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Firecracker Foundation engages community in discussion about child sexual abuse

A local nonprofit hosted an educational panel and discussion for parents, guardians and staff of the East Lansing School District on how to prevent, identify and support children and families who have experienced sexual abuse and trauma.

About 65 people attended "Child Sexual Abuse: Prevention and Response" at East Lansing High School on Saturday, March 10. The Firecracker Foundation organized the daylong seminar with support from the East Lansing Public Schools Mental Health Advisory Committee.

"This particular panel is one of our first community engagement activities designed to provide adults with access to professionals who can answer questions they may have," says Tashmica Torok, founder of the Firecracker Foundation. "This is part of our next level of work to protect children and help prevent childhood sexual abuse."

Panelists defined sexual abuse and trauma, outlined its effects on children and families, explored facts and stigma, and provided guidance on how to report, advocate in medical situations, and take proper steps when incidents are disclosed. Torok was joined on the panel by Erin Roberts, Executive Director of End Violent Encounters (E.V.E.), Andrea Hertel, MSU Police Department, Erica Schmittdiel, MSU Safe Place/CARE advocacy coordinator, Alex Brace, executive director of Small Talk Children’s Assessment Center, Steve Kwasnik, assistant prosecuting attorney, and Deb McKenzie, physical therapist. Alaini Letang from WILX TV-10 facilitated.

The Firecracker Foundation was founded in 2013 to provide holistic healing services to child survivors of sexual trauma under the age of 18 and their families in the tri-county area of Mid-Michigan. Torok says the idea for the prevention and response seminar originated with Erin Graham, vice president of the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education.

Graham says she called Torok in January as impact statements in the Larry Nassar sexual assault case shook the East Lansing community and brought renewed attention to the issue of childhood sexual abuse. She says her work at MSU where she teaches women's studies provided additional motivation. Graham was also driven by her personal history of as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

"My personal and professional experiences caused me to speak out and to help organize this event,” she says. “This is about empowering people. It's about facing an issue head on instead of hiding from the shame and stigma. But ultimately, it's about creating a community that is safer for our children. That's the goal."

Team Drew ensures many happy returns through bottle and can recycling

Drew Choma is helping save the planet one bottle or can at a time. Some days, he's helping by the hundreds, picking up returnables that would otherwise stack up or find their way to landfills.

As the leader of Team Drew Bottle Service, the 24-year-old East Lansing resident collects hundreds of returnable cans and bottles from area businesses and homes each week and turns them in for deposit. His fee is half what he collects through the exchange of bottles and cans at local return centers.

"It's a fantastic service," says Justin Savage, owner of The Savage Agency Allstate Insurance in Haslett. "Drew saves us a bunch of time by picking up the dozens of bottles and cans that can pile up in our office. His service takes something off our plate and lets us focus on our business."

Savage is among a half dozen businesses and nonprofits in Greater Lansing that are ensured many happy returns through Team Drew. Most split the return on deposits 50-50. Some allow Drew and his team to keep 100 percent. In other cases, Team Drew donates the entire proceeds from a resulting bottle slip to the non-profit that amassed the paid-deposit returnables.

"He's an incredibly hard worker, takes pride in a job well-done, and enjoys what he does," says Janelle Choma, Drew's mother and business supporter. "He enjoys seeing and interacting with people, and he's happy and knows what he wants."

And, says Janelle, it's Drew's way to lead a self-determined life filled with purpose, dignity and happiness, as he faces the daily challenges of autism.

"We service a lot of businesses who have large loads," says Janelle. "We go to Lansing, Holt, East Lansing and Okemos. We mostly do businesses, but residences are an option, too. Sometimes people don't have time to take back bottles and cans, or maybe they just had a party or special event with a lot of returnables. We're here to help."

Drew attended Haslett High School, and focused on preparing for a job that would leverage his acumen for sorting, organizing and keeping things picked up and tidy. He tested his hand at recycling and found he liked the process. Over time, he steadily built the idea for a business, and formed Team Drew Bottle Service with the help of friends

"I like to recycle," says Drew. "We load up the car with bottles and go."

