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Local rapper raises scholarship funds through artistic sessions in REO Town

Michael Austin set out on his musical journey the day his mother began writing gospel songs for him to sing at church. Even at 5 years old, he was moved by the persuasive power of music. Later, as a teen, Austin taught himself piano and guitar, and started writing his own songs, delivering messages of social justice and encouragement through soul-inspired rap.

Today, the Lansing Community College student records, performs and contributes to educational and artistic causes as MikeyyAustin—a rapper from the north side of Lansing. His music, while a form of self-expression, has also become his vehicle for raising funds for college scholarships for teens interested in the arts.

"When we were in school, we didn't have many art programs or initiatives," says Austin, a 2014 graduate of Lansing Eastern High School. "So this is my way of giving back to the city I love while supporting students who live here."

Austin's main venue for fundraisers is REO Town Sessions—a series of once-a-month events held in REO Town. He's closing out the first year of the events that highlight and connect local artists including musicians, dancers, poets and painters with the community. Sessions started in late fall, with the last few held at the Robin Theatre on South Washington. Admission is free with donations recommended to support the Arts Matters Scholarship.

As of early May, Austin and his artistic partners Darion Brown, Tymila Taylor and Elzie Cannon have nearly attained their goal of $5,000. The funds, Austin says, will be split five ways and presented as scholarships to an equal number of deserving seniors from Everett, Eastern and Sexton High Schools come May 22.

"For me, growing up in the environment I did I was lucky to have music," says Austin. "It kept me out of trouble, and gave me an escape which helped me out. I'm looking at the facts and see that a lot of people didn't or don't have the resources I had. That's the biggest influence for what I'm doing."

Austin says the idea for REO Town Sessions germinated from a leadership group he joined at LCC. That group, he says, showed him how to apply leadership principles and practices to his community initiative. Austin will apply those same practices plus lessons learned as he and his partners ramp up for the second season of REO Town Sessions to run next fall through May 2018.

"I think for me, at least growing up, it's kind of like we didn't see much outside our neighborhood," reflects Austin. "The world ended at the intersection at the end of our block. But as I got older, and as I started to explore, I saw things in Lansing that I didn't know about. That made me want to connect with more people and give back when I can."

MikeyyAustin's newest release L I F T E D examines universal themes of identity and social justice, and draws from his experiences of growing up in Lansing. His debut solo project T I N T E D explores issues of spirituality and self-discovery and was influenced by watching the day-to-day interactions of people on city streets.

Source: Mikeyy Austin, Founder, REO Town Sessions
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


Michigan Avenue bridge begins transformation this summer

Some say the prep work can be the hardest part of painting. Lansing-based artist Brian Whitfield totally gets that as he readies four giant canvases made of concrete for the highly-anticipated Under the Bridge Project this spring.

About a year ago, Whitfield was commissioned by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership to create four murals on the slope-pavings underneath the US-127 overpass on Michigan Avenue near Frandor. His murals, he says, will draw connections between Lansing and East Lansing, with his "canvas" being the actual physical divide between the two cities.

"It's exciting to have been selected for such a big project," says Whitfield. "It's a little intimidating because it's so big, but I feel honored to be entrusted with something so visible."

Now, with permits, weather, and campaign funds in place, Whitfield is securing paint brushes, dozens of gallons of paint, and a few assistants to bring his vision to light. He also has his sketches in hand which he presented and modified during the selection process nearly two years ago. Those sketches depict a vision for colorful illustrated panels that celebrate the history, future and strength of the regional community.

Each of Whitfield's murals will be 50 feet by 25 feet, and keyed to a particular theme. The first, called "Work," will depict automotive scenes reflective of Lansing's history. The second, called "Play," will show people participating in sports or other forms or R&R within familiar Lansing settings. Whitfield's third panel, "Discover," will feature images that evoke the area's rich educational culture. The fourth panel, "Create," will showcase painters, musicians and other artists engaged in creative pursuits.

"My style ranges from everything," says Whitfield as he lists influences that include Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Wassily Kandinsky, Gustave Klimt, William De Kooning and Pablo Picasso. "This mural will be a combination of stylized figures, abstractions and bright colors. It's not so much realistic. I want to use shapes and stylized movement in the piece."

