Tag Archives: Battle Creek

Support Group for Battle Creek’s LGBT Communityg

BATTLE CREEK – Larry Dillon said growing up here as a gay man meant suppressing feelings and hiding who he really was. It wasn’t until after he retired in 2000 from his teaching job with the Lakeview School District that he came out as a gay man.


Dillon doesn’t want individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to have to experience what he did and he was among a few who said the community needed an organization dedicated to LGBT residents. On November 14 an open house was held to officially open the Battle Creek Pride Resource Center.


The Resource Center is the result of an organization which formed four years ago to serve the LGBT community in Battle Creek and Calhoun County. The new center is located in what used to be the teen room at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Financial and in-kind contributions totaling more than $5,000 were used to repair and renovate the new space and furniture and paintings were donated by a friend of the resource center.


“We’re similar to a lot of other communities as far as our LGBT residents go,” Dillon said. “We’re concerned with our young people and the potential for them to be bullied in the schools. We’re concerned about job discrimination and the ability to get a job. There’s still discrimination in housing and the LGBT community is still discriminated against in hotels and restaurants.”


Dillon said he and others launched a successful campaign to get an anti-discrimination ordinance passed in the city. He said people for the most part are supportive of the LGBT community and there have been very few cases of discrimination.


Battle Creek’s resource center is the eighth in Michigan, according to CenterLink, a Fort Lauderdale-based organization which was founded in 1994 as a member-based coalition to support the development of strong, sustainable LGBT community centers. The center is open from 1-8 p.m. four or   five days a week. Dillon said the hours of operation will increase as more people are available to supervise.


LGBT community centers play an important role in the life of LGBT Americans, according to the 2012 Community Centers Report authored by Centerlink.


“In some parts of the country, a local community center may be the only LGBT resource where residents can access social, educational and health services,” the report said. “ The 79 LGBT community centers participating in this report collectively serve more than 33,300 people each week and the 55 centers that reported 2011 revenue data have combined revenue of $106.8 million. Across the country, these community centers are vital players in the LGBT movement and provide an invaluable link between individual LGBT people and state and national efforts to advance LGBT equality.”


While the local resource center will advocate for the rights of the LGBT community at the national level, Dillon said the main focus will be on providing a safe and welcoming space.


“The organization is also here to provide social outlets for the LGBT community. A lot of gay people didn’t feel comfortable going to just any entertainment spot,” Dillon said. “We have social events just like other people would have and we organize outings .”


In addition the organization’s members have secured scholarships for young and old LGBT individuals and sponsor an annual Peace Prom where people can bring their same sex partners. He said the group is also planning various support groups.


“We have an Alcoholic Anonymous support group because LGBT individuals aren’t always welcomed in the regular Twelve Step program and we also have a transgender support group,” Dillon said. “There’s also going to be a drop-in center for students to come after school to do their homework.”


None of these support services existed when Dillon was growing up.


“I was born here and educated here and I graduated from (Western Michigan University) and became a teacher in Lakeview,” Dillon said. “I couldn’t be openly gay and be a teacher.”


He was married for 30 years and when his wife passed away he came out as a gay man.


“It was something I probably knew,” Dillon said of being gay, “but I pushed it to the back because I was happily married. Before my marriage it was difficult. I didn’t really want to be gay when I was young because I knew I would have to squelch my goals.”


He said he doesn’t have a good sense of the size of Battle Creek’s LGBT community.


“It’s hard to tell because a lot of gays are still in hiding and they don’t want to be publicly known, They’re afraid they’ll be put down or lose their jobs.   I know many, many people who are still in the closet,” Dillon said. “It’s amazing how you find out some people are gay.”


Ultimately LGBT individuals want to enjoy the same kind of life that straight people do. This includes access to housing and good jobs; a legally binding marriage; and the ability to adopt children.


“We want that house with a picket fence,” Dillon said.



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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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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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People like their craft beer

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For Larry Bell, founder and president of Bell’s Brewery, Inc., hitting the bottom of the barrel is a good thing.

So good that Bell and his 115-employee workforce celebrated the company’s 25th year in business in 2010 with major expansion plans. The additional space is needed to accommodate the ever-increasing demand for craft beer on a local, state and national level.