Hometown Energy Savers program helps nonprofits reduce utility costs and consumption

Nonprofit organizations that provide services for clients with limited incomes may be eligible for grants to improve energy efficiency at their facilities through the Hometown Energy Savers program offered by the Lansing Board of Water and Light.

Qualifying organizations must be located in the BWL electric service territory. The BWL services the Greater Lansing Area, including neighboring cities such as East Lansing, Holt, Bath, Delta Township and DeWitt.

Grants are awarded for up to $5,000 through the three-year-old program that began in 2016. Participating organizations can apply the funds to facilities they own or lease. The goal, says BWL, is to allow organizations to allocate more of their budget to the community services they provide by applying grant funding to make capital improvements, reduce electricity operating costs, and save on utility bills. Examples of improvements include high efficiency lighting, controls, heating and cooling equipment and upgrading some appliances.

"We're committed to providing safe, reliable and affordable energy to all of our customers," says BWL General Manager Dick Peffley. "Part of that commitment is to grow our energy efficiency program beyond the State of Michigan's mandated 1 percent annual savings and to continue the program even after the state's requirement sunsets in 2021."

Peffley adds that the BWL is not aware of any other Michigan utility that has formally adopted and committed to a plan to exceed Michigan's energy efficiency requirement.

To date, 24 organizations have received nonprofit grants to implement 37 projects, several at multiple sites. The BWL has awarded $150,840 in grants since the program started in 2016.

The South Side Community Coalition was among the 2017 grant recipients. Staff at the community center at 2101 W. Holmes Road applied the $3,200 grant toward the purchase of energy efficient appliances, including two new refrigerators and a brand new freezer. Funds also went toward the purchase and installation of a new air conditioner.

"We have more room to store fruits and veggies now," says Administrative Assistant Tresa Bonds. "And it definitely put our energy bills way down since our freezers were really old. We save on that alone, plus we got a rebate on the appliances."

Bonds says in total, the community center that serves youth, senior citizens and low-income residents saves up to $400 a month in energy costs thanks to the upgrades made possible through the grant. That savings, in turn, goes back into the budget and applied to various needs including summer field trips.

The BWL is committed to providing customers 30 percent clean energy by the end of 2020 and 40 percent clean energy by 2030. The result is a projected 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by the end of 2025 when the BWL retires it last coal-fired power plant.

Applications for grants will be considered on a first-come basis. The 2018 program will end November 30, 2018, or until funds are spent. For information and an application, visit the Hometown Energy Savers Business Energy Solutions page at

Fund Lansing draws on established platform to help startups

Entrepreneurs in Greater Lansing will find increased opportunities for funding through a new program initiated by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

Fund Lansing will leverage a global online crowdfunding platform called Kiva. The idea, says LEAP, is to increase funding for small business owners and startups across Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton counties.

"Adequate funding is a significant barrier for many of our regional entrepreneurs," says Tony Willis, Director of LEAP's New Economy Division. "It's one thing to get your idea molded and positioned for marketing, but without funding, even the best ideas can stall."

Willis says Fund Lansing is meant to fill that gap by opening doors to funding within the region and around the globe. The Kiva lending system, he explains, funds ideas by leveraging private loans and crowdfunding. LEAP is an approved trustee with an executed agreement with KIVA, and will help entrepreneurs with the application process, provide business advice, and assist in marketing private funding campaigns.

Ellis says the program involves a handful of simple steps. First, eligible borrowers apply for 0 percent interest loans for $500-$10,000. Approved applications move into a private fundraising phase in which the applicant asks 20 to 25 individuals in their personal networks to be the first lenders. After the private fundraising period, the loan goes public on the Kiva website and reaches hundreds of thousands of funders worldwide. Once goals are met, funds are distributed and repayment begins the following month.

One local municipality is taking the program a step further to make even more funding available to entrepreneurs in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties. With LEAP's help, the City of Lansing through the Lansing Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) will extend Kiva funding to eligible Lansing small businesses by matching loan funds raised by Kiva dollar-for-dollar.

