasons, including wanting to give back to their communities, starting out in the field and looking to get training and experience, and having time available to experience something different. He believes that Franklin defies a national trend of diminishing civic participation.
“While we are approximately 80 percent volunteer departments nationwide,” Averbuch explains, “the individual numbers are on the decline.”
Averbuch admits that, even for his enthusiastic team, it’s not always easy relying on volunteer power. “Challenges do exist working with volunteers,” he says, “but they also exist working with full-time staff.”
Averbuch says their most significant opposition is always time. “Time for training, time for staffing, time for response,” he says.
“Time” is exactly what other organizations in the village are looking to preserve. Bill and Ann Lamott are behind the Franklin Historical Society, an organization supported solely by memberships and donations and run by volunteers. They encourage the upkeep of historical structures in Franklin, and Bill Lamott says the volunteer attitude is due to residents wanting to be active in their community.
“The dedicated always make themselves available,” he says.
Dedicated indeed are other residents too, like the volunteers involved in the village Mobile Watch program, Friends of the Franklin Library group and the Franklin Baseball and Softball League. Jane Polan is president of the Franklin Community Association (FCA), which maintains parkland donated by historic villager George Wellington Smith. The FCA also organizes strolling dinners, wine tastings, summer family events, outdoor movies and a fine art fair.
“Franklin is what it is,” says Polan, “A truly wonderful place to live, because of our volunteers.”

Averbuch agrees, and his message to residents is clear: “Participate, get involved, and make a difference.”

Women's Divorce Resource Center launches support group

Whether it’s a new life stage, a pivotal event or some other reason to end a marriage, the process of divorce can be confusing, overwhelming and sometimes, downright terrifying. New this fall, the Women’s Divorce Resource Center is launching an empowerment support group to arm individuals with the support they need to effectively and humanely shift their situation.
The six-week seminar will meet on consecutive Thursday evenings, beginning September 20, 2018, at SheHive (2505 Hilton, Ferndale), 6:45-9 p.m. Space is limited. Subject matter will include financial, emotional, legal and parenting aspects of divorce, with speakers to include Nancy Warkentin Houdek, MA, LPC, NCC, PLLC, and Natasha Kendal, PHD, LMFT and Robin Breckenridge, CPC, an educator, public speaker, certified relational advocate and professional coach.
Warkentin Houdek is a nationally certified professional counselor and psychotherapist based in Farmington Hills. Kendal is a marriage and family therapist in Bloomfield Hills. Breckenridge works in unison with PIVOT- a relational alignment group, where she helps people struggling with relational challenges shift into a healthy relational alignment. 
“We help people learn how and when to talk to their kids about an impending divorce, and how to keep kids out of the middle of negotiations,” says Vicki McLellan, WDRC co-founder. “We firmly believe that the more information and support women have during divorce, the more confidence they’ll have after. When women are empowered, it has a positive impact on the entire family, especially their children.”
“The legal process can be confusing. There are concerns about finances. And emotional wellness during divorce is difficult for everyone. We want to empower women to weather the process well, and know they are not alone,” says Angela Zangarola, WDRC Co-Director and Board Member.
The Women’s Divorce Resource Center offers workshops and special topics seminars throughout the year. A seminar on self-esteem through transition is set for October 11, followed by a women-to-work workshop in collaboration with JVS December 3.
Women’s Divorce Workshops take place on Saturdays (September 15 and December 15) as well as some weekday evenings (November 1 and 8). Speakers include McLellan, Houdek, Kendall as well as Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, Randy Pitler, Jessica Pospiech Heltsley and James Chryssikos.
About Women’s Divorce Resource Center
Founded in 2012, the Women’s Divorce Resource Center helps educate women on the divorce process. The nonprofit organization was co-founded by Vicki McLellan, CFP®, CDFA EA, MA and Rebecca Abel  CFP®, CDFA™. Both have worked extensively on the financial side of divorce. Current co-directors include McLellan, Nancy Warkentin Houdek, MA, LPC, NCC, and Angela Zangarola, MBA, CDFA.
The mission of the Women’s Divorce Resource Center is to empower and educate women contemplating and going through the divorce process. We strive to provide educational opportunities about the various legal, financial and emotional aspects of divorce. We believe the more support women have during this difficult process, the more confident they will be with their decisions. This empowerment will positively affect women and their children post-divorce.
For more information, please visit www.womens-divorce.org.

