Category Archives: Facilitator

Spotlight on Nonprofits in Kalamazoo County

April 15, 2011

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish.”


Pictured: (L-R) Connie Patterson, Robert Patterson, Martha Austin, Janet Loucks
Photo: Oakwood Neighborhood Association

On any given Wednesday afternoon Gail Camp may be found inside the Oakwood Neighborhood Center munching on cookies and catching up with her cronies over a friendly game of cards.

Camp, 62, is part of a group which has no official name or by-laws other than to be there for each other as much as time and good health permits. This group of senior Oakwood residents is symbolic of the close-knit nature of a neighborhood which is home to multi-generational families, many of whom never left.

“I was born and raised in Oakwood,” said Camp who is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for esophageal cancer. “It’s good for me to be here. I enjoy myself with them because they’re always happy.”

The neighborhood’s Senior Drop-In program is located in the Oakwood Neighborhood Association Center off of Laird Street.  The 2,288-square-foot building is divided into an office area, a community room, and the Family Resource Center which is where the seniors meet each week.

“That’s how we’ve been able to maintain our programming and services at such a low cost. All of the programming is done through donations and grants. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

—Cheryl Lord, Oakwood Neighborhood Association

Cheryl Lord, executive director of the ONA, said the community room is available to be rented out for events and also serves as the location for workshops. She said the Family Resource Center is used for programs and services which include afterschool tutoring for the neighborhood’s young people and has computers available for employment assistance.

Funding for the ongoing operation of the many programs offered at the neighborhood center is always an issue, but Lord said grant money, fundraisers and volunteers help to offset the cost of many of the services offered. In addition, she said the City of Kalamazoo provides some funding to cover general operating expense.

“The volunteers are certainly key because everything is run through them,” Lord said. “They do the cleaning, repairs and upkeep of the neighborhood center. They also sort through the food in the food bank.

“That’s how we’ve been able to maintain our programming and services at such a low cost. All of the programming is done through donations and grants. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

The Oakwood Neighborhood Association was founded in 1947 by a group of residents who wanted to offer activities for the neighborhood’s young people. Although the ONA still offers youth-oriented programs and services, Lord said there was a realization that Oakwood’s senior residents needed a support system.

The Senior Drop-In gatherings are also open to seniors who don’t live in the neighborhood and family and friends of those who do.

But to hear the group gathered for a recent Wednesday card game tell it, their support of one another transcends their standing weekly meeting.

“We have neighbors who shovel for us and plow our driveway because we can’t physically do it ourselves,” said Connie Patterson who was accompanied by her husband, Robert.

Robert Patterson said he finds a way to give back by making necklaces, earrings and bracelets which are used as prizes during the group’s Bingo games.

In addition to helping each other, members of the group said they also look out for each other.

Camp said she walks around the neighborhood four or five times each day and listens to a police scanner which is always on inside her home.

Janet Loucks, 69, who serves as the group’s activities director, recounted an episode which really let her know how closely her neighbors watch over her.

“One day a friend and I had gone out to lunch. I must have been in a hurry because I didn’t lock the door,” Loucks said. “My neighbors saw that my van was gone and when one of them went to the front door and realized it was unlocked she was panic-stricken that something had happened to me.”

In an age where technology has made it easier to shut the world out, members of the Senior Drop-In group said they value the time they are able to spend with each other discussing happenings in the neighborhood or sharing information and advice.

“We have people who just come and talk,” said Ruth Olmsted.

While nobody knows who’s going to bring the treats and who’s going to show up, Loucks said she knows what would likely happen if she and her friends didn’t have a place to gather.

“I’d probably be sitting at home in an easy chair taking a nap,” she said.

By Jane C. Parikh


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Saving the planet one paint can at a time

Jane C. Parikh | Thursday, April 14, 2011
Jim Cosby owner of ePaint Recycling LLC. / photos by Erik Holladay

BATTLE CREEK — After a 20-year career in the sales end of the paint industry, Jim Cosby found himself without a job, but not without options.

Last April he opened ePaint Recycling in an old Army supply building located off of Dickman Road at 24 Brydges Drive in Battle Creek.