Whitfield's murals will be illuminated by 24 decorative LED lights installed by the Lansing Board of Water and Light. Funds for the project were raised through the Detroit-based online fundraising site Patronicity, which raised $107,000 between individual, corporate and matching donations by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Whitfield is a graphic artist with the Michigan Department of Transportation, and an award-winning fine artist. A graduate of Lansing Sexton High School, Whitfield studied illustration at Kendall School of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, and received his master's in fine arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He returned to his hometown after working at Alma College, Kalamazoo College, and meeting his wife who lived in Lansing.

"It feels really good to be a part of this," says Whitfield. "It's getting so much attention and it's a gateway. I live over in that area, and with all the things happening on the East Side, it's nice to participate and not be just an observer."

Source: Brian Whitfield, Artist, Under the Bridge Project
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


Jackson Charitable Foundation advances financial knowledge among kids

A leading provider of retirement strategies with headquarters in Greater Lansing recently introduced a financial education programs for kids through their new charitable foundation that advances financial knowledge on a national scale.

Jackson National Life launched the Jackson Charitable Foundation in late 2016. Their first order of business was to rollout Cha-Ching Money Smart Kids during Financial Literacy Month. The financial education program teaches basic money concepts to kids 7-12 through a series of three-minute music videos cast with animated characters that make real-world decisions about money.

Lansing's Post Oak Elementary School served as the pilot for the Cha-Ching program in early spring. Coordinated through a partnership with Junior Achievement USA, the five-week "JA Our City" program for third graders combined watching videos with facilitated discussion on spending, saving and donating money; different forms of money like cash, debit and credit; and entrepreneurship.

"These videos and activities help kids see money concepts in real life and everyday situations," says Danielle Robinson, executive director of the Jackson Charitable Foundation. "Personal finance affects people at every stage of their life. We think it's important not to wait until people are on the verge of retirement, but to get people learning the basics at an early age."

Robinson says the Foundation hopes the free program takes off in a variety of school districts in the tri-county area, particularly those that work directly with Junior Achievement. The "JA Our City" classroom program will be funded for six years through the Foundation, and is anticipated to reach about 2.7 million students in 15,000 schools nationwide. The Foundation has also invested in partnerships with Discovery Education to distribute the Cha-Ching program through broadcast and web channels. Cha-Ching currently broadcasts to eight Asian markets through the Cartoon Network.

Source: Danielle Robinson, Executive Director, Jackson Charitable Foundation
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


The Runway signs five fashion start-ups, alumnus gains national recognition

Five new fashion start-ups have joined The Runway fashion incubator in downtown Lansing, with their designs set on achieving levels of success similar to a recent alumnus.

The five new tenants will bring a host of new services, products and innovation to the Greater Lansing Region. New designers include:

  • Jon Lewis, Project I: A Fashion venture capital firm from New York City
  • Ashton Keys of the Ninety6: A streetwear line that connects with creativity and energy
  • Tyler Mehigh of Northern Etiquette: A northern-themed prep apparel company
  • James Eisenbeiser: A line of totes and fashion accessories
  • Stephane Awuro of 4ace: A menswear line


"It's exciting to see so much new creative energy coming to downtown Lansing through The Runway," says Joe Carr, startup innovation manager at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership and director of The Runway. "We are excited to work with these designers to develop and refine their brand and further solidify The Runway's reputation as the premiere fashion incubator in the State of Michigan."

Carr added that Project I will bring a new capital investment to the region, further positioning metro Lansing as a leader in the fashion industry. The Runway also reports that alumnus Lawrence Hunt has secured a second brand ambassador with New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shephard. The wide receiver joins Detroit Tigers James McCann in donating 200 Lawrence Hunt shirts to students and veterans who are preparing for new careers.

Launched from The Runway, Lawrence Hunt Dress Shirts is best known for designing high-quality professional dress shirts that keep the wearer cool in the heat or during high stress situations.

Founder Jeff Schattner says The Runway was a critical force in the development of the company.