U.S.-Japan Council President is keynote speaker for Women's Leadership Conference

The president of the U.S.-Japan Council is the featured speaker at the U.S.-Japan Women’s Leadership Conference set for September 26.

Irene Hirano Inouye, president of the Washington D.C.-based organization, headlines the program which focuses on women who hold leadership positions. It is sponsored by the U.S.-Japan Council and hosted by the Oakland County Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs.

“We are honored to host Irene Hirano Inouye for this important leadership event and excited about our partnership with the U.S.-Japan Council,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “This is a singular opportunity to hear from Mrs. Inouye and others in leadership positions and learn first-hand how they advanced in their professions.”

The conference will be held at the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford. There is no charge to attend but advance registration is required at AdvantageOakland.EventBrite.com. A light lunch is included. The event runs from 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The U.S.-Japan Council is a non-profit educational organization that contributes to strengthening U.S.-Japan relations by bringing together diverse leadership, engaging stakeholders and exploring issues that benefit communities, businesses and governments on both sides of the Pacific. Japan-based companies have significant investment in Oakland County, owning more than a quarter of the nearly 1,100 international firms in the county.

Inouye, who founded the council in 2008, also administers the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the government of Japan that invests in young Japanese and Americans through educational and cultural exchanges and leadership programs. She is former president and founding CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, a position she held for 20 years.

Inouye is the widow of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and World War II hero. He represented Hawaii in Congress for more than 50 years and was the first Japanese-American elected to serve in both the House and the Senate. He died in 2012 at age 88.

The conference includes panel discussions that highlight women in leadership positions in Oakland County government and the paths Japanese American women have taken to become leaders.

The Oakland County government panel includes:
  • Irene Spanos, director of economic development and community affairs
  • Jordie Kramer, director of human resources
  • Kathy Forzley, director of health and human services

The Japanese American panel includes:
  • Yuki Sakai, deputy Counsel General of Japan, Detroit
  • Izumi Suzuki, president of Suzuki, Myers & Associates, Novi
  • Motoko Tabuse, professor, Eastern Michigan University
  • Yuka Sato, former world champion figure skater and U.S. Women’s Figure Skating coach

Both panel discussions will be moderated by Laurie Van Pelt, director of management and budget for Oakland County.

Other sessions include:
  • A presentation from Mary Kamidoi, treasurer of the Detroit Chapter of the Japanese American
  • Citizens League, entitled “What Doesn’t Break You Makes You Stronger”
  • A leadership training workshop led by Deputy County Executive Phil Bertolini entitled, “You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello: The Art of Communicating”

Health and wellness-minded senior living community celebrates grand opening in Rochester Hills

They’ve been moving in residents since June, but the newest senior living community in Oakland County celebrated its ribbon cutting on Thursday, Aug. 9 with drinks, dining, dancing, and tours of the facilities.

The 97-bed facility at Stonecrest of Rochester Hills is roughly 50 percent full since opening. It’s a remarkably good rate, says Lara Anderson, Director of Marketing at Stonecrest Senior Living. It usually takes 14 to 18 months to reach that mark, she says.

"We do a lot of research before securing land and start building. Detroit market data showed us that a need was there and Rochester Hills leased up some of the quickest," Anderson says.

"We’re right there on Rochester Road and close to downtown."

Stonecrest not only focuses on the physical health of its residents but also on their mind and spirit. A life enrichment program focuses on seven metrics, with programming that encourages residents to be friendly, active, aware, imaginative, spiritual, together, and gracious.

