Category Archives: Writer

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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Raising the roof in Battle Creek


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Danielle Wallace has broken through the roofing industry’s glass ceiling in Southwest Michigan.

Wallace, 31, is McDonald Roofing’s lone female field employee. She is the face of the Detroit-based company’s Battle Creek office which opened here on Nov. 1. The local operation moves into its new quarters at 510 Columbia Ave. on March 1.

McDonald’s Roofing, founded in 1947, also has locations in Jackson and Livonia. McDonald’s sister company, J.D. Candler began in 1879.

“We are the oldest roofing company in Michigan,” Wallace says. “We are the only union shop in the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo area.”

Being union poses some unique challenges, especially when it comes to people’s perceptions, but Wallace says she has a ready answer for potential customers.

“The big thing with roofing shops that are union is that workers are trained from within,” Wallace says. “In our shop you start at the bottom level. There’s a benefit to employees and employers because all of our guys are trained.”

Wallace, who was born and raised in Kalamazoo, got into the roofing business after her high school graduation. She spent 10 years at Chenoweth Roofing Company in Three Rivers before going to work for McDonald’s where she started as a sheet metal worker and eventually was appointed to her current job as a branch manager.

The company’s Battle Creek location employs three people and across the three locations of the company 150 individuals will be hired during peak roofing season, which begins when temperatures warm up.

Although the term “lifelong learning” isn’t always applied to the building and trades industry, McDonald’s employees are always learning new techniques and technologies designed to increase the life of roofs. The company focuses on commercial, industrial, governmental and school system roofing jobs, but Wallace says they also do some residential work.

Their client base in Battle Creek includes the Kellogg Co. and the Calhoun County Jail. An increase in business here prompted the company to open the office currently operating out of Wallace’s home.

In keeping with a growing demand for building “green,” McDonald’s is increasingly making “lean construction” a priority.

“We’re looking at how to reduce waste and implement new technologies to serve our customers,” Wallace says. “We’ve also started focusing on service and preventative maintenance rather than re-roofing.”

This service and maintenance support has helped McDonald’s remain profitable throughout economic ups-and-downs. Wallace says it’s a relatively new concept in smaller cities, although companies in bigger cities have been using this method because it saves money.

“It costs less than doing a re-roof,” she says. “To put a new system on top you have to have cranes and street closures.”

Simply put, McDonald’s takes their roofing expertise up a notch by integrating new technologies or working with customers to help them achieve their goals by offering fairly new options, such a solar energy, which will enable the companies and organizations McDonald’s does business with to get tax credits.

“We can actually design a roof for a building which structurally should last at least 15 years,” Wallace says. “We’ll check it out once year. We’re really focused on taking a proactive approach to getting roofs inspected on a regular basis and extending the overall life of the roof.”

The addition of components such as solar panels or reflective coating can potentially add another 10 years onto the life of a roof, extending that life to 30 years.

Resurface coating may be applied several times to also increase the roof lifespan. Coating work originally comes with a 10-year warranty. Wallace says roofing companies should be able to go in, look at any deficiencies, and make the necessary repairs to add another 10 years onto the manufacturers warranty.

“You can go up on the roof, cut a section out and see how much reflectivity has been lost,” Wallace says.

In addition to the standard roof topping structures, McDonald’s is getting more requests for green roof systems that incorporate ground cover as a way to save energy and decrease the amount of harmful gases going into the atmosphere. These roofing systems typically cost about 30 percent more than a standard system.

“They want trees and basic ground cover,” Wallace says. “We had one customer looking at putting a green roof on top of a new roofing system.”

These roofing systems are more expensive at the outset than a traditional roof, but the future savings are greater. Wallace says she recommends making the investment when considering a new roof or a re-roof because trying to include it later becomes costly.

The type of vegetation is a major consideration, especially in areas of the country where snow and colder temperatures are not kind to flowering plants. Vegetation is grown in plastic crates and the water, worms and nutrients continue growing from crate to crate.

“If you put flowering plants on it will look crappy in the winter,” Wallace says. “If you put groundcover on it will require less maintenance. One of the good things about a green roof is that it’s good for the environment. It creates more of an insulation. Now that that roof membrane isn’t exposed to the elements it will last longer.”

Wallace is a proponent of metal roofs because they last “forever.”

“There are so many different styles that hold heat in rather than letting it through and you can get a 50-year warranty on residential roofs, but they are more expensive to do,” Wallace says.

Despite the many options available and advice based on vast knowledge of the roofing industry, Wallace says she has her share of customers who say “no because it’s too damn expensive.”

She acknowledges the difficulty in getting people to see the benefits to a new roof, re-roof or the routine service and maintenance.

“I won’t just give up,” Wallace says. “I want them to know a girl won’t let the roof win.”

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

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