"The Runway was such a great experience and really helped us get our footing and foundation in place," says Schattner. "I talk about it all the time as part of our development."

The Runway Lansing was created in 2014 as Michigan's premiere fashion incubator, and helps aspiring designers produce and move collections to market by providing essential resources like creative space, education and programming. The Runway is funded by the Lansing Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) and is located in downtown Lansing in the Knapp's Centre, 300 S. Washington Square, Suite 100.

Source: Joe Carr, Director of The Runway
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


East Lansing named flagship city for nationwide cycling event

East Lansing has become one of just 18 flagship cities nationwide promoting the benefits of cycling through the Life is a Cycle special bike event in mid-May.

My City Bikes included East Lansing in the group fitness event that will take place in metro-areas like Sacramento, California, Kansas City, Kansas, and Missoula, Montana. The beginner-friendly bike event will run throughout the month of May, which is National Bike Month.

The Life is a Cycle event will show community members where to bike commute as well as the need-to-know essentials for biking transportation. The East Lansing event is open to the public and starts at Patriarch Park at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 12. Registration is $1.50 before the ride and $5 on the ride day. Proceeds for the ride benefit the American Heart Association.

"We're hoping the Life is a Cycle event will educate people who don't feel comfortable riding their bike for commuting and to show we are a bike friendly community," says Heather Surface, City of East Lansing special events coordinator.

Life is a Cycle gives local residents the chance to bike on area streets, paths and trails in the safety of a group. Organizers say the hands-on experience and confidence gained from pedaling around town will make a lasting impact on the physical activities of participants.

The East Lansing ride distance will be seven miles. Organizers anticipate the event will attract up to 200 riders to take a guided ride up Abbot Road toward campus, down Kalamazoo and Farm Lane, and along the Lansing River Trail. Riders will also take a portion of the Northern Tier Trail in East Lansing. Led by trained, local ride leaders, the Life is a Cycle event acquaints beginner bike commuters with bike lanes, paths and shared-use road.

"With the university being so close to us, and a main mode of transportation on campus being biking and walking, it's really important for the city to support that," says Surface. "That support isn't simply having bike racks on the street corner, but is through giving people a safe space to ride to school."

The League of American Bicyclists recognized East Lansing as a bike friendly community in the fall 2016. The city was one of 26 new communities receiving recognition, and earned a bronze ranking.

The Life is a Cycle event is brought to the community by My City Bikes, KIND snacks, and the City of East Lasing. To register or for more information, click here.

Source: Heather Surface, Community Events Specialist, City of East Lansing
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


Doberman Technologies honored as top company, merges with Michigan firm

There are multiple reason that Doberman Technologies is being recognized by Michigan Celebrates Small Business as one of the 2017 "Michigan 50 Companies to Watch." And while many of those reasons can be stated through facts and numbers, many trace to the culture that surrounds the managed-IT services provider based in Mason, Michigan.

Founded in 2005, Doberman has focused on delivering customer-centric, fixed rate IT solutions to solve business problems. Since 2010, the company has grown a minimum of 30 percent year over year, with 60 percent for top line revenue in 2016. Within that growth curve, quality has remained high, with the company reporting a 96.5 percent customer satisfaction rating.

"We're thrilled to have been named to the Michigan 50 companies to watch," says Ian Richardson, CEO of Doberman Technologies. "Recognizing those firms that hold to industry best practice and have shown sustainability and growth is a win for not only the company recognized, but for those organizations looking to partner with them."

Doberman's growth was recently reflected in an early April merge with Nonik Technologies. The merger with the Hillsdale, Michigan, IT-managed service provider brings the Nonik staff and operations under the Doberman brand.

In the past 12 months, Doberman has doubled its staff from seven to 14 full-time staff. In 2015, the company moved to a new headquarters that tripled the space from 1,250 square feet to 5,000 square feet. The company is located in a 80-year-old historic building in the Mason antique district—just a few miles from where Richardson grew up in Okemos.

With the recent merger, Doberman forecasts another 30 to 60 percent growth year, and expects to hire one to three full-time staff.