A special memory care staff is on hand to care for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Stonecrest provides memory care staff with continuing education classes to provide up-to-date care.

There is also a special staff to help patients navigate their VA benefits.

The Rochester Hills location is the second of three Stonecrest facilities planned for metro Detroit. A Troy location opened in July 2017. A third location, in Northville, is scheduled open by the end of the year and is currently in the pre-leasing stage.

"We offer the same product at each location, but take a unique approach to the different interiors," Anderson says.

"Rochester Hills is especially calm and comforting."

Stonecrest of Rochester Hills is located at 1775 S. Rochester Rd. in Rochester Hills.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Downtown Berkley debuts its custom-designed shopping bags for a cause

Want to support downtown Berkley and a good cause? And how about looking good while doing it?

That’s what Berkley’s Downtown Development Authority is hoping for, at least. The Oakland County city’s DDA recently debuted the product of its Downtown Berkley Shopping Bag for a Cause program. What results is a custom-designed handbag from Hamtramck’s Better Life Bags.

The Better Life Bags company employs women with significant barriers to employment. The bags are hand cut and sewn in Hamtramck. Armadillo Printwear, located on Twelve Mile Road in Berkley, is the screen printer.

"The development of Downtown Berkley Shopping Bag for a Cause is a meaningful partnership between the Berkley DDA and Citizens Bank that makes an impact in our community," Rebecca Smith, founder and CEO of Better Life Bags, said in a statement.

"This project has allowed us to expand employment--an additional 300 hours of work to the women we employ--for the life of this project. In the world of the under-employed, that is significant."

The bags feature a snapshot of the birds on the Elwin & Co. Bakery mural on Coolidge Highway. That mural was created by Malt, a.k.a. Brown Bag Detroit, during the DDA’s 2017 mural program.

The bags are available for $10 each or $5 with a purchase at a number of downtown Berkley retailers, including Berkley Eyewear and Local Sunglass Co., Have You Any Wool?, The Neighbor’s Shoppe, Peninsulas, and Vitrine Gallery & Gifts.

The program is sponsored in part by Citizens Bank.

"A year ago, the Berkley DDA started looking at how it was spending its money on promotional products for its events," said Vivian Carmody, executive director of the BerkleyDDA.

"The Board decided it needed to 'walk the talk' of supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs and thus began our journey to locally sourcing a bag. We knew we needed a corporate partner, and Citizens Bank seemed the perfect match because of its emphasis on workforce development."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan surpasses $1 billion in grants distributed

