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Community Solar Project to shine in East Lansing

Here comes the sun.
Starting in late January, the first community solar park in Greater Lansing began leasing panels to Lansing Board of Water and Light electric customers. With 200 of the 1,000 panels leased with the first few weeks, developers say construction on the MI Community Solar project could begin as early as Earth Day for a 300-kilowatt array at East Lansing's Burcham Park—a retired landfill.
"Mid-Michigan is ready," says John Kinch, executive direction of Michigan Energy Options, one of the partners on the project that includes BWL and Patriot Solar Group. "The solar industry is having phenomenal growth, and prices for solar panels and inverters are more affordable every day. People are realizing it's a complement to the existing resources that provide us with electricity."
Groundbreaking on the park will start once 80 percent of the panels are leased, as well as when various building permits and plans are approved by the City of East Lansing. The project will allow customers in the BWL electric service territory to support solar energy without having to install panels on their property. Solar supporters will sign a 25-year lease and pay a single upfront cost of $399 per panel. Lessees will then see a monthly on-bill credit from the BWL that reflects the amount of solar energy generated per panel.
Kinch says customers can lease just one panel, but many prefer two or more to contribute to the portfolio of clean energy available to their homes. Businesses and organizations may lease multiple panels as well, with the number based on their electrical load.
"When you support renewal energy, your return on investment is three-fold," Kinch says. "The benefits are not just all economic, but also about the social good and our environment since we are helping to reduce greenhouse gasses."
Kinch says the East Lansing community solar project is the first of its type in Michigan that involves a municipal utility, a non-profit and cities working together to provide a 300-kilowatt array. Following completion of the East Lansing park, the BWL and project partners plan to build a second community solar park adjacent to the BWL Wise Road Water Treatment Plant in Michigan.
To sign up and lease a panel, click here.
Source: John Kinch, Executive Director, Michigan Energy Options
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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City announces recipients for creative placemaking grants

Several creative placemaking efforts in Lansing received funding through a two-prong, $120,000 investment funded through the City of Lansing and administered by the Lansing Area Economic Partnership and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.  The 2016-17 Sense of Place in the Arts Program consists of a $75,000 Arts Impact Project and $45,000 in grants to four local arts and cultural organizations.
“Partnering with the City of Lansing and LEAP to administer these project dollars is representative of the ways that artists, arts organizations and municipalities can collaborate to put creativity at the forefront of economic development,” says Deborah E. Mikula, Arts Council executive director. “These grant projects and the Arts Impact Project work to provide metro Lansing residents with accessible arts experiences and help to build a sense of pride in our communities.”
The Arts Impact Project provides Lansing residents the opportunity to activate spaces in the city through artistic and permanent placemaking efforts. The 2017 project was chosen from more than 15 proposals at an open forum, and will be placed in Southwest Lansing, likely near the intersection of Pleasant Grove and Holmes Road. The project was proposed by At-Large Councilmember Kathie Dunbar and will be designed and constructed by local artists David Such and Fred Hammond. 
The Grant Program will fund public programs that further enhance the City of Lansing’s creative placemaking efforts that capitalize on Lansing’s assets, inspiration and potential. Grants ranging from $5,000-$30,000 have been awarded for building a sense of place through a wide range of artistic and cultural disciplines.
The Grant Program recipients and their projects include:
Lansing Art Gallery: Pop Up Art 2017. The collaborative project involves artists, residents, businesses and visitors and expands upon previous public art projects. The project will artfully transform underused public newspaper kiosks to distribute free newspapers and showcase Michigan-made artwork. The gallery will coordinate free demonstrations of the processes of 12 selected artists, and offer food and seating during noontime on Wednesdays throughout the summer.
Lansing Symphony Orchestra: “Symphonic Cinema.” The free, public, orchestral concert in downtown Lansing will feature a live musical performance set to silent film. The concert will take place on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at the centrally located and fully accessible Lansing Center. The April dates coincides with the beginning of the seventh annual Capital City Film Festival, a key project partner.
Refugee Development Center: Newcomer Voices. Launched at the ThanksLANSING community cultural festival, the project will involve the use of media arts to document 20 stories of refugees who have resettled in metro Lansing. Participants will also tell their story through artistic representation with a tile mosaic.
REO Town Commercial Association: Mural painted bike lanes along S. Washington Avenue. The murals will be installed in conjunction with the 2017 Art Attack. Bike lane stripes will be painted with ‘bike lane green’ paint, and a bike repair station will be installed in REO Town.
“Supporting and increasing access to arts and culture is a critical component of successful economic development,” said Bob Trezise, President and CEO of LEAP. “Placemaking projects and programs such as these represent opportunities for families and individuals in the region and across the globe to explore and grow intellectually. It’s this global culture that will help us attract and retain the best talent and businesses in the world.”
The 2016 Arts Impact Project proposed in 2015-2016 by project partners Impression 5 Science Center, Riverwalk Theatre and R.E. Olds Transportation Museum will be installed this summer at Museum Drive in downtown Lansing. The project will serve as a beacon and must-see attraction in the vibrant cultural district of downtown Lansing and will be designed by artist Ivan Iler.
Source: Lansing Area Economic Partnership
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Visitors see, connect and create through new program at Lansing Art Gallery