Doberman will be honored at the MCSB gala event on May 4. Companies making the watch list are second-stage enterprises with six to 99 full-time employees that generate $750,000 to $50 million in annual revenue or working capital from investor or grants. Underwriters for the event are the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, PNC Bank, AF Group and Dynamic Edge, Inc.

Source: Ian Richardson, CEO, Doberman Technologies
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


LCC ranked No. 1 in online programs offered by Michigan two-year colleges

Lansing Community College is No. 1. Again.
 

The Community for Accredited Online Schools recently released its 2017 list of best online college programs in Michigan, and ranked LCC first among 12 other two-year colleges that made the grade. The ranking positions LCC alongside 36 four-year schools deemed the best of online programs in the state, including Michigan State University, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Eastern Michigan University, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University.
 

This is the second No. 1 ranking for LCC in fewer than six months. The recent accolade from AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org—a leading resource for information on higher education—follows LCC's November 2016 ranking by Schools.com as the top community college out of 27 public two-year institutions in Michigan.
 

"Making back-to-back best lists demonstrates our commitment to student success and to innovative delivery methods for effective 21st century learning," says LCC President Brent Knight. "We are proud to be among the educational leaders providing access to quality education that leads to bright futures—both for our students and our state."
 

Colleges and programs on the list must be accredited, public or private not-for-profit schools. Each college is also analyzed and ranked based on data in areas like availability of academic resources, student-teacher ratios, graduation rates and financial aid opportunities.
 

"Students in Michigan have more options than ever for pursuing certificates or degrees on line," says LCC Board Chair Andrew Abood."LCC shows time and again that the best combination of quality education, academic resources and online programming is often right in your own back yard, so-to-speak."
 

Lansing Community College is Michigan’s third largest community college with nearly 15,000 students attending each year. LCC offers courses in general education for those interested in transferring to a university, career and workforce development, developmental education and personal enrichment. For more information, visit lcc.edu.
 

Source: Devon Bradley, Public Relations, Lansing Community College
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


THiNC.technology launches new apps tailored to customer need

No outsourcing. No prescribed platforms. One hundred percent customer focused.

 

For Craig Tucker, those are factors in the formula for success for a small business competing in the high-tech marketplace. And since 2014, Tucker and his partners have sustained a business that builds software, mobile apps, websites, and integrated solutions for sales and e-commerce—all to customer specifications.

 

"Everyone here is Midwestern--from Michigan or Wisconsin," says Tucker, CEO of THiNC.technology. "We like to keep it local."

 

Intent on keeping an agile mindset, Tucker and his nine-member team operate from a functional office within the University Center at 333 Albert Ave. in downtown East Lansing. Two recently engineered apps underscore the abilities of THiNC.technology to respond to customer challenges and devise solutions that meet both broad and specific needs.

 

The Judgment Interest Calculator, released in April, frees attorneys, law students, judges and other legal professionals from complex hand calculations. The app determines accrued interest on monetary settlements, and then compiles figures into a state-approved form for emailing.

 

A second app under development and set for release later in 2017 answers the need for some health organization to authenticate particular sales activities for compliance. Currently in rollout, the Validu app that will use biometric authentication for attendance when required by regulations affecting pharma, medical and security operations.

 

"We like to build things that solve problems," says Tucker. "They say necessity is the mother of invention. So, we can say we like to create things that are necessary."

 

The company's portfolio includes apps for distracted driving, American Sign Language translation, education and services. The veteran-owned company has also developed dozens of websites, e-commerce solutions and presentations.

 

"We will continue to expand," says Tucker. "We have clients all over the world—including China, New York and California. The vibrancy of East Lansing makes us want to always keep a presence here."

 

Source: Craig Tucker, Owner, THiNC.technology
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


Burst Into Bloom waxes for the nomadic life with handcrafted bags

Leah Seelye moved to Michigan five years ago with her husband Cody. Relocating from Wisconsin, the two lived behind the Capitol in Lansing, and then resettled in Grand Ledge to build on their devotion to making mid-Michigan home.

All the while, Seelye stayed true to her passion for handcrafted items, determined to become a maker herself. She retaught herself to sew, and set out to fill a niche for attractive clutches, bags, purses and pouches made from waxed canvas.