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has provided $1 billion in grants, primarily distributed throughout the seven counties of southeast Michigan, since it began in 1984.
“We are focused on supporting positive change in our region,” says the Community Foundation’s President, Mariam Noland. “The Community Foundation has provided over $1 billion to help charitable organizations meet important needs. At the same time, thanks to our generous donors, the Community Foundation has built assets of over $900 million to continue to strengthen the community into the future.” 
Since its inception, the Community Foundation has partnered with local nonprofits to support the arts, health and human services, education and leadership development, and has led an array of special projects like the GreenWays program and the New Economy Initiative.
Nearly $11 million in grants were approved and distributed in the second quarter of 2018. The awarded grants went to a diverse array of nonprofit organizations and programs primarily benefitting the seven-county region of southeast Michigan.
“The second quarter grants represent a range of incredibly diverse nonprofit organizations and provided services,” says Noland. “The impact of these grant will be felt throughout the region and beyond.”
Among the grants awarded at the June annual meeting include:
  • Action for Healthy Kids - $25,000 for the implementation of evidence-based healthy eating and physical activity initiatives in St. Clair County Schools
  • American Heart Association - $50,000 to create cardiac ready communities in Macomb, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties through CPR community training initiatives
  • Association of Chinese Americans, Inc. - $54,500 for English classes, health workshops, and gardening programs to increase the health of the Asian American community
  • Charter Township of Harrison - $9,600 to create and install a public arts sculpture in Harrison Township’s Waterfront Park
  • Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance - $20,000 for social justice and advocacy training for the Cody Rouge Youth Council
  • CultureSource - $80,000 for an adaptive leadership program for cultural sector leaders
  • Detroit Crime Commission - $60,000 to provide data and intelligence analysis for the Detroit Police Department to dismantle human trafficking rings
  • Detroit PAL Inc. - $4,000 for maintenance and improvement of baseball diamonds at St. Hedwig Recreational Center
  • Fair Michigan Foundation, Inc.$15,000 for the Fair Michigan Justice Project, which investigates and prosecutes hate crimes targeted at members of the LGBTQ community
  • Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County - $25,700 to build the capacity of the Habitat University Program to serve more clients with financial education and coaching
  • Health Emergency Lifeline Programs - $24,000 to develop and implement a media, marketing, and public relations strategy for the Corktown Health Center
  • Jefferson East Inc$57,000 for the implementation of the Jefferson-Chalmers Targeted Redevelopment Area, a public financing method for community improvement projects
  • Jewish Ensemble Theatre - $25,000 for marketing to highlight JET’s 30th season, including main stage and student outreach productions
  • Judson Center - $50,000 for an independent living skills program for teenagers with autism
  • Living Arts - $100,000 over two years for Detroit Wolf Trap professional development residencies and workshops for early childhood educators and caregivers of young children
  • Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength - $25,000 for the expansion of youth organizing programs focused on juvenile justice reform
  • Michigan Education Excellence Foundation - $50,000 for the Detroit Promise Path Campus Coach Program
  • SME Education Foundation - $50,000 for a high school advanced manufacturing program and a STEM enrichment program for Pontiac High School
  • South Oakland Center - $60,000 to expand an online crowdfunding platform that supports individuals and families experiencing homelessness
  • Southfield, City of - $25,000 for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force youth leadership program
  • Southwest Solutions - $22,825 to more effectively serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck
  • United Community Housing Coalition - $100,000 for tax foreclosure prevention, counseling and support services for Detroit residents
  • University of Michigan - Dearborn - $50,000 to launch Halal Metropolis at the Center for Arab American Studies, an exhibition and community conversation series highlighting the Detroit Muslim community
  • Urban Justice Center - $50,000 for the Detroit Justice Center to pilot a community legal worker program
  • Wayne State University - $40,000 to expand the Success After Financial Exploitation program to provide financial safety training for family caregivers of seniors 
Included in the totals for the quarter are grants made by supporting organizations of the Community Foundation as well as grants recommended by donors who have established charitable funds with us.

Automotive company donates money and equipment to Detroit urban farming efforts

Fresh off a recent story of its innovative Mahindra Education Development Commission for the Arts program, the Auburn Hills-based automotive company Mahindra Automotive North America is once again in the news for its practices in community engagement.

The company has awarded $127,000 in grant funding and farm equipment to eight southeastern Michigan non-profits. Each non-profit is associated with urban farming programs in Detroit.

The investment comes as part of the company’s Mahindra Urban Agriculture Grant Program. Since its founding in 2015, the program has awarded 13 local non-profits with $425,000 in funding and farm equipment. Each gift was made to support sustainable farming and gardening in both the cities of Pontiac and Detroit.

"It’s an honor to be affiliated with each of our urban agriculture grant recipients," says Richard Haas, MANA’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

"Their services are truly making a difference, and we couldn’t be prouder of the impact the company’s support is having on increasing accessibility to fresh, nutritious produce at affordable prices to residents throughout the city of Detroit and in Pontiac."

A grant celebration and benefit concert was held Thursday, June 21, at the Lafayette Greens urban garden in downtown Detroit. Seminal Detroit garage rock band the Detroit Cobras played at the event.

Awarded non-profits include American Indian Health and Family Services, Boggs Education Center, Eastern Market Corporation, Full Circle Foundation, The Greening of Detroit, Keep Growing Detroit, Micah 6 Community, and Pingree Farms.