Now he’s saving the environment while painting the town.

“I started this operation with a couple hundred bucks,” Cosby says. “I created a job for myself and two other people and it’s growing.”

Growing so well that later this year he hopes to move into a larger facility, one with a couple thousand more feet of space and concrete floor as opposed to the wooden ones in his current space.

The building currently housing ePaint is 10,000 square feet. Though dated, it’s home to a cutting-edge concept designed to keep as much paint as possible from ending up in landfills.

It’s an idea Cosby says he spent four years researching.

The paint to be recycled arrives at ePaint in one of two ways — either through environmental recycling companies or private citizens.

Cosby and his colleagues examine the paint to determine if it’s still usable. Customers are charged $2 for each can they drop off, which is about what it would cost to responsibly dispose of the paint elsewhere, Cosby says.

“Every can we receive we open and we group the paint by color. We’re particular about the way we do that,” Cosby says. “We examine it and if it’s still usable paint we will mix it up and pour it into a drum of the same color paint. The (empty) can is then crushed and the metal and plastic are recycled. Close to 100 percent of what we receive is recycled.”

Paint that arrives in a frozen state or smells bad is treated differently.

“We’ll pour the liquids off the top of the bad paint and will use those liquids in a product to make mulch dye,” Cosby says. “If we can salvage those contents it gets put in to another bulk drum as an additive for concrete.”

On average, about 1 or 2 percent of what comes into ePaint is thrown away. In any given week the company will take in and open 2,000 cans of paint and turn around and manufacture 1,000 gallons of paint.

That’s a lot of paint that won’t see a landfill.

Other companies use a method of paint disposal that calls for mixing paint with kitty litter, then waiting for that mixture to dry. In a solid form, the paint becomes encapsulated in a protective coating of inks and dyes that will never decompose.

“That stuff’s going to be there forever,” Cosby says. “You essentially strip the earth of clay to make kitty litter to encapsulate paint in a landfill.

“The minute that Waste Management or BFI takes that garbage ‘for free’ — there will be a cost associated with it somewhere,” Cosby says.

His method of disposal has a cost associated with it, but the cost is not lasting damage to the planet. The costs instead are production expenses associated with creating affordable paint for private and commercial uses.

Cosby sells the paint to whomever wants to buy it. Among the business’ major clients are Habitat with Humanity Restores, which buys the ePaint for less than $5 per gallon and sells it for $9.99 a gallon – easily less than the price charged for name-brand paints.

Since starting up ePaint last April, Cosby says he has sold more than 7,000 gallons of paint.

In addition to giving new life to old paint, Cosby also makes his own textured paint. It can withstand occurrences such as chairs rubbing up against it. This paint has been used an area Mexican restaurant to give its walls a textured look.

Cosby makes this product with latex paint and crushed, recycled glass.

The route Cosby took from working for someone else to business owner was circuitous. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 1990 with a degree in Industrial Marketing, he went to work for a paint contractor. Next, he joined a wallpaper company and sold paint in Chicago. Then he was laid off.

He and his family moved back to the Kalamazoo area and Cosby founded Cosby Coating Corp.

“It was tough because the economy took a dump,” he says. “I dissolved CCC a few years ago.”

At this point, Cosby says, his wife and the rest of his family told him to “just find a job Jimmy.”

What he found was a calling as much as a job, one he’s always wanted to do.

“I can’t change what’s inside of me,” Cosby says, “and this whole recycling paint operation is a journey meant for me.”

Jane C. Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek.

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Redneck tenors in Kazoo

KALAMAZOO — Billy Joe, Billy Bob and Billy Billie are proof that appearances can be deceiving.With their mullet hairdos and trailer park wardrobe, one might assume their singing would lean toward cowboy twang and country slang.

That assumption would be wrong.

The three “Billys,” better known as the “Three Redneck Tenors,” are classically trained opera singers who simply decided to take themselves and their craft less seriously.

They will encourage audience members to do the same when they perform March 26 at Miller Auditorium.

“We’re here to entertain, not preach to them,” said Matthew Lord, who portrays Billy Joe. “The show is two hours of totally forgetting about their day-to-day lives.”

Lord, who lives in a suburb of Dallas, thinks too many movies, plays and musicals try to convey a deep message. He said he and his castmates simply want audiences to laugh and enjoy some of the best singing they’ve ever heard.

Set in a trailer park in Paris, Texas, the two-act, 19-song musical tells the story of the Redneck Tenors’ rise from relative obscurity to the concert stage at Carnegie Hall. They are guided by The Colonel, played by Dinny McGuire, who first hears their operatic voices at the trailer park.

The concept for the “Three Redneck Tenors” was developed by Lord six years ago as a fundraiser for a children’s theater in Grapevine, Texas.

“They wanted us to do ‘Damn Yankees,’ but they really didn’t have the money to get the rights for the show,” Lord said. “At the time, I was really kind of sick of the whole tenor thing. You had the Irish Tenors, the Mexican Tenors and on and on and on.

“I was trying to think of a theme to make it a comedy — have some fun with it. The craziest thing I could think of was ‘Three Redneck Tenors.”

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The new consumers

KALAMAZOO — Business owners will have to connect with the next generations of consumers on an experiential and emotional level if they are to be successful in the near future, says macro trend forecaster Susan Yashinsky.

There are key generational differences and you can’t assume you can do business as usual,” Yashinsky said Thursday in Kalamazoo.

She works for Waterford-based consumer and design trend consulting firm Sphere Trending. It does research that businesses and others use to help design products and adjust their services.

As dubbed by Yashinsky, the generational groups are: Digital from Birth (ages 0-13); GenNow (ages 14-35); Gen-X (ages 36-45); Zoomers (ages 46-65); and Prime Timers (ages 66 and older).

Those in Generation X or younger are into social media and online research like no group before them, said Yashinsky, who spoke during a meeting Thursday with local members of Inforum, a professional women’s alliance that has about 1,800 members throughout Michigan.

Susan Yashinsky Photograph.JPGView full sizeSusan Yashinsky

They are not looking backwards for guidance, she said. “They are at the forefront of technology.”

In spite of their need to be connected 24/7 to their technology, they also want to make emotional connections and want to be made to feel like they matter. Yashinsky said businesses that are making lasting connections with these groups are positioning their messages and product lines to provide an experience as well as meeting people’s needs and wants.

GenNow is the first generation to be brought up with digital, hand-held and computer technology. Many of them are graduating with an average of $30,000 in debt and are choosing to move back in with their parents for anywhere from three to five years. They are behind the eight ball, are marrying later and likely won’t hit their peak earning years until they turn 50, Yashinsky said.

They want to be able to access what they want 24 hours a day, but they also want comfort.

They are always touching a hard surface like a computer or a cellphone,” Yashinsky said. “If you own a bank you might want to think about whether your door has a soft touch to it.”

Such a consideration may seem trite, but it is subtle changes like that that will be noticed and appreciated, she said.

The Gen-Xer’s are all about living within a budget and paying less, which may explain the popularity of Groupon, which offers online discounts on restaurants, clothing stores and services if a large enough group of people log in for the deal.

They were not brought up pampered. Many of them are still stuck in starter homes,” Yashinsky said. “They’re trading down to trade up.”

So they may forego caffe lattes and save that money for a new pair of shoes. They may also delay remodeling rooms in favor of smaller projects such as putting new hardware on their front door.

Because storage is so critical to member of this generation — who are living in smaller spaces — companies are making more beautiful and functional storage products, Yashinsky said.

Outdoor pizza ovens are becoming a must-have for Zoomers who are mentally and physically healthy. In many instances they are supporting not only themselves, but their parents and their children, all while wrestling with issues such as high healthcare costs.

Yashinsky said pizza ovens are the most asked-for item in the Zoomer age group. They want a gourmet cooking experience to enjoy at home with friends and family.

Products that address mobility and safety issues are high on the list for the Zoomer generation, she said. Yashinsky said retailers are focusing on the build-out of smaller stores and larger online product offerings aimed at this group.