Sales of Bell’s Beer doubled from 2009 to 2010.

“In 2009 we hit the bottom of the economy as well as seeing a spike in brewery commodities,” Bell says. “We were forced to take a price increase at the worst time. We only had 12 percent growth that year. We expect to finish 2010 at 23 percent growth.”

Bell’s Beer, the company that got its start in 1985 with brew made in a 15 gallon soup kettle, now has one percent of the beer market in Michigan. And though this may not sound like a huge number, Bell says it’s enough to get him and his company noticed by the “big guys” such as Anheuser-Busch.

Being noticed is one thing, being bought out by them is another.

Bell, 52, says for the past several years he has been quelling persistent rumors of plans to sell his company to a major player in the beer industry. Acquiring other craft breweries, however, is something he’d like to do.

“We’re interested in acquiring, but we’re not interested in being acquired,” he says.

So far, what’s  stopped him is is most craft breweries aren’t technologically advanced enough for him to be interested in buying.

These days, Bell’s interest is primarily tied up in expansion plans that began last year with the purchase of an existing building just down the street from the company’s brewing facility at 8938 Krum Ave. in Comstock Township, east of Kalamazoo. The building houses the company’s corporate offices.

About $17 million will be invested in 2011 to expand the company’s brewhouse. Fermenting capabilities will expand, employee care areas enhanced and more space and equipment will be provided for new specialty fermentations. The upgrades are expected to be completed by early 2012.

Another $35 million will be spent through 2016 to build out and equip an additional 60,000 square feet of floor space at the company’s Krum Avenue location.

These expansion plans will create the need for additions to the company’s current 115-employee workforce. Bell says he thinks between 10 and 12 employees will be added each year for the next five years in areas such as packaging, logistics, brewhouse, sales and office staff.

And the company’s brewery expansion follows a $2.5 million renovation project that got under way last year at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, its downtown venue for live music.

Attracting the talent needed to grow certain segments of the business has at times not been easy, Bell says. For awhile it was difficult to find people with training in the brewing. That improved after craft beer began to be recognized as a serious contender in national and international markets and courses offering degrees and certifications in brewing became available.

And it can sometimes be a challenge to attract top talent to Michigan, Bell says. “But, when people come here and see the level of sophistication we have for a small brewery it’s enticing for them.”

Bell’s head brewer relocated here from London, Ontario, and one of his salesman came from Anchorage, Alaska. There also have been a few hires from the Detroit area.

When it comes to the long view for the company, Bell did not have to look far to find his likely successor. He says his daughter, Laura, has expressed an interest and passion for the family business. She’s now in charge of the company’s marketing operations for the business, which despite its growth is considered a small brewery by national standards. The government’s definition of a “small brewery” is anything which produces under 2 million barrels per year. In 2010, Bell’s Brewery produced and sold more than 115,000 barrels.

Oberon and Two-hearted Ale are the company’s number one and number two selling beers respectively. Bell says these two beer brands account for 70 percent of the company’s production.

Completion of the new brewhouse will enable the 24/7 production schedule needed to meet the ever-growing demand for craft beer.

The recent opening of Michigan’s 85th craft brewery shows the popularity of specialty brews.

“All of the craft breweries in Michigan are doing well,” Bell says. “Through all of this economic trouble the citizens of Michigan get it that if they spend their money here it helps.”

On the national level, craft beer has been the only “hot” segment of the beer industry, Bell says.

“Because we’re one of the older craft breweries we have the capacity to take advantage of that.”

Bell’s Beer is sold in 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. And one of the “frequently asked questions” posed to Bell’s is when their beers will be available in new markets.

“People realize how much better (craft beer) is,” Bell says. They’re healthier for you than other beers, too, he says.

Among those places where the locally-produced beer won’t be found are large sports venues where brewing giants such as Anheuser-Busch have a virtual lock on beer sales.

“The places where a lot of volume is sold are the places we can’t get into,” Bell says. “These are places where the big brewers are paying to keep us out.”

Then there are state-by-state restrictions such as laws in Minnesota stipulating that only beers produced in that state can be sold and served in any building constructed with public funds.