The grant program is part of Mahindra’s RISE mission, which aims to help the communities where it operates.

According to Anand Mahindra, Chairman of the Mahindra Group, "There are few better examples of our RISE philosophy in action than the work Mahindra Automotive North America is doing in Detroit."

Click here to read more about Mahindra’s community engagement efforts.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

UHY Michigan celebrates 50 years; donates 50k

This year marks the 50th anniversary for UHY LLP Michigan (formerly Follmer Rudziewicz). To commemorate this special milestone, the firm has exciting plans, including pledging $50,000 in the form of $1,000 donations to 50 different local charities who need it most. They’re also sponsoring a temporary exhibit filled with 20th century accounting artifacts at the Detroit Historical Society in the Streets of Old Detroit.

What started in 1968 as a two-man operation in Southfield has evolved into one of southeast Michigan’s largest accounting firms. Founder Gordon Follmer, 81, is still largely a part of the business as he was 50 years ago. Client retention is another reason the firm has enjoyed success, and there are several clients who have been with them since day one. In the year 2000, a multi-firm merger formed UHY in the US and today has 18 locations across the country.

“Fifty years in business is a huge accomplishment in itself”, said Tom Callan, CEO of UHY’s Michigan practice. “Being able to enjoy the year-over-year growth and employee involvement and excitement makes this anniversary that much more special”. Callan has been with the firm since 1992, starting off his career as a junior accountant. The average tenure for UHY’s partner/principal group is 20 plus years, of which over half of them came fresh out of college and have stayed their entire career.

To kick off the half-century celebration, the firm held an extravagant birthday party at the Crofoot in Pontiac, buried a time capsule, passed out employee gifts and grand prize giveaways that will continue through the end of the year, displayed several oversized banners in and around their buildings, and sealed every piece of busy season mail with a special anniversary gold logo – to name a few.

In additional to charitable contributions, future plans include more employee and client surprises, billboards and other advertisements, and maybe even a community event collaboration with a very familiar city also celebrating its 50th birthday.

Brewery celebrates first year with Feelgood Tap and ethical clothing launch

HomeGrown Brewing Company is celebrating its first year in business by joining the Michigan Feelgood Tap program and selling T-shirts made from water bottles. Since opening in April last year, the Oxford brewery has been focusing on being socially and environmentally responsible and owners John and Marie Powers said this next step is a way of “putting their money where their mouth is”.

The Feelgood Tap program supports Michigan-based charities, and means that $1 of a selected beer at HomeGrown will go to a nominated cause, starting with their Mexican Lager release this Thursday. The charity program was launched in 2016 by Stephen Roginson of Batch Brewing Company (in Corktown Detroit) and 33 Michigan breweries have joined the program already.

“There are enormous opportunities for breweries to give back to the communities they are in, and that they depend on,” says John Powers.

"We're delighted to add yet another member to the Feelgood Tap family in Oakland County, and our first in Oxford," said Feelgood Tap founder Stephen Roginson. "We're looking forward to doing exciting work with HomeGrown and, along with their patrons, creating a lot of change for important causes both local to Oxford and across the state."

As part of its ethical drive, HomeGrown has also launched a new clothing range, with t-shirts made by Vapor Apparel using recycled materials. The yarn used in the clothing, named Eco Repreve, is made from 100 percent recycled fibers, even from soda pop and water bottles.

“It’s incredible that we can take items like water bottles and recycle them into clothing – and they actually feel really comfortable,” says Marie Powers. “When we heard about it we thought ‘we have to be a part of this’.”

The brewery also looks to its own backyard when sourcing ingredients. HomeGrown sources vegetables from Oxford’s Simple Gift Farms, meats from Oxford’s East River Organic Farm, coffee from Lake Orion’s White Pine Coffee, honey from Oxford’s Golden Apiaries, malt from Motor City Malt House, hops from MI Hops in Traverse City, yeast strains from Craft Cultures in the Upper Peninsula, and wine from Michigan’s Black Star Farms. Completing the cycle, spent grain from the brewing process goes to local farms to be used as feed and the brewery donates surplus food to local food bank.