"Fund Lansing is a great opportunity for small businesses in the region, and it's outstanding to see such an enthusiastic reception right out of the gate," says Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP. "I want to congratulate and thank Mayor Schor for his visionary approach to capitalizing on this opportunity to further expand the program for Lansing businesses. We, of course, welcome additional proposals for creative implementations of Fund Lansing, and are looking forward to seeing this program grow."

Source: Victoria Meadows, Marketing, Communications and Talent Director, LEAP
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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

Head golf pro to visualize new game for Groesbeck Golf Course

The New Year brings new direction to one of Lansing's signature green spaces as the City of Lansing officially transferred management of Groesbeck Golf Course to the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority on January 1.

To continue the trajectory of making Groesbeck the go-to place for the links, LEPFA selected the PGA of America Class A professional Greg Webber as the new golf course manager and head golf professional. Webber brings more than 19 years of experience in the golf business, including nine years as a teaching professional and manager at Forest Akers Golf Course. Webber also owned the Greg Webber Golf Academy at Hawk Hollow for 10 years.

"My focus this year will be enhancing the golf experience for the customer," says Webber. "And one of my main goals will be to bring in more juniors to the course by implementing junior clinics, Youth on Course, tournaments, and other fun events."

LEPFA leadership says Webber's decades of teaching and golf management experience in Lansing will be an asset in creating the ultimate golf experience for customers as well as teaching the fundamentals of the game.

"Greg's most recent involvement at MSU's Forest Acres Golf Course, along with our new partnership with the PGA of Michigan, will allow Groesbeck Golf Course the opportunity to explore innovative golf trends," says LEPFA President and CEO Scott Keith. By doing so, Keith adds, the course will attract people of all ages, skills and abilities and expand the profile of the course for use by individuals, outings and leagues.

Groesbeck Golf Course is an 18-hole regulation length course designed by Jerry Matthews of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. The course opened in 1926 and was named after Gov. Alexander Groesbeck. Reconstruction on the front nine holes began in 2016 and was completed in late August 2017. The 2018 season will be the first full season for the revamped course.

The course is centrally located east of Old Town and borders Wood Street and Saginaw Street. The course has been rated among the Top 10 Municipal courses in Michigan by Michigan Golfer Magazine.

Source: Lesley Gottschalk, Marketing Services Coordinator, Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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WMU-Cooley Law students aid Lansing homeless

Mable Martin Scott remembers coming in to work on Sunday morning during the winter and walking by a person lying on the heat vent. She saw him a lot. Many times she called the police. Soon she realized he was among the homeless who gathered in the park across the street, lining the benches and finding warmth anyway they could.

Martin-Scott was moved by the stark contrast between her life at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School and that of the people taking shelter in Lansing's Reutter Park. And that's why, she says, she gave her full support when the Student Bar Association came to her with a concept for working with a street-based outreach group in Lansing.

In November, members of WMU-Cooley's SBA visited Reutter Park to deliver items they have collected for Cardboard Prophets. Those items consisted of all sizes of clothing, particularly winter outerwear like hats, gloves, coats and boots. Martin-Scott was among the administrators who joined the students as they presented donations to Cardboard Prophet volunteers.

"When we were carrying over the bags, a couple homeless individuals approached us," Martin-Scott says. "One person opened a bag and asked if he could take a pair of socks. He didn't have any. Just seeing how you have an immediate impact like that makes you want to do more."

Student organizer and SBA class director Lemontre Taylor says the winter clothing drive is the first of many efforts the group plans on behalf of the Cardboard Prophets. Eager to do community service activities and events, the SBA struck upon the support of the homeless. The association placed a drop box in the lobby for students, staff and administrators to donate new and used clothing, blankets and other personal goods.

"We go over and take things most every week," says Taylor. "We engage in conversation. We show them we care. We want to do the best for them that we can."

Taylor says the SBA is also committed to helping increase the visibility of the Cardboard Prophets which was founded in early fall 2017 by homeless advocate Mike Karl. Plans include making and providing business cards for Cardboard Prophet volunteers, and enlisting Karl to speak at an upcoming WMU-Cooley community event.

"When it comes to outreach, we want to give back to the community as future lawyers and leaders," says Taylor. "When we see the homeless, we see other human beings in need. If we can help them and help get them back on track, that's our goal as a member of this community."