Bell concedes there is some irony in the fact that such an iconic fixture of American culture as beer is now being produced predominantly by foreign-owned businesses in the United States. “Over 80 percent of the beer produced in America is made by foreign-owned companies,” Bell says.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, he says his sales force will continue to pound the pavement in search of new markets and customers.

“Nobody knew back when I first started that it would take off like this,” Bell says.

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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Things Are Looking Up

As economy improves, more temp workers are being converted to permanent employees

PORTAGE — Barb Miner wasn’t looking for another career. She was searching for a job which would supplement an early retirement package she received when she left the former Pharmacia Corp., now Pfizer Corp., after 27 years there.

But after spending a year as a temporary employee with a Portage manufacturing company, Miner was hired as a permanent human resources administrator and receptionist.

More temporary workers are being given permanent positions, area staffing agencies representatives say. It’s a trend that may show that companies are feeling more secure about their future because they’re willing to ramp up hiring rather than relying solely on temporary workers.

“What we’ve seen for the last three quarters is significant growth in terms of hiring activity with our customers,” said Steve Beebe, vice president of WSI, the Kalamazoo staffing company that placed Miner with the Portage company.

“Within the last 45 to 60 days we’ve seen an actual increase in permanent hiring. I relate that to companies seeing work that is more sustainable and bringing on the work force to handle that work which is quite common.”

In 2008, WSI placed Miner with W.L. Molding in Portage as a temporary employee. One year later that company hired her in full time as their human resources administrator/receptionist.

Beebe said WSI’s business for contract hiring is up 200 percent this year compared to 2009. He said national projections indicate that most companies are planning to expand employment during the first quarter of 2011.

Miner said she thinks starting out as a temporary hire makes sense for people like herself who have experience, but lack the education so many employers require.

“I had worked my way up to a managerial job with Pharmacia, but I didn’t have the education so I knew it would be difficult for me when I looked for another job,” Miner said. “They (W.L. Molding) started recognizing and utilizing my talents and they offered me a full-time job.”

The majority of jobs which shift from temporary to full time employment are still in manufacturing, Beebe said.

Melissa Johnson, sales director for Advance Employment’s Kalamazoo office, said her agency has had an almost 60 percent increase from 2009 in terms of the number of individuals they have put to work. She said some of these jobs were trial hires, as opposed to temporary positions.

Last month, she filled a request for 80 positions, which came from a Lansing-based company that focuses on energy-efficient products and services.

“The outlook for 2011 is that we’re actually going to have sustainable jobs in Michigan for the first time since 2001,” Johnson said. “We were in a general decline beginning in 2001. Our best year since then is this year.”

Mark Lancaster, president and chief executive officer of Battle Creek-based Employment Group, said he noticed an improvement in his business midway through 2009. He said his customers’ hiring forecasts have gone from three days to three months and in some cases six months — an indication of increased confidence in the economy.

“Our customers are actually hiring in 2010 and willing to bring people onto their payroll,” Lancaster said. “My most recent numbers are that 811 of our temporary workers have been hired onto customer payrolls.”

Lancaster said sectors of the economy in Michigan which are hiring include aerospace, electronics, food, furniture, distribution, energy and the automobile industry.

“All in all it’s broad-based hiring,” Lancaster said. “The auto industry and auto suppliers are still driving employment in Michigan.”

General assembly jobs often lead to the creation of other positions necessary to support an increasing workload, such as clerical or administrative jobs, Johnson said, particularly for those companies that were able to weather tough economic conditions.

Companies that survived while watching their competitors go out of business now have a bigger share of the market, Johnson said, and the majority of them need to expand their work force to meet anticipated demand for their products and services.

“Certain companies that haven’t utilized us for two or three years are calling us,” Johnson said.

Many of WSI’s clients are telling Beebe that their hiring will be sustainable and continuous.

Beebe said he thinks now is a “great time” to be a contract or temporary employee because, “you can get in the ground floor in entry-level manufacturing.”

For those individuals in the hunt for a clerical, administrative or professional-level job, Beebe discourages waiting out the recession and said these individuals need to start applying and getting their resumes out.

“You don’t want to miss the boat,” Lancaster said. “Starting out as a temporary or contract worker allows you to see what the company’s workplace culture is like to make sure there’s a good foot and it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.”


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