Head Brewer Joe Powers said the benefits of getting ingredients from local producers are obvious. “To be able to source everything from hops to yeast in our own state is incredible, and makes for a top-quality beer.”

Family Grand Adventures planned in Oakland County Parks

Oakland County Parks and Recreation has planned “Grand Adventures” for grandparents, parents and children this summer.

“Grand Adventures is a great intergenerational program for families to get outside and explore their favorite Oakland County Parks and discover new ones,” Brandy Boyd, Chief of Recreation Programs and Services, said.The program is designed for quality family time exploring parks, finding new adventures and spending the summer making amazing memories.”

The Grand Adventures guide book will be available at Oakland County Parks and area senior centers.  The booklet includes information on activities and events throughout the parks system. It enables users to track their “grand” times, checking off parks as they visit and sharing memories in a special section. Various parks and events will provide stickers and Selfie Stations as well as a stamp in the booklet to commemorate their times together.

Grand Adventures participants are encouraged to visit as many Oakland County Parks as possible throughout summer. The program will culminate in a special play day on Grandparents Day, Sunday, Sept. 9, from 1-4 p.m. at Waterford Oaks County Park. Checked-off activities booklet holders will receive a special coin for a prize.

For information on other events, visit OaklandCountyParks.com. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Volunteers, winter event win state honors

Service to others is the theme three winners of the 2018 mParks (Michigan Recreation and Park Association) Community Service Awards have in common. Oakland County Parks and Recreation nominated the Fire & Ice Festival, The Daisy Project- MI and volunteer Steve Stolaruk for the awards that recognize events, programs, groups and individuals that provide recreation and service to others.

Fire & Ice Festival

The Oakland County-Executive Office, Rochester Downtown Development Authority, Rochester and Oakland County Parks and Recreation collaborate annually to host the Fire & Ice Festival, a winter celebration in downtown Rochester. In its 10th year, the three-day community affair was Friday, Jan. 19 – Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. From dog sled rides and ice skating, to zip lining and fireworks, Fire & Ice has it all.

Even with warmer than usual temperatures, the 2018 Fire & Ice Festival drew approximately 55,000 visitors. The tube sledding hill and cross-country ski area were replaced with a zip line and climbing tower. Event staples include the Big, Bright Light Show, live music and an ice sculpture carving competition.

The Daisy Project-MI

Adaptive recreation, which provides opportunities for individuals of all ages with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities, is a priority for OCPR. The system’s 13 parks offer a variety of adaptive equipment designed to make it easier for everyone to maximize enjoyment of the outdoors and have fun leisure experiences with friends and family. However, the sandy beach area at Groveland Oaks County Park often was a challenge for individuals with mobility issues to navigate. Funding from the Daisy Project – MI made it feasible to install a Mobi-Mat.

A Mobi-Mat is a non-slip portable roll-out pathway with a patented 3-D design surface that allows individuals of all abilities, including wheelchair users, to access the water.

The Daisy Project-MI is a non-profit organization whose mission is to obtain medical equipment and other recreation items for special needs families that will help to enhance their quality of life.

Steve Stolaruk

Since the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission, Michigan Department of Nature Resources and Groveland Township started talking about creating an off-road vehicle park, Steve Stolaruk had been the biggest supporter of the idea.

Stolaruk, of Rochester Hills, sold his sand and gravel mine in Holly to the MDNR to provide about half of the land necessary for the future off-road vehicle park. He was a special guest at the first of the two Dixie Gully Run test events and was inspired by what he saw. From 2014-2017, Steve had one or two of his employees working six days a week sculpting every inch of the 113-acre property in an effort to get the park developed as soon as possible. His volunteer work equaled thousands of dollars in free material and time. He built hills, dug ponds and mud pits, cut hill climbs, leveled prospective parking areas, and roughed-in more than five miles of winding ORV trails. He also brought in refrigerator-sized boulders and concrete slabs (and more than 150 mammoth tree trunks) to the site.

Until his death on Feb. 12, 2018 at the age of 91, his excitement never waned.

The Community Service Award winners were recognized April 18 in Lansing.

For information on other events, visit OaklandCountyParks.com. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Goodwill Industries expands reach in Oakland County managing Michigan Works! office in Pontiac

The Oakland County Workforce Development Board today approved the selection of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit as the new service provider for the Oakland County Michigan Works! center in Pontiac.

The announcement gives Goodwill Industries its third Michigan Works! service center in the county. It also manages locations in Highland Township and Novi.

“We are excited to expand our relationship with Goodwill Industries,” said Irene Spanos, the county’s director of economic development, which oversees workforce development. “Oakland County Michigan Works! remains fully committed to the citizens of Pontiac and the surrounding communities. We expect a smooth transition and this move will significantly enhance the breadth and quality of services offered to job seekers and businesses in the area.”

Goodwill Industries will begin operating the Pontiac center July 1 and the transition should be completed early this fall. The building location is expected to be announced by early summer. Goodwill Industries replaces Oakland Schools, which did not bid to renew its contract.

“Goodwill Industries is pleased to further expand its work into Oakland County as operator of the MI Works! Service Center office within the city of Pontiac,” said Dan Varner, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit. “We’d like to thank the Oakland County Workforce Development Board for this opportunity and look forward to deepening our partnership.”

Oakland County Michigan Works!, a partner of the American Job Center Network, helps more than 45,000 job seekers prepare for careers and conduct job searches each year. The agency provides services to businesses, including talent recruiting and training support. Other centers are in Ferndale, Oak Park, Southfield, Troy and Waterford.

“We’re excited to welcome Goodwill Industries to Pontiac,” said Jennifer Llewellyn, workforce development manager for Oakland County. “We expect this transition to be seamless and we’re committed to offering quality services to Pontiac and the surrounding communities.”

Troy's Kresge Foundation and others invest in the largest U.S. pay-for-success fund to date


New Jersey-based Prudential Financial Inc., Steve and Connie Ballmer, and The Kresge Foundation in Troy announced $40 million in investment commitments to The Community Outcomes Fund, a fund to scale pay-for-success investments in the United States.

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Cafe space opens in newly renovated Huron Valley Council for the Arts HQ

Downtown Highland Township has a new gathering space, which, according to some in the community, is something that is long overdue.

It also has a newly renovated headquarters for the non-profit arts organization Huron Valley Council for the Arts, something that was also in need.

As it turns out, these two developments are one in the same. This week, the Huron Valley Council for the Arts is celebrating its grand re-opening after four months of renovations. And while there are many improvements to point to, it is the addition of a café space that has HVCA executive director Erin Sabo most excited.

"Highland doesn’t have a coffee shop in town. We want to fill that void--a place to come in and hang out. We’re happy to give that," says Sabo.

“We believe that art brings communities together and now we actually have the space to do that.”

The roof has been repaired. New carpeting has been installed and a new paint job performed. The addition of a private rehearsal space freed up the room for the new café, which includes tables, public wifi, and a coffee maker.

The goal is to have the HVCA headquarters become a true community space, one where neighbors come in to read, write, draw, study, have meetings, work on their laptops, and all the other things people do at coffee shops. It also makes it easier to promote HVCA programming, which includes classical and contemporary concert series, arts clubs for kids, and festivals, as well as their mission: To promote the arts.

"We’re trying to break down the barrier for the people that think museums are stuffy places. We want them to know that this is their place," says Sabo.

"It’s not a bad way to have a cup of coffee, surrounded by beautiful things on the wall."

The HVCA is celebrating its grand re-opening with a week’s worth of events, including open houses, hands-on projects for children, and a Saturday, April 28, performance from Scottish troubadour Jim Malcolm.

Huron Valley Council for the Arts is located at 205 W. Livingston Rd. in Highland.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

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