People age 0 to 99-plus are discovering different ways to experience art through a new, interactive self-guided activity at the Lansing Art Gallery.
Through Art Encounter: SEE-CONNECT-CREATE, visitors to the gallery's exhibit space and Education Center can view a curated show, then engage in activities that tie-in to the artwork. Activities and curriculum, says Executive Director Barb Whitney, will vary from exhibit to exhibit, and might include things like inviting visitors to create their own artwork through drawing, painting or sculpting.
"We re-envisioned how we were serving the community and thought about how we could make the Lansing Art Gallery more accessible to the people we serve," says Whitney. "This program is designed to help people connect with art and to see and experience the processes that artists go through."
Art Encounter launched in January and is designed to run concurrently with changing exhibits during all open hours. The first Art Encounter connected with an exhibition of three-dimensional oil paintings by Grand Rapids artist Tatuski Hakoyama. Visitors explored Hakoyama's intricate paintings through a scavenger hunt, then created origami cranes for display in the Student Gallery or to take home. About 75 people attended the opening reception, with visitors steady throughout the month.
The second Art Encounter is under development and slated to coincide with the gallery's inaugural Michigan Collegiate Art Exhibition, March 1-28. Sponsored by the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences and the MSU College of Arts and Letters, the exhibition will showcase collegiate art from across the state.
Whitney credits Education Coordinator Sydney Richards with developing the Art Encounter concept, and applauds the contributions of the galleries interns and volunteers as well. The program, too, is made possible in part with a grant of $11,648 from the Capital Region Community Foundation and a grant from the Joe D. Pentecost Foundation.
"We think about what the arts does for community, and how it's an expression of our humanity," says Whitney. "We want to offer any person as well as groups the chance to come here, express themselves, and that this is a safe, inviting place to see, connect with, and create art."
The Lansing Art Gallery welcomes individuals as well as groups from business, nonprofit and educational sectors to drop in or schedule a visit to the gallery, located at 119 N. Washington Square in downtown Lansing.
Source: Barb Whitney, Executive Director, Lansing Art Gallery
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Delta Dental Foundation opens clinic at VOA homeless shelter