In 2015, Seeyle equipped a home studio with a sewing machine and everything she needed to create products for contemporary nomadic life. She concentrates on the design and sewing. Her husband does the waxing. And in less than two years, husband-wife team behind Burst Into Bloom has sold about 1,500 waxed canvas items a year to customers as close as next door to as distant as the Pacific Northwest.

"While I was really invested in my day job, I just wanted to do something with a creative outlet," says Seeyle. "My first sale was a wholesale order, and it just blew up from there. I didn't expect it. I've been humbled."

Seeyle's bags and clutches are functional but funky, with colors and patterns inspired by the desert southwest. Made from printed canvas and then waxed, Burst Into Bloom products have the look and feel of leather and are stain and water resistant.

Seeyle says she started Burst Into Bloom with a $300 windfall buffeted by the support and encouragement of her husband, her family, and friends. She recently began full-time at the biz, and has her sites set on continuing to grow her line.

"We're passionate about making things and are committed to helping people make that hand-made connection," says Seeyle. "Our age is so digital. As human beings, we're always craving or creating something to hold, touch and connect with."

Burst Into Bloom purses, bags, clutches and pouches are available online, locally through Polka Dots in Old Town, and in several Michigan stores in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Source: Leah Seelye, Owner, Burst Into Bloom
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


Mobile clinic expands range, takes health services to residents

The Lansing area's only Mobile Health Care Clinic that brought health care to residents last fall is en route again this spring, providing free basic health care to hundreds of residents in city neighborhoods and other sites.

Housed in a bus renovated by Dean Transportation, the mobile clinic was piloted in September 2016, and represents a partnership between Sparrow and the Ingham County Health Department. The clinic will make three visits to six Ingham County sites starting in early April—up from four sites during the pilot phase. The 2017 sites include the Allen Neighborhood Center, Baker Donora neighborhood, Edgewood Village Apartments, Capital Area Career Center.

"We want to try and spread ourselves out to cover as much of the footprint of this community as possible," says Stella Cash, Sparrow vice president of development and strategic partnerships. "Our common goal is to serve a group of our population that is very vulnerable and that might not receive health care until they end up in an emergency situation."

The clinic is open to anyone and provides adult and childhood immunizations, flu shots, education, diabetes checks, and screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, lead, glucose and more. While the primary goal is to provide access to care, mobile clinic staff also refer patients to community resources to address other needs like clothing, food and shelter. Expanded services this year may include mammograms and colon screening provided through Sparrow or the Ingham County Health Department.

"Healthy people make for a healthy community," says Linda Vail, chief health officer for the Ingham County Health Department. "But what we find with people who are in poverty or low-income or lacking insurance is that preventive care doesn't come to the top of the list when they're attending to basic needs like getting food on the table or getting to a job. Our question is how do we eliminate barriers and get health care to you on top of all the other things you have to do in your life."

Ted Glynn, Sparrow Health Systems vice president of medical education and research, was part of the team that helped develop the mobile unit. He is among nearly 10 physicians, trained medical staff and wellness specialists on the ground and delivering care through the various site visits.

Glynn draws on a depth of experience from having worked in emergency medicine for 20 years—both in Lansing and the southern U.S. One of the major frustrations, he says, was seeing the inequity of care across populations—particularly the uninsured or impoverished. He says that while the ER served as a safety net, he always felt there was a better way to help people sooner so they wouldn't be as sick as when they showed up for emergency care or in the ICU.

"It doesn't work anymore to just provide episodic care in silos," says Glynn. "Our hope is that we're upstream in delivering care right to the doorstep of those who need it—right in the heart their neighborhood—and to address the medical as well as the social determinants of health."

Glynn reports that 130 patients registered at the fall pilot program sites, with 16 percent of those being uninsured. The mobile unit is funded through partnerships as well as through donations to the Sparrow Foundation from businesses and individuals.

Source: Stella Cash, Vice President of Development and Strategic Partnerships, Sparrow Health Systems
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.


City and local businesses get scrappy to transform food waste into a resource

The cores, peels or other discards of food made to prep a meal or snack can find their way back in to the ecosystem thanks to a new pilot program through the City of Lansing, Hammond Farms and Delta Institute.
 
Live Green Lansing's Scraps to Soil encourages businesses and residents to keep food waste out of landfills or wastewater through composting. Supported through a $91,131 grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and support from the Capital Area Recycling and Trash (CART), the program is a balance of shaping perceptions and awareness, as well as engaging businesses and community members in green initiatives that benefit the planet.
 
"When most people hear of cities that are green or sustainable, they don't think of Lansing," says Natalie Molnar, program coordinator, Live Green Lansing. "But we're right up there with other cities like Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. Our overall goal is to change the public's perception of food scraps as a waste product, and show they can be a product that has benefit when it's turned into compost that nourishes the soil."
 
In Scraps to Soils, participating businesses have their food scraps collected by Hammond Farms who then turns it into high quality soil compost is donated to local community gardens. Since its launch in September 2016, the initiative has collected 128 cubic yards of food scraps that will generate about 213 cubic yards of finished compost.
 
About 12 businesses currently participate in the pilot. The goal is 25. Businesses range in size and include the Allen Neighborhood Center, Biggby #270, Blue Owl Coffee, The Cosmos, Zoobie's Old Town Tavern, Lansing Fire Station #1, Juice Nation, Lansing Brewing Company, Lansing Catholic High School, Midtown Brewing Company, Soup Spoon and Sparrow Hospital.
 
"Our hope is that residents will support businesses that are participating in Scraps to Soil and understand the value of composting," says Molnar. "It's something new to Lansing that we'd like to continue."
 
Scraps to Soil is currently being offered to businesses in Metro Lansing, with expansion plans in the works for East Lansing, Delta Township and adjacent areas. For more information on Live Green Lansing or to find out how to parcipate in the Scraps to Soil pilot program, contact Natalie Molnar here or call 517-702-6597.
 
Source: Natalie Molnar, Program Coordinator, Live Green Lansing
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.
 

Lansing's Financial Empowerment Center celebrates milestone

A free, one-on-one professional counseling service offered in partnership with the City of Lansing and Cristo Rey Community Center recently marked four years of providing 10,000 counseling sessions that have helped thousands of people reach their financial goals.
 
Founded March 12, 2013, the Lansing Financial Empowerment Center has served 3,500 clients who have reduced their debt by more than $6.6 million, and increased their savings by more than $558,000. The Lansing FEC targets low-income individuals and families, but is open to anyone regardless of income level. The center provides four services plans including banking, credit, savings and debt to help participants shape a more financially stable life.
 
"Cities are better off when residents are financial stable," says Amber Paxton, director of the Lansing FEC. "They pay debts that support city government, they invest, and they may be more inclined to open a business, too."
 
The Lansing FEC was initially funded through a $1.5 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Living Cities' Cities Financial Empowerment Fund. Lansing was one of five cities to create financial empowerment centers, and was among the 2013 cohort of Nashville, Tenn., San Antonio, Texas, Denver, Colo., and Philadelphia, Penn.
 
Paxton commented that Lansing was a contender among much larger cities primarily because of the strong support received from the local government and city leadership.
 
"Mayor Benero considers financial empowerment part of his economic development platform," she says. "We also have so many other good solid programs going on in the community that surround financial empowerment, including good housing counseling agencies.  It made sense for us to layer over some of our existing pillars of financial stability for our residents."
 
Paxton stressed that a key tenant of the Lansing FEC is to integrate programs with existing social services provided through faith-based or government agencies. Counselors coordinate or make referrals within the community, helping individuals and families to achieve the next step of financial stability by reducing debt, decreasing expenses, building emergency savings, repairing credit, or paying off loans and bills.
 
Looking ahead, Paxton says the program will continue to integrate with programs like Lansing SAVE, the H.O.P.E. Scholarship Program, Lansing Promise, and Capital Area College Access Network, and to provide services that can help young people smoothly transition into adult life and avoid financial pitfalls.
 
"We're looking to help empower people from Kindergarten through adulthood," says Paxton. "We're one piece in that continuum of support."
 
The Lansing FEC provides services at the Cristo Rey Community Center at 1717 N. High Street through two full-time counselors and a program manager. The program looks to expand staffing in the next 12 to 18 months, depending on funding. To donate, click here. 
 
Source: Amber Paxton, Director, Lansing Financial Empowerment Center
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.
 

Lansing Mosaic tells stories of area entrepreneurs, provides resources

A small business owner whose path began from a home-based operation has launched a new resource to help promote other Greater Lansing area entrepreneurs, particularly those without a brick-and-mortar presence.
 
Ashlee Willis founded Lansing Mosaic in November 2016, intent on telling the stories of people who apply their talents and innovative ideas through start-ups. Her tool? An online, event-driven publication that highlights diverse entrepreneurs and small business owners through articles and video content.
 
"There are a lot of resources here in mid-Michigan that are helping to get businesses started and helping them to succeed," says Willis. "I want to be part of that."
 
Lansing Mosaic encourages community members and subscribers to be involved in generating ideas for content and events that foster and promote entrepreneurship. Visitors to the site can also find content on technology trends, business initiatives, marketing and other topics relevant to entrepreneurs. 
 
Willis operates Lansing Mosaic from The Fledge—her hometown's incubator for new businesses in Grand Ledge. She writes and curates much of her content herself with the expertise and assistance of several contributing writers, designers and interns.
 
"We're also in the midst of starting an affiliate called Grub Lansing," she says. "We want to capture the food scene, and showcase some of the entrepreneurs here starting food businesses."
 
Willis is the owner of Michigan Premeir Events, an event-service company she started from her home that specializes in event planning, decorating, coordinating and photography. She is a board member of the Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce and will receive the 2017 Entrepreneur on the Move Award at the chamber's annual Pillar Awards in late April.
 
Source: Ashlee Willis, Founder, Lansing Mosaic
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.
 

Love Letters to Lansing continues to bloom at Old Town coffee shop

Bloom is coffee. Coffee is love. Love is needed, now, and lots of it.
 
That's how the founder and manager of Bloom Coffee Roasters in Lansing's Old Town see it. And despite a political and social climate filled with confusion and change, Jared Field and Andrea Sherman believe it's Lansing's opportunity to bloom.
 
Starting February 7, Field and Sherman began providing customers the chance to write what they call a "love letter to Lansing." Customers were offered a postcard—three designs, in fact, custom-made by Sherman's husband Eric—and invited them to write a message on the back that said what they love about Lansing. Customers could hand the completed card to baristas on the spot for a free drink, or bring it in at another time for the same reward. Customers could also opt to have their card hung in the window or their message posted on social media.
 
"The response was overwhelmingly positive," says Field of Love Letters to Lansing. "People love the idea and have been more than willing to share their stories and love for Lansing."
 
Sherman expands.
 
"A lot of people have really taken the opportunity seriously," she says. "They want their words to matter and to have a meaningful impact. I watch as many of them pause and reflect on what part of themselves they want to share with their neighbors. It's almost a 'what can I give of myself that will inspire hope and peace and goodwill?'"
 
Field says Bloom will continue to run the campaign of love and support for as long as people have nothing left to say. And that could be a while.
 
"We greatly appreciate the support in our projects and the pursuits to make Greater Lansing and Old Town a better, welcoming place," says Field.
 
In addition to Love Letters, Bloom has launched a campaign inviting the community to support student artwork that will be displayed on the café walls come May. The project represents a partnership with the Lansing Art Gallery for the Ingham Student Art Exhibit. Customers and community members can help support the display of 10 student artworks at Bloom through the purchase of coffee bags and cups of coffee. Field says Bloom needs to raise $250 to help cover the professional framing and exhibit of each piece.
 
Bloom Coffee Roasters opened the café in Old Town on July 5, 2016. The roasting company has been in the same location at 1236 Turner Street since September 2014. The café employs 10 people.
 
Source: Jared Field, Owner, Bloom Coffee Roasters
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
Got a story idea for Capital Gains? Email Ann Kammerer here.
 
 

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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