You need to imagine what the solution is for the consumer,” Yashinsky said. “It’s about comfort and selling emotion and coziness. You need to frame your business in terms of an experience.”

By 2020 Yashinsky predicts that Flash Mob management will be an actual job at many companies.

You have to surprise and delight the consumer,” she said.






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Italian musicians energy contagious

KALAMAZOO – The instruments and music used by the Italian ensemble Il Giardino Armonico date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, but their performance style is far from dated.

“These performers sometimes dance around the stage like rock stars,” said Abhijit Sengupta, chief executive officer and musical director of the Fontana Chamber Arts, which is bringing the ensemble to Kalamazoo for a February 25 concert at 8 p.m. at the Dalton Center on the Western Michigan University campus.

“They don’t even sit in the traditional way.  If they get excited, they jump right up and really get into it,” Sengupta said.  “You can hear so much joy in their music-making.

The Grammy-award winning group based in Milan, Italy, turned down requests to appear in bigger cities such as New York and San Francisco, prompting Sengupta to say it’s a coup for the Kalamazoo area to have them perform here.  He said Dalton is an ideal venue for the performance because it’s a more intimate setting.

“This is the first time they’ve been to Kalamazoo and it’s been maybe a decade since they’ve been to North America,” Sengupta said.  “We are one of only four cities included on their tour.”

Il Giardino was founded in Milan in 1985 by Luca Pianca and Giovanni Antonini. The ensemble brings together a number of graduates from some of Europe’s leading colleges of music, all of whom have specialised in playing on period instruments. Depending on the demands of each program, the group will consist of anything from three to 30 musicians.

Although not the only group to perform historical musical pieces on period instruments, Il Giardino is among the most highly regarded in national and international music circles.  Their music is based on treatises written by composers such as Vivaldi to be played on instruments of a particular time period.

Sengupta said people are learning how to play modern versions of these instruments.

The ensemble began releasing recordings in the 1980’s which showcased this music and what it could have sounded like.  Its various recordings of works by Vivaldi- among which the Four Seasons – and other 18th-century composers have met with widespread acclaim on the part of audiences and critics alike and have received several major awards.

“They read these treatises and applied their imagination,” Sengupta said of Il Giardino.  “Many of the instruments have been preserved in museum settings around the world.”

The  ensemble’s performance here will include an abundance of music from Vivaldi and other Venetian composers.

“Their approach and the kind of music they’ll be performing will appeal to veteran music lovers as well as people who are not frequent concertgoers,” Sengupta said.  “You don’t need to have any prior experience or knowledge of music.”

The unconventional performance technique used by Il Giardino attracts college-age and younger individuals.

Sengupta said Fontana events often attract upwards of 75 college-age and younger.

“Many of these ensembles are their heroes,” he said.  “There have been concerts where we’ve had hundreds of students.

“When I hear their recordings, I can’t imagine playing any other way.”





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Back in business

Amazing how a little ice can turn your world upside down.

No power for almost four days and a tree branch knocked down our phone lines – hence no phone, no Internet and most discouraging of all, no Internet.

But, I’m back in business now and prepared to post what I hope you consider interesting and fun-to-read stories.

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Battle Creek neighborhood rises up

Slices of pizza and pieces of art are key to renewed restoration efforts in the Freedom Acres neighborhood in Battle Creek.

The opening in April of Sgt. Pepper’s Pizza and Urban Art, with its gallery, studio art space and workshop, have spurred positive changes that neighbors say they expect to continue.

There is a long-standing perception that Freedom Acres is home to drug dealing and prostitution, dilapidated buildings and homes, and residents who no longer care about their neighborhood. The reality is a bit different, says Marcus Trammell.

Tramell is a community organizer with JONAH, a coalition of 20 local churches and non-profit groups working together in influence political, environmental, social and economic decisions in Battle Creek. He says residents of the neighborhood, bordered by Latta Street to Capital Avenue and North Avenue to Fremont Street, are ready to work to change the perception that’s saddled their area of the city. That work starts with a Community Engagement Center. It opened in January in a two-story brick building at 104 Calhoun Street that used to house Jack Pearl’s sporting goods store.

Fresh coats of paint in bright green, yellow and purple decorate the walls in different areas of the building.

A white memo board on a yellow-painted wall in the mid-section of the building lists barter opportunities available to residents with one simple rule: “One of hour of my time = one hour of your time.”

Barter will be an essential part of any effort to improve Freedom Acres because residents here don’t have a lot of disposable income. Despite this, they are willing to do what they can, says Jeremy Andrews, a community organizer with Neighborhoods, Inc., which manages the center.

“People are willing to do for themselves, but it’s not always easy for them,” Andrews says. “This doesn’t mean they want everything given to them.”

The lower level of the center will eventually house a Tool Lending Library that will operate much like other libraries. Donated tools, which Andrews hopes to collect from individuals, businesses and organizations in the community, will be available for residents to check-out for home improvement projects.

A typical tool library will have anything from hammers to ladders. Andrews says he needs circular and reciprocating saws, drills and the smaller items such as pruning shears, shovels and rakes.

“We want to help people who need it, but we’re not going to discourage people who can afford a ladder from coming in,” he says.

Andrews gave workshops in other neighborhoods to teach residents how to make home repairs and improvements and he noticed a need to provide tools so they could get the work done.

“Out of my barn, I personally lend tools to neighborhood associations and youth groups who want to do cleanup projects,” says Andrews.

As a space in the lower level of 104 Calhoun is readied to house tools, the upper floor is already buzzing with activity, hence the name for this section of the center — The Hive Neighborhood Resource Cooperative.

The space is available to residents who want to meet, work, or “chill.”

“People sometimes don’t feel very warm and cozy in big, white-wall establishments,” Andrews says. “We’re trying to make this cozy and homey and sometimes it will be messy and that’s OK.”

Engaging younger residents is something Andrews is particularly interested in. He says he will have a few computers available for students who want to work on homework at the center, which has WiFi.

Besides the 2,000 residents of Freedom Acres, give or take a few, the center also is open to groups involved in community engagement work such as JONAH; the Battle Creek Metropolitan Area Mustache Society (Andrews is the founder of the group that mixes fun and charity); and Sprout Urban Farms, a community urban gardening program.

Plans are percolating to offer leadership development and civic engagement training to teach residents how to access city resources to bring positive changes to Freedom Acres, a neighborhood named for its ties to Sojourner Truth.

“This is all about engaging citizens and residents to take the city and their neighborhoods back,” Andrews says. “If they’re doing something or coming up with something clever, this is a free space for them to use.”

Even though Neighborhoods, Inc., owns the building and provides staffing, the center’s programs and services were developed based on the needs residents said they had.

“It (the center) was created by them,” Andrews says. “They live in the neighborhood and all those neighbors helped get this started.”

Recently residents got together to put a fresh coat of paint on a building which used to house a bookstore. That building has been vacant and repeatedly vandalized since the bookstore closed 30 years ago.

“Nobody’s vandalized it since we painted it,” Trammel says. The reason, he says, is simple.

“The residents are looking out for each other,” Trammel says. “And if ‘Tommy’ gets caught doing something he shouldn’t, he may not be getting any more cookies from the lady down the street and everyone else will know what he did.”

Having this accountability is huge in a neighborhood that has seen better times.

Andrews says apathy often comes with knowing your neighborhood is poorly perceived across town.

“Luckily we have people here who are ready to get to work to make things better,” Andrews says. “We have great residents who are willing to stand up. We’re mending the windows, putting in more lights and creating more open spaces.”

Jane C. Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek.

Photos by Erik Holladay.
Jeremy Andrews, a community organizer at Neighborhoods, Inc., manages The Hive.
Barter will be a currency of exchange at The HIve located in the Freedom Acres area of Battle Creek.
Dozie Ononinuu, left, and Marcus Trammell, a community orginizer with JONAH, talk about streamlining paperwork at The Hive.
The Hive is located in the Freedom Acres area of Battle Creek at 104 Calhoun Street.
Jeremy Andrews, left, and Marcus Trammell help lead the Community Engagement Center called The HIve in Battle Creek, MI.

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