Homeless people in Lansing suffering from lack of dental care have a resource for dental health through a recently opened clinic supported by the Delta Dental Foundation at the Volunteers of America, 430 N. Larch St., in Lansing.
The dental clinic celebrated it's grand opening on Valentine's Day and will serve 2,000 patients a year. With four dental chairs, X-ray equipment, and a rotation of skilled dental professionals, the clinic addresses a critical need for a population that experiences daily pain, lost teeth, poor nutrition and whole body disease that results from poor oral health.
"It's critically important that everyone have access to good dental care," says Terry Battaglieri, director of the Delta Dental Foundation. "Homeless people are no different. They lack dental care and lack means to get to it. We think this clinic will go a long ways toward helping to ease the problem—at least in Lansing."
Delta Dental stats reveal that dental problems have been identified in two-thirds of homeless people nationwide, and that 41 percent of homeless people say they lack dental care. The latest figures from 2011 show that preventable dental conditions treated in Michigan emergency rooms totaled $58 million.
Battaglieri says that the clinic has been in the making for nearly three years. After taking a tour of the Sparrow VOA practice, Battaglieri said Delta Dental saw the opportunity to provide seamless medical and dental care all in one place.
"By doing a simple head, neck and mouth exam, dentists can detect 120 signs and symptoms of other diseases," she notes. "A trip to the dentist is not only good for your mouth, but it's good for your whole body. That's why we're so excited about this clinic. We can connect good oral health to good overall health, and be referred from dentist to physician and vice-versa."
The Delta Dental Foundation provided a $322,404 grant to fund the construction and equipping of the clinic at the VOA. The clinic is next door to the Sparrow medical practice that opened at the VOA in 2014.
Source: Terry Battaglieri, Director, Delta Dental Foundation
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Okemos resident keeps it clean with handcrafted soap business

Autumn Romig says she's always been interested in traditional skills, particularly ones with an edge. She's also driven to have her own business after growing up in an entrepreneurial family in Okemos, Mich.
So when Romig happened upon the craft of soap making via a class on beekeeping, she knew, bar none, that she had found an outlet that combined her two passions.
"I like making soap because it can be a little complex and dangerous," she laughs. "It's also a way I can take ingredients, do something with them, and create something."
Romig launched Autumn's Harvest Soap in November 2016 after making handcrafted soaps for use by her friends and family. She started by making small batches, then word spread to friends of friends. Soon, she was making, storing and delivering soaps as fast as she could.
Romig said the turning point came when her husband sat her down and convinced her she could sustain a low-cost business based on her newfound passion. Tapping her powers of creative thinking, Romig researched the ins and outs of becoming a home-based soap maker and created a business model that worked.
Today, Romig maintains an inventory of about 300-400 bars of soap she makes through a cold process. The soap, she says, has about a six-week cure time, and is made from a combination of lye, sustainably harvested oils like palm, and fragrances derived from essential oils.
"My recipe is a little different and draws on particular ingredients," says Romig. "Like anything in life, you try to pick the best options."
Autumn's Harvest Soap makes and sells handcrafted soaps, lotion bars, wax melts and bath fizzies. Most of her business is local, with customers ordering bars for their business, their homes, and for special gifts.
"I like products and gifts that are thoughtful and luxurious," says Romig. "I want to make really nice quality products that people enjoy using, and that bring a little joy to them when they use it."
Autumn's Harvest Soaps are available online and through the Titus Farms CSA. Romig is also exploring selling her products through Farmraiser come spring.
Source: Autumn Romig, Owner, Autumn's Harvest Soap
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Public art grant funds sculpture by emerging artist for city of Charlotte