Source: Mable Martin Scott, Assistant Dean, WMU-Cooley Law School
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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


LEAP offers entrepreneurs innovative tool for identifying helpful resources

Local entrepreneurs have a roadmap for navigating resources available in the Greater Lansing region through a new online guide launched in December through the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

StartChart offers profiles and resources appropriate for various business stages. New and aspiring entrepreneurs will also find a useful set of exercises to help them get started on their business ventures. The guide is the latest tool and support system provided by LEAP through its New Economy Division to help nurture and grow a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Greater Lansing region.

"At LEAP, our goal is to connect our clients to resources throughout the region," says Tony Willis, director of the New Economy Division. "But we've seen that lots of folks don't know what we have to offer. We decided to address this by creating StartChart to help build awareness and visibility of these resources, and to help people make those connections."

StartChart is available in digital and printed form. Physical copies are available through Lansing area business incubators like the Allen Neighborhood Center and the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center. LEAP also put copies in the hands of organizations and groups like the Capital Area District Library, Delta Side Business Association and the Meridian Area Business Association. Plans are to expand distribution channels to include community centers as well.

StartChart, Willis explains, identifies and organizes resources by three business phases. Entrepreneurs will find resources charted along the idea, start-up and growth continuum, along with descriptions of each stage. LEAP also provides a profile of clients served within each phase so entrepreneurs can see an example of how resources and services may be applied.

StartChart joins other pieces in LEAP's entrepreneurial ecosystem including boot camps and seminars, The Hatch and The Hatching events, and the Lansing PROTO business accelerator. Willis says similar programs, tools and resources are typically found in major cities like Detroit, Columbus and New York—which places Greater Lansing in good company when it comes to fostering entrepreneurship.

"Our role in the New Economy Division is to create a culture and atmosphere where entrepreneurship can thrive in our region," says Willis. "At LEAP, we're mentors and dot connectors. That's why we say, 'Come talk with us. 'We can help you establish, develop and grow your business."

Source: Tony Willis, Director of the New Economy Division, LEAP
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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


Lansing 5:01 ramps up efforts to persuade young talent to choose Lansing

Chris Sell has been hard at work, shaping an initiative that highlights Lansing as a place to settle, build a career, and enjoy an active, urban life. To date, those efforts have paid off, with nearly 2,000 people attending events that showcase the city's quality of life.

Since Spring 2016, Sell has been the chief architect behind Lansing 5:01—an organization devoted to showing young professionals that Lansing is alive during the day and after 5 p.m., and a vibrant, destination city to live, work and play.

"I believe we satisfy an important need," says Sell, founder of Lansing 5:01. "And that's to connect young talent to the parts of the region that are of the greatest appeal to them. We know that college grads and young professionals aren't just looking for a job. They are looking for a quality place to live first, and jobs second."

Similar to other groups in areas like Grand Rapids and Detroit, Lansing 5:01 aims to attract and retain talent through unique events centered on placemaking, economic development and career opportunity. In its first year in 2016, Lansing 5:01 hosted three summer-time events, attended by about 700 people in their early 20s. Many were interns at premier employers in IT and technology, insurance and finance, healthcare, advanced manufacturing and non-profits.

In 2017, Lansing 5:01 upped the ante and strengthened the breadth of programming. The number of attendees spiked to 1,300—a nearly two-fold increase from the previous year. Interns attending the events represented nearly 30 colleges and universities from across Michigan and the U.S., with two from overseas.

"That's a reflection of the diverse talent that our employer partners recruit and employ throughout the summer and the year," says Sell. "It's also a testament to the quality of intern experience that employers provide in Greater Lansing."

Lansing 5:01 is also behind Capital Comeback—an annual event held the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The idea, Sell says, is to invite former and current residents to explore dynamic urban career and living opportunities through casual networking, and to consider relocating back to Lansing to join the city's economic and cultural renaissance.

Sell says Lansing 5:01 plans to amp up in its third year. In addition to scheduling events year-round, the all-volunteer organization will involve more employers and sponsors in building social, informative events at contemporary venues that range from downtown incubators to brewpubