Stories indexed with the term ‘nonprofits’

Leslie Science Center Turns Calendar

Hijin Kim, wearing his New Year's Eve mask, salutes the end of 2009 with a pencil. Later, he told The Chronicle: "Masks are scarier than hats." (Photos by the writer.)

Hajin Kim, wearing his New Year's Eve mask, salutes the end of 2009 with a pencil. Later, he told The Chronicle: "Masks are scarier than hats." (Photos by the writer.)

Bob Voakes is sitting in the front room of the main Leslie Science and Nature Center building, encircled by more than a dozen children sprawled on the floor. “It’s a special day today – does anyone know what day it is?”

“New Year’s Eve!” they cry out.

It would be hard not to know the answer – everyone is wearing New Year’s Eve hats or masks that they’d made earlier that morning, using construction paper and markers.

They’re all enrolled in the holiday break camp program, with a full agenda of crafts, sledding, hiking, searching for animal tracks, s’more-making, and “who knows what other exciting things we might do!” Voakes, a staff member, tells the kids.

Just down the hall – in Dr. Eugene Leslie’s former study – someone else has a full agenda, too: executive director Kirsten Levinsohn, who’s getting ready to step down from the post in February, after 20 years at the center. With the sound of children happily hollering in the background, Levinsohn talked about the upcoming transition, and why it’s an exciting time for LSNC. [Full Story]

County Board Hears Protests, Passes Budget

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Dec. 2, 2009): During a meeting dominated by public commentary from residents protesting the county’s funding of Planned Parenthood, Washtenaw County commissioners passed the 2010-2011 balanced budget with little discussion, ending a year-long effort to wrestle with a previously projected $30 million deficit.

Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith, left, confers with county administrator Bob Guenzel before the Dec. 2 meeting of the board of commissioners. To the right is Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board's chair. Smith is chair of the Ways & Means Committee, on which the entire board serves. (Photo by the writer.)

Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith, left, confers with county administrator Bob Guenzel before the Dec. 2 meeting of the board of commissioners. To the right is Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board's chair. Smith is chair of the Ways & Means Committee, on which the entire board serves. (Photo by the writer.)

The board also discussed a situation with Ypsilanti Township’s contract for sheriff deputies, which the township wants to amend as of Jan. 1. Commissioners voted to hold a special board meeting on the issue on Monday, Dec. 7, when they are expected to take action on the request to decrease the number of contracted deputies.

Another special meeting was held on Wednesday afternoon, prior to the evening board meeting. Attended by seven of the 11 commissioners, the group discussed the role of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, a Ferndale-based nonprofit led by county commissioner Conan Smith, in handling a federal grant to the county for energy efficiency programs. The issue was not discussed at the evening meeting of commissioners, where the board voted to amend a resolution that authorized the county to apply for the grant. The amendment took out a specific reference to the alliance.

Other items at Wednesday’s board meeting included approval of the placement of a display for the Vietnam-era ship USS Washtenaw, and some questions about the progress of a $4 million weatherization grant that hasn’t moved forward as quickly as some commissioners would like.

There was no mention at the meeting of major news that came out the next day – the retirement of county administrator Bob Guenzel, who will step down in May after 37 years with the county. [Full Story]

Growing the Board at Project Grow

garden tomato cages in foreground late season garden in background

Project Grow site at Greenview last Sunday. Near the end of the growing season, gardeners were starting to clear out cages and wire, preparing the plots for the fall tilling. (Photo by the writer.)

At the Project Grow annual meeting, held on Oct. 8 at the Leslie Science Center, the same contentious issue surfaced as at last year’s meeting: Should the organic gardening nonprofit add members to its board or not?

Last year the answer was yes: Kirk Jones and Royer Held were voted onto the board by the members present at the meeting. [Chronicle coverage: "Project Grow Board Expands"]

This year was no different. In addition to re-electing Damaris Suffalko as a continuing board member, members elected Andrew Comai, David Corsa and Alice Telesnitsky as additions.

The ease with which board members can be added by a member vote is a function of Project Grow’s incorporation as a 501(c)3 membership organization as contrasted with a 501(c)3 directorship organization.

And although the meeting’s written agenda indicated board president Devon Akmon as a candidate for re-election to the board, he withdrew his name in the course of the meeting, which an attendee aptly summarized at one point by saying, “It feels very tense in here.”

The departure of Akmon from the board prompted board member Catherine Riseng to caution the roughly 40 people in the room: “We’re going to miss his skills more than you can possibly realize.”   [Full Story]

Alliance Focuses on School-Age Kids

Joan Doughty kicks off the Sept. 29 forum of the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth.

Joan Doughty kicked off a recent forum of the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth. Doughty is executive director of the Community Action Network and a WACY steering committee member. (Photo by the writer.)

In January 2008, the Washtenaw United Way announced plans to focus its funding on five areas: early childhood education and care, aging in place, food, shelter and access to health care. While they didn’t quibble with the importance of those goals, local nonprofits that work with older children were stunned that funding for K-12 kids, especially those who lived in poverty, hadn’t made the cut.

In an op/ed piece published in the April 2, 2008 Ann Arbor News, Joan Doughty, executive director of the Community Action Network, put it this way: “Nonprofit directors like myself who coordinate programs providing academic and life skills and social support to low-income and youth at risk ages 6 and up were astonished and devastated to find that this area was not represented as an established priority.”

The decision by Washtenaw United Way mobilized leaders of about 20 groups that work with school-aged children – the result is the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth (WACY), a coalition that had its coming-out party at a community forum two weeks ago. [Full Story]

Dr. Yun Lu: To Feed a Healing Courage

Roger Newton and Lu

Yun Lu and Roger Newton at the home of Larry and Lucie Nisson, talking about the nonprofit Golden Courage International and a business venture, Dr. Lu's Healing Cuisine. (Photo by the writer.)

At a meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission earlier this month, market manager Molly Notarianni reported that she’d received a vendor application from someone who wanted to sell food that incorporated traditional Chinese medicine, including “steamed healing sweet buns” and “sweet lotus rolls.” Because she hadn’t yet approved the application, she didn’t reveal the name of the business, but market commissioners seemed intrigued.

Then at the Sept. 12 Homegrown Festival, The Chronicle encountered a booth for Dr. Lu’s Healing Cuisine, where balls of sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves were selling briskly. Lucinda Kurtz, who was staffing the booth, confirmed that they had applied for a food cart at the farmers market.

So when The Chronicle arrived at the Eberwhite neighborhood home of Larry and Lucie Nisson in mid-September, it was the third time we’d encountered the venture, but the first time to meet its founder, Yun Lu, and to hear in detail about both the business and a nonprofit he started, Golden Courage International. Accompanying him was Roger Newton, a local entrepreneur best known for helping develop the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor and for later founding the Ann Arbor drug developer Esperion Therapeutics. Newton serves as chairman of the board for Golden Courage, and supports the nonprofit through his Esperance Family Foundation.

About a dozen people gathered in the Nissons’ backyard to hear more about these ventures while sampling tea eggs, sweet bean paste buns and rosebud chrysanthemum tea. [Full Story]

How to Sustain a Local Economy

Panelists at the Sept. 23 Michigan Peaceworks forum on the local economy, from the left: Tom Weisskopf, University of Michigan economics professor; Ellen Clement, Corner Health Center executive director; Jeff McCabe, People's Food Co-Op board member; Lisa Dugdale, Transition Ann Arbor; Michael Appel, Avalon Housing executive director; John Hieftje, mayor of Ann Arbor.

Panelists at the Sept. 23 Michigan Peaceworks forum on the local economy, from the left: Tom Weisskopf, University of Michigan economics professor; Ellen Clement, Corner Health Center executive director; Jeff McCabe, People's Food Co-Op board member; Lisa Dugdale, Transition Ann Arbor; Michael Appel, Avalon Housing executive director; John Hieftje, mayor of Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

When The Chronicle entered the lower level meeting room of the downtown Ann Arbor library, the first things we noticed were three large trays of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into bite-sized wedges. As public forums go, this was an offbeat gnoshing choice.

It turned out that the sandwiches – and apples, soft drinks, potato chips and other food – were all sourced from Michigan, in keeping with the theme of Wednesday night’s event. The panel discussion focused on the state’s economic crisis, and how the community can respond to it.  Buying local products is one example.

Starting a local currency is another possibility – the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is funding a study to look into that. Generating  electricity locally is also an opportunity – Mayor John Hieftje told the group that he didn’t think the dam at Argo Pond would be removed, in part because it might be used for hydropower in the future.

The forum – “Michigan’s Economic Situation: Crisis or Opportunity?” – was hosted by Ann Arbor-based Michigan Peaceworks and Washtenaw Voice, a coalition of local nonprofits that are working together to increase voter turnout and bolster the community in other ways. Michigan Peaceworks is the lead agency in this effort, part of the broader Michigan Voice initiative.

State and national issues were part of the discussion, but most of the six panelists focused on how the local community can take action in specific areas, including food, health care, housing and the environment. [Full Story]

Nonprofits to County: “Don’t Cut Funding!”

Mimi Harris, left, and Randi Friedman came to Wednesdays county board meeting to support funding for human services. They are board members for the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which runs Alpha House, a homeless shelter for families.

Wearing stickers that say "Protect Our Safety Net," Mimi Harris, left, and Randi Friedman came to Wednesday's county board meeting to support funding for human services. The paper plate was one of over 1,100 with messages written by people who receive aid from local nonprofits that are supported by the county. Harris and Friedman are board members for the Interfaith Hospitality Network. (Photo by the writer.)

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Sept. 16, 2009): Leaders of local nonprofits and people who’ve been helped by their services packed the boardroom Wednesday night, urging Washtenaw County commissioners to continue support for the area’s most vulnerable residents.

The meeting marked the first time that county administrator Bob Guenzel made his official budget recommendations to the board, which include cuts aimed at closing a projected $30 million deficit over the next two years. The county funds a range of local nonprofits – this year, a total of $1.7 million was awarded to agencies like Food Gatherers, the Shelter Association, Interfaith Hospitality Network and SafeHouse, among others. The proposed budget calls for 20% cuts in funding for human services nonprofits in 2010 and another 20% in 2011.

Proposed cuts to these nonprofits were the most difficult part of his budget recommendations, Guenzel told the board. “Those dollars have been well spent – they are the safety net.” Yet he didn’t feel he could ask for concessions from employees and squeeze the county’s mandated services without including cuts to nonprofits as well. He reminded commissioners that when he was hired as administrator 15 years ago, the county spent $300,000 to fund local nonprofits. Even with the proposed cuts, he said by 2011 the county will still be awarding about $1 million to these groups.

Commissioners responded to both the emotional public comment session and to the proposed budget recommendations, which they’ll have two months to review before adopting a final budget in November. Several commissioners cited their support for a human services millage. And commissioner Kristin Judge – saying that there were more creative ways to cut expenses – turned in her county-paid cell phone. [Full Story]

Banking on a Land Bank

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (July 8, 2009): In large part because the board has adopted a once-a-month summer meeting schedule, the agenda was full for Wednesday’s meeting. Commissioners asked – in some cases, grilled – the county treasurer about a proposed land bank project, which the board ultimately approved.

They also acted on several budget-related items, including 1) setting a public hearing for a proposed economic development tax, 2) passing the first phase of administrator Bob Guenzel’s recommendations to address a projected $26 million deficit, and 3) briefly discussing a proposal for changing the funding process for some nonprofits. Several leaders from the local arts community also turned out for a presentation on a countywide cultural plan.

But a large portion of the meeting was devoted to deliberations on the land bank, and that’s where we’ll begin our coverage. [Full Story]

Column: Nonprofits Need Culture of Learning

Stephen J. Gill

Stephen J. Gill

The current economic crisis is no time for Ann Arbor area nonprofits to hunker down. Whether social services, health care, arts, education or advocacy, nonprofits should use this time to re-examine themselves, ask themselves the tough questions, and develop a culture of learning that will result in long-term effectiveness and sustainability.

Local nonprofits have been hit hard by the economy. Less corporate money is going to United Way of Washtenaw County (the checking account for local nonprofits) and fewer dollars are being generated by endowments at the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (the savings account for local nonprofits). The money earned by our community’s philanthropies that then goes to nonprofits is off by 30% to 40%. [Full Story]

Red Cross Honors Volunteers

Red Cross volunteer Steve Luedders, left, shakes hands with Bill McGill after receiving the Dan Kivel Blackbird award at Wednesday evenings awards ceremony

Red Cross volunteer Steve Luedders, left, shakes hands with board member Bill McGill after receiving the Dan Kivel Blackbird award at Wednesday evening's awards ceremony at Washtenaw Community College. (Photo by Rebecca Friedman.)

When the Washtenaw County chapter of the American Red Cross issued a press release on Thursday stating that its volunteers had responded to a 2 a.m. house fire that morning in Saline, we took special note – just hours before, the chapter had feted volunteers at an annual meeting that The Chronicle attended, where they talked about just this kind of work.

About 150 people came to the event, which for the first time combined the nonprofit’s  awards ceremony with its annual membership meeting – usually the two events are held separately. Though the evening focused on recognizing local Red Cross volunteers, leaders of the organization also spoke of the challenges they face to provide services in the current economy. [Full Story]

The Economics of Entertainment

David Babcock and Ed Koster act out a scene from Hellcab at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre auditions.

David Babcock and Ed Koster act out a scene from the play "Hellcab" at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre auditions earlier this month. The show will be performed Aug. 21-23. (Photo by the writer.)

The woman is swaying in her seat, inhaling in a drunken hiss and dragging her feet along the floor. The driver stares straight ahead, looking mildly uncomfortable.

Grinning, her head wobbling slightly on her neck, she leans as far forward as possible and whispers loudly to the cabbie, “I looove you!”
The other people in the room – and the director, Paul Bianchi – laugh.

The woman and the man acting as the cabbie are seated in two chairs in the middle of the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre studio in downtown Ann Arbor – a high-ceilinged, mostly empty room with a wood-paneled floor and a piano at one end. It’s an evening in early June, and they’re auditioning for “Hellcab,” a play depicting a day in the life of a Chicago cab driver.

A day in the life of AACT itself is challenging in a different way. Like virtually all nonprofits, including those in the performing arts, the local theater faces some less-than-entertaining concerns this season. Although leaders of the theater say it isn’t in crisis, the nonprofit has made some cuts to save money, and is trying to get creative about ways to bring in revenue. [Full Story]

Pizza, Payroll and Budget Pain

At a pre-board meeting rally held by

Pizza was served at Wednesday's pre-board meeting rally held by AFSCME Local 2733 in the parking lot next to the county administration building, at the southwest corner of Catherine and Fourth. The union wanted its members to turn out as the county Board of Commissioners considered cuts to the 2010-2011 budget.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (June 3, 2009): Before commissioners met on Wednesday, about 50 people gathered in the parking lot next to the county administration building for a rally organized by AFSCME Local 2733, the largest of the unions for county workers, representing about 700 employees. This wasn’t a marching-while-carrying-picket-signs rally, however. It was more of a eating-pizza-and-talking event, designed to get members to attend the 6:30 p.m. board meeting as a show of support for the unions.

Union workers mingled with commissioners and other county staff to talk about how to deal with a projected $26 million deficit in the county’s budget over the next two years – a topic that was the main item on Wednesday’s agenda for the board of commissioners.

Recommendations made during the meeting by county administrator, Bob Guenzel – which were aimed at balancing the $102 million general fund budget – included cuts to many departments and to funding for local nonprofits, the elimination of 26 positions (including 12 that are already vacant) and a caution that there’ll be more cuts to come.

Discussion of those recommendations by commissioners during the Ways & Means Committee portion of their meeting resulted in approval of four budget-related resolutions. Those resolutions will receive a final vote from commissioners during their regular board meeting on July 8. Meanwhile, the administration hopes to negotiate concessions from the 17 unions that represent roughly 1,000 of the county’s 1,350 work force. All parties agree that the outcome of those negotiations will be crucial. [Full Story]

Can I Have a Peace of Your Sandwich?

Governor Granholm with  Peace Neighborhood director and student.

The fundraiser drew visitors from across the region, including the woman in this photograph, who said she drove down from Lansing. Terry Jackson, foreground, is a member of the Peace Neighborhood Center drum corps, which was on hand to perform. At right is Bonnie Billups, Jr., executive director of the center.

When former University of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr arrived Thursday evening at the Zingerman’s Raucus Caucus fundraiser to benefit the Peace Neighborhood Center, he had no linemen blocking for him.

So Michael Hedin – whose Townie’s Two Step team was competing in the fundraiser’s sandwich design contest – wheeled around from his conversation with us to pitch to Carr the virtues of his team’s two-meat sandwich. The coach was there to help judge the sandwich design contest at the heart of the fundraiser – and he was wise to Hedin’s angle: “Yeah, I always used to talk to the officials before the game, too!”

A few minutes later, Gov. Jennifer Granholm delivered remarks that kicked off the event, which raised around $18,000 for the neighborhood center, according to Rick Strutz, a managing partner of Zingerman’s Deli.   Located on Maple Road near Miller Avenue, Peace Neighborhood offers after-school programming and tutoring for elementary and middle school students.  [Full Story]

So, What’s Up with Social Media?

One of NEWs recent Tweets, commenting on Wednesdays Cultural Alliance meeting

A recent Tweet by the Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW), commenting on Wednesday's Cultural Alliance meeting.

The newly renovated and expanded University of Michigan Museum of Art is a social place: Tuesday night, several hundred people attended a kick-off fête for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, while Wednesday brought members of the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan together for their annual meeting. The focus of Wednesday’s day-long event was also social, as in social networking – specifically, how nonprofits can use social media like blogs, Twitter and Facebook to fundraise, market and strengthen their organization.

Being social animals ourselves, The Chronicle dropped by both events, but was able to spend a bit more time at the Cultural Alliance forum, which was well represented by Ann Arbor groups, including the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, University Musical Society and Arts Alliance, among others. [Full Story]

What’s the (Cultural) Plan?

Elaine Selo

Scott Rosencrans, a member of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission, and Elaine Selo of Selo/Shevel Gallery on Main Street, at a meeting to discuss the city’s arts and culture community.

Collaboration – and the need for more of it – was a common theme Tuesday night at a meeting to discuss Ann Arbor’s arts and cultural future. Hosted by the Arts Alliance, it’s part of a series of forums aimed at developing cultural plans for seven communities in Washtenaw County, under a broader plan for the entire county.

Several people spoke about the urgency of supporting local groups, as the economy continues to batter both businesses and nonprofits. Elaine Selo, co-owner of Selo/Shevel Gallery on Main Street, said she’s seen ups and downs for 27 years, and now “all of us are just trying to survive.” [Full Story]

Holidays Are Over, But Horns Play On

Three musicians

At the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts, Stephanie Weaver, Ken Kozora and Angela Martin-Barcelona with instruments donated to the Horns for the Holidays program.

Horns for the Holidays still has a trickle of donations coming in – apparently, a lot of people clean out their closets after the new year, and sometimes they uncover an old instrument that’s gathering dust. Four such instruments – a violin, viola trumpet and flute – had been dropped off at the Ann Arbor School of the Performing Arts, and last week The Chronicle headed over there to meet with the man who started this project 12 years ago, Ken Kozora. [Full Story]

Chipping in for Thanksgiving Dinners

The Frito-Lay Blue Team loads boxes of food in the Food Gatherers warehouse.

The Frito-Lay blue team loads boxes of food in the Food Gatherers warehouse on Wednesday night.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, the offices of Food Gatherers at 1 Carrot Way were fairly quiet, with just a handful of people milling around, chatting and checking out the display of old food products. (Anyone remember PDQ drink mix?)

That scene changed dramatically at 7:05, when the first of four chartered buses started dropping off Frito-Lay sales reps, coming for a marathon volunteer effort to pack food boxes for Thanksgiving meals. By 7:25, the volume level had ratcheted up with roughly 200 people crammed in elbow to elbow, ready to get to work. [Full Story]

Thinking (Eating, Drinking) Local First

Think Local First logo.

Podium sign at Wednesday's Think Local First annual meeting.

A local living economy is about maximizing relationships, not maximizing profits. About a living return, not the highest return. Sharing, not hoarding. Being more, not having more.

Judy Wicks, a leader in the local living economy movement, laid out these and other tenets at Wednesday’s annual meeting of Think Local First, a nonprofit network of local businesses. Though Wicks is from Philadelphia – her 25-year-old White Dog Cafe is how she walks the talk in Philly – the evening’s event was all about how communities can foster and sustain themselves at the local level, regardless of where “local” is on the map. [Full Story]

Conversations Get Creative at Alliance Event

Aubrey Martinson speaks while Ken Fischer and Jennifer Spitler look on.

Aubrey Martinson of the Chelsea Center for the Arts takes her turn answering a question. Looking on are fellow panelists Chuck Kieffer (off camera), Ken Fischer and Jennifer Spitler.

One of the challenges at Tuesday evening’s Creative Conversations event was hearing what the four panelists had to say while listening to competing beer-fueled creative conversations about Ludacris and Bob Seger coming from another section of Ypsilanti’s Corner Brewery.

The panelists were undaunted, however, as they discussed their own challenges and strategies as nonprofit leaders in the arts and human services, giving tips on everything from how to survive in a tough economy to the best place to wear your nametag (the right side – more on that later). [Full Story]

Project Grow Board Expands

At the Project Grow annual meeting of membership, held Thursday evening at the Nature House at Leslie Science Center, news of a possible organizational arrangement with Matthaei Botanical Gardens led to an impromptu expansion of the board of directors to include two additional members. In addition to Catherine Riseng and Dustin Underwood, who were already on the slate for election, Royer Held and Kirk Jones were elected to the board. Project Grow’s mission is to make organic gardening accessible through the community and it does so most visibly through garden plots available at 14 different sites located throughout the city.

At the meeting, Project Grow board president, Devon Akmon, announced that Karen Sikkenga, associate director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens, had … [Full Story]

Digging Up the Future

Entrance to the current Humane Society of Huron Valley on Cherry Hill Road.

Entrance to the current Humane Society of Huron Valley on Cherry Hill Road.

A buried chewtoy, some chicken broth and a friendly pit bull named May are ready to play a key role in Tuesday’s long-awaited groundbreaking for the Humane Society of Huron Valley‘s new $8.6 million facility.

Seeking a behind-the-scenes peek at preparations for the event, The Chronicle dropped by HSHV on Monday afternoon and found staff there holding tryouts for the honor of digging the ceremonial hole – a task normally reserved for muckety-mucks with golden shovels.

[Full Story]