Frank Balluff never thought he would leave a lasting impression on his hometown through art. But when a friend tagged him in a Facebook post about a public art grant for the city of Charlotte, Mich., Balluff decided to put his artistic ingenuity to the test and apply.
"I didn't think I had a chance of getting the grant and just applied for practice," says Balluff, a graphic design and business major at Olivet College. "Surprisingly, I got it. I was really excited. It's really cool that LEAP and PNC are providing this opportunity for artists around Michigan."
Balluff was accepted in May 2016 to create a public artwork through the Public Art for Communities Grant funded by the Lansing Area Economic Partnership and PNC Foundation. Within weeks, he was planning, ordering materials, and welding together the steel that would form a new outdoor sculpture for the small city just southwest of Lansing. In late January 2017, the city unveiled the new sculpture erected at the corner of Lovett St. and Cochran in downtown Charlotte.
"For me, Charlotte is a tight-knit community with a lot of unity," says Balluff. "My design represents people coming together to form something bigger and stronger. It's the story of the underdog."
Balluff's sculpture consists of three separate stainless steel towers that stand side-by-side in a triangular layout. Each tower is made of one-foot cubes stacked on top of each other, representing individuals coming together to form a strong, unified community. Towers stand at nine, 10 and 11 feet, with the variation in size symbolizing growth and diversity.
"It's a crazy feeling to drive by there now every day, and seeing it out there," says Balluff of his sculpture. "It gave me a lot of confidence in my artwork, and opened my mind for a lot of projects down the road. That's why this program is so great. It gives artists that that stepping stone. I'm happy I could take the test and prove myself."
Charlotte joins 11 communities and 22 projects that have received $10,000 each in LEAP funding, with additional support from the PNC Foundation.
Since 2012, the Public Art for Communities Grants program has focused on enhancing mid-Michigan's rich arts and cultural atmosphere and its ability to attract new business and talent, and to spur long-term economic growth.
"LEAP's Public Arts for Communities Grant program has been hugely successful in conveying the unique character of the tri-county area," says Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP. "LEAP, along with the support of our partner the PNC Foundation, is committed to making this region home to a global community with stellar talent and top business."
LEAP seeks to add three more sculptures to the region in 2017, and is accepting requests for proposals for the next round of Public Art for Communities Grants until 4 p.m. on February 28, 2017.
Source: Frank Balluff, Emerging Artist; Lansing Area Economic Parntership
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.

LEAP works with two arts organizations to select first-ever poet laureate of Lansing

Lansing is recognizing the power of poetry within the community by appointing the city's first-ever poet laureate this spring. The esteemed poet will be selected through an application process, with applications currently being accepted up to 5 p.m. on March 3, 2017.
The idea for appointing a poet laureate to engage the tri-county region in the literary arts rose from a coordinated effort among the Lansing Poetry Club, the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University, and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. Organizers say the program will promote poetry as an art form, expand access to the literary arts, connect the community to poetry, and showcase poetry as a literary voice that contributes to a greater sense of place.
"Lansing already has a thriving and successful arts and cultural community that is attracting and retaining talent—and that's something that makes us a premier community that is international, diverse and sophisticated," says Josh Holliday, tri-county development and placemaking manager with LEAP. "It's time to now place an artist in front of the community to show what we're doing in an engaging, interactive way."
The Lansing Poet Laureate will serve a two-year appointment and receive a $2,000 per year stipend from LEAP. The poet laureate will serve as an ambassador for poetry within the community, and offer instructional workshops and readings with the public. The city's poet laureate will also have the opportunity to shape the scope of work to reflect personal interests, skills and abilities.
"Poetry is one of the oldest and most powerful art forms," says Ruelaine Stokes, president of the Lansing Poetry Club. "It helps us see the complexity and glory of human existence and transcend our day-to-day struggles. The Lansing Poetry Club is delighted to co-sponsor the new Lansing Poet Laureate, who will work to engage the community in creative approaches to the literary arts."
Plans are to have the city's poet laureate selected and announced in April, and a first reading at an Arts Night Out event in May. Applicants must be an Ingham, Eaton or Clinton County resident; must be at least 18 years old, and must be an experienced or skilled poet dedicated to producing poetry in textual or oral traditions. A workshop for assistance with the application process will take place Feb. 5 from 3-5 p.m. at MICA Gallery, 1210 Turner St., Lansing. Applications are available online here.
Source: Josh Holliday, Tri-County Development and Placemaking Manager, LEAP
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Engaged Outreach partners with tinkrLAB to offer new maker space

An educational foundation focused on the academic and personal success of K-12 students has partnership with a mid-Michigan retail entrepreneur to support STEAM education through a new maker space.
The private-public partnership between Engaged Outreach and tinkrLAB will provide kids and teens access to cutting-edge tools and opportunities through a new maker space called tinkrZONE. Located within the Meridian Mall, the new education center includes 3D printers, laser cutting machines, vinyl cutting machines, screen printing, and areas to learn about robotics and coding.
Students from LifeTech Academy, a Michigan cyber school supported by Engaged Outreach, will regularly use the space to participate in hands-on education activities that build or strengthen interests in particular careers. Other schools and groups may also visit and use the tinkrZONE space.
"We're all about giving kids opportunities to learn about new tools and upcoming skills so they can be successful in the workforce when the graduate," says Matthew Anderson, director of Engaged Outreach. "The people at tinkrLAB are passionate about working with the community and business leaders to provide opportunities that might not be accessible in traditional schools."
Anderson explained that the tinkrLAB partnership is representative of Engaged Outreach's goal to increase graduation rates, develop youth leadership skills, and ready students for career and college. The organization is the nonprofit arm of the for-profit Engaged Education: an educational consulting company founded in 2016 that specializes in curriculum design, management, professional development, and bridging the gap between the business and education sectors.
Source: Matthew Anderson, Director, Engaged Outreach
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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East Lansing seeks applicants for 2017 Emerging Leaders Program

Residents of East Lansing looking to learn more about local government have an opportunity to get civically engaged in the community they call home through an eight-week course designed to build tomorrow's leaders today.
The City of East Lansing is now accepting applications for its 2017 Emerging Leaders Program. Applications are available on line through the city's website and must be submitted by 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20, for consideration.
The program was first offered 10 years ago in 2007. Since that time, five groups of 20 participants each have graduated. Approximately 44 alumni have gone on to serve on one of the 20 or more East Lansing boards or commissions; others have run or served on city council, the East Lansing School Board, assumed leadership posts in their respective neighborhoods, and served as election inspectors. 
City Clerk Marie Wicks was among the original architects of the Emerging Leaders program, and continues to help coordinate activities and sessions. She says the program is an ideal fit for individuals who want to become involved in their community, and provides the tools and confidence they may need to be effective. 
"It's all about coming in, learning and interacting with people in your cohort," says Wicks. "The program has a special feel to it. It's really neat to think people will give up time to do this. People in the program have fun. It sounds like a lot of heavy stuff, but it's rewarding."
Participants in the 2017 program will hone leadership and public service skills through a variety of course topics taught by business people as well as community and government leaders. Topics on this year's radar include neighborhood initiatives, inclusion and diversity, budgets and finances, and strategic partnerships.
East Lansing resident Meegan Holland graduated as an Emerging Leader in 2015. After completing the program, she applied and took a post with the East Lansing Arts Commission, and remains an active member.
"When people don't get involved in their city, they make assumptions and point fingers," says Holland. "But when you get involved, you find answers. You have a responsibility to be an engaged citizen and this is the perfect way to do it."
The Emerging Leaders Program runs eight to 10 weeks starting Monday, Feb. 13. The program meets on Thursday evenings at different meeting places around East Lansing. All applicants must be a homeowner or renter in East Lansing and 18 years of age. To learn more about the free program, click here. 
Source: Marie Wicks, East Lansing City Clerk
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Spartan Motors presents gifts to two organizations committed to the vitality of Charlotte

A leading Michigan manufacturer increased its commitment to local community health and economic development in Charlotte through a pair of donations totaling more than $1 million.
Spartan Motors presented $75,000 to support ongoing programs in community health and wellness through AL!VE. The donation is the seventh of 10 installments of a $10 million donation originally pledged in 2009 by the Spartan Motors Foundation. The Foundation represents the charitable arm of Spartan Motors and was developed to impact the tri-county area surrounding the company's Charlotte, Mich., headquarters.
"We started in Charlotte and it is important for us to stay committed and support a community that has done so much for us," says Daryl Adams, president and chief executive officer of Spartan Motors. "We know a majority of our employees reside in Charlotte and we want to invest in organizations and initiatives that benefit our community and the wellbeing of our employees."
Spartan Motors further reinforced its support of Charlotte by announcing a $30,000 commitment over the next three years to Charlotte Rising—the regional offshoot of Gov. Rick Snyder's larger Rising Tide initiative to advance economic prosperity in 10 communities across Michigan. The Rising Tide program is sponsored by the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development.
"Charlotte Rising is a new opportunity for us to invest directly in Charlotte in the hopes that we might advance the revitalization that is starting to take shape in downtown," says Adams. "New restaurants, affordable new housing, new developments are all signs of a healthy, flourishing downtown, and that's our desire for the city of Charlotte."
Spartan Motors is a leading designer, engineer, manufacturer and marketer of a broad range of specialty vehicles, specialty chassis, vehicle bodies and parts for the fleet and delivery, recreational vehicle, emergency response, defense forces and contract assembly markets. Headquartered in Charlotte, Mich., for more than 40 years, the company employs about 1,800 people, and operates facilities in Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kansas, South Dakota, Saltillo, Mexico, and Lima, Peru.
Source: Samara Hamilton, Corporate Director of Marketing, Spartan Motors
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Emerge Michigan offers training and support to future female leaders

Women eager to change the face of politics and run for elected office in Michigan will find the support they need through a nationwide training and support network active in 16 states.
Emerge Michigan identifies, trains and encourages Democratic women to wage campaigns, get elected and seek higher office. The organization offers an intensive, seven-month, cohort-based training program. Of the 15 women in the first cohort in 2016, five ran for office, four made it to the November ballot, and one was elected to serve as a township trustee in southeast Michigan.
"It was a tough year," admits Executive Director Beth Kelly. "And while winning is the ultimate goal, running a clean, well-executed campaign is a win in anyone's book. It lays the groundwork for future campaigns."
Applicants have until December 31 to apply for the 2017 Emerge Michigan cohort. The program can accept 25 women into the program—an increase of 10 participants from 2016. Kelly says each applicant must meet two basic requirements: they have to identify as a woman, and they have to be a registered Democrat who resides in Michigan.
Applicants accepted into the program participate in 70 hours of training over seven months. Sessions typically take place one Saturday per month and are held in a location convenient to the majority of the participants. Some training is slated for a central Lansing location. Covered topics include, but are not limited to, writing a campaign plan, building a cabinet, finance and fundraising, and compliance.
Emerge Michigan is the newest affiliate in the Emerge America network and came to Michigan in February 2015. The national organization launched in 2002. Tennessee is slated to join the network in 2017.
Emerge America has trained more than 2,000 women. Fifty-two percent have run or been appointed to office. Of that 52 percent, 70 percent have won their campaigns.
The organization focuses on all levels of public office, with a strong emphasis on municipal and local races—the area where Kelly says, a lot of leaders are born. Kelly says this election year proved it's critical for women to run for office and to push forward democratic principles.
"A great many men share the same values, but women are involved with gender salient issues like health care, education, the economy and the environment," Kelly says. "These are the issues we'll see under attack in the next four years, so the more women elected, the more we can focus on and protect these issues."
Emerge Michigan is housed in Franklin, Mich., and plans to grow its presence in Lansing in 2017.     
Source: Beth Kelly, Executive Director, Emerge Michigan
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Michigan College Access Network welcomes two new employees

The Michigan College Access Network welcomed two new employees to their team based in Lansing, Mich., to help increase college readiness, participation and completion of postsecondary degrees among the state's residents.
Michigan State University alumnae Emma Walter will serve as MCAN's operations assistant, while Central Michigan University alumnae Melissa Steward will serve as MCAN's director of AdviseMI. The program partners with 16 Michigan colleges and universities and has helped train nearly 50 college advisers to help students explore, apply and prepare for college.  
Sarah Anthony, MCAN's deputy director for partnerships and advocacy, says the two new additions to staff reflect the exponential growth curve of the nonprofit focused on college access and success. Founded in 2010, the organization has grown from two staff in a downtown Lansing office to 75 employees working across the state. Nine employees work in the central MCAN office at 220 N. Chestnut Street.
"We have a lot of work to do to reach our goal," says Anthony. "That's why we've scaled so quickly."
Considered a leader in the college access movement, MCAN's goal is to increase Michigan's postsecondary educational attainment rate to 60 percent by the end of 2025. While bold, Anthony admits, it's an attainable goal. For the sixth consecutive year, the state's postsecondary educational attainment rate has increased—from 25.7 percent of 25-to-64 year olds having at least an associate degree in 2008, to 39.3 percent in 2014. Another 4 percent of Michigan residents have a high-quality certificate, bringing the state's current attainment rate to 43.3 percent.
A large focus of MCAN, Anthony says, is to improve college readiness and completion among low-income students, first-generation college students, and students of color. And while data shows that a majority of 21st century jobs will require a skills, degree or credential, Anthony says some still believe it's possible to walk out of high school and into a decent job.
"When you look at the needs coming down the pike in the next handful of years, it's critical that Michigan graduates are well-positioned and have college skills and credentials," Anthony says. "Culture shifts are happening. We don't want to be leaving people behind."
Source: Sarah Anthony, Deputy Director for Partnerships, Michigan College Access Network
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Charlotte ramps up revitalization efforts with state and community support

Volunteers in Charlotte, Mich., have been leading efforts to reinvent the city's historic downtown after Gov. Rick Snyder named the city one of 10 communities for the Rising Tide program. Sponsored by the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, the program works with local leaders and provides communities with the tools they need to attract new businesses and help existing employers grow.
Adopting the name #Charlotte Rising, the 14-member committee of business and civic leaders has been building momentum through public art projects, building improvements, and creating green space and gathering places. A pocket park is being planned once a dilapidated building is torn down, providing a small open public space between two buildings across from Charlotte City Hall. Also underway is the rehab of a vacant market area to create a contemporary public space for farmer's markets and social gatherings.
"Our mission is simple but profound," says Dillon Rush, economic development intern and #Charlotte Rising member from the University of Michigan. "To unleash Charlotte's community potential. In other words, our mission is to make Charlotte a thriving place for our friends, families and futures."
The 10 Rising Tide communities were chosen based on a series of economic factors including unemployment rate, poverty levels and labor participation rates. Among the organizations committing assets to Rising Tide communities are the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Talent and Economic Development (TED), and Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).
Right around the same time Charlotte was named a Rising Tide community, the small city was also selected as one of three Michigan Main Street communities. Members of #Charlotte Rising have worked to transform Charlotte according to the principles of the Main Street program, and to elevate the community from associate to select level through the National Main Street Center.
"People from all over the community are buying in to the direction of where we want the community to go," says #Charlotte Rising treasurer Garrett Bensinger. "There's a lot of momentum and a common camaraderie. We've been given some proven processes that help us as a community."
Source: Garrett Bensinger, Treasurer, #Charlotte Rising
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Allen Neighborhood Center gets $10,000 boost from Consumers Energy

A long-time neighborhood center with projects in urban farming and education has received a first-time $10,000 grant from the Consumers Energy Foundation to support the growth and expansion of current initiatives.
The Allen Neighborhood Center will apply the grant toward the Hunter Park GardenHouse—a project that has provided innovative urban gardening and farming education since 2008. The year-round greenhouse and surrounding acre of parkland provides a site for high quality workshops on every aspect of small lot gardening. A year-round Community Supported Agriculture project offers flexible payment options to low- to moderate-income neighbors interested in receiving a weekly box of fresh, local product grown in the neighborhood.
"Food access is an issue here," says Hunter Park GardenHouse Director Rita O'Brien of the southern East Side neighborhood. "We want to be able to provide healthy, low-cost food in an area where 25 percent of residents are at or below the federal poverty line."
The grant, says O'Brien, will help support the expansion and efficient operation of the GardenHouse project to grow more food. The grant will also assist with operations of the CSA and with various youth and community education programs focused on food.
The GardenHouse in Hunter Park is part of the Allen Neighborhood Center, with administrative and community spaces located at 1611 E. Kalamazoo Street. O'Brien says the Center hosts about 10 to 13 workshops a year on various food and gardening topics that are attended by about 400 to 500 people annually. The Center also services about 200 kids, 75 families, and engages with more than 500 volunteers each year.
The Consumers Energy Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Consumers Energy, and provides funds for education, community, civic and cultural development, social services, the environment and emerging issues. O'Brien says everyone involved with the GardenHouse is excited about the grant and the capabilities it will bring. And with winter coming, she says she's excited, too, about being in and near the greenhouse.
"When it's sunny, it gets up to about 75 degrees," she says. "It's really nice to be inside around green growing things inside and to wear a T-shirt when it's snowing outside."
Source: Rita O'Brien, Associate Director, Allen Neighborhood Center
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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Masters of Confection brings chocolate to the people through monthly subscription service

Life is like a box of chocolates when you're Konny Zsigo.
In October, Zsigo swapped a 30-year run as an entrepreneur and corporate CEO in the high-tech wireless, digital advertising space to pursue a new path as a chocolatier. It was a move that took some by surprise since Zsigo had launched and operated East Lansing-based wireless companies since graduating high school, creating about 500 jobs. His most recent venture, WDA, was sold to the big data marketing company Rocket Fuel in 2014, contributing to the growth of high-tech ventures in the Greater Lansing area.
"I didn't want my whole life to be about high tech," says Zsigo. "I've been that way since I was 17 and started a computer company. It's very stressful, and this represents a nice semi-retirement option for me. It also gives me a chance to be creative."
Typical of Zsigo's enterprises, Masters of Confection isn't simply what it appears. Instead of being a brick-and-mortar chocolate shop, Masters of Confection offers a monthly subscription service where members get a two-pound, eclectic assortment of handcrafted, signature chocolates and confections. Corporate clients can opt for an efficient gift-giving program for key employees and customers—complete with a box customized with the company's logo. Zsigo also coordinates tasting parties and charity events, including a recent "ladies night" at Azzi Jewelers.
"I didn't want to be a backroom chocolatier, someone who doesn't see anyone," says Zsigo. "I want to do the opposite and bring the chocolate to the people rather than having them come into a shop. Most chocolatiers I've met are in the back with their gloves and hats on. I'm doing that, too, but I want to go out and meet people."
Zsigo credits his son for igniting his chocolate craze. About six years ago, his then 10-year-old son was looking to start his first business in the form of a lemonade stand. Zsigo steered him toward something bigger, and suggested he do something with chocolate instead.
"He was dipping Oreo cookies, and while he was doing that, I was making truffles," says Zsigo. "I discovered I loved it and was really having a great time."
It wasn't long before Zsigo was seeking advice from professional chocolatiers, attending trade shows, and learning everything he could about the business. Today, he makes preservative-free confections that source chocolate from France and Belgium, creating a variety of different chocolates and sweets for each month.
"It's seasonally inspired—so you'll get different assortments for Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and so on," says Zsigo. "That's part of the fun of it. It's a surprise."
Zsigo handcrafts all chocolates alongside his wife and business partner Nikki. Monthly subscription services for Masters of Confection are $35 a month, and run for nine months out of the year—excluding June, July and August. To find out more, click here.  
Source: Konny Zsigo, Owner and Chocolatier, Masters of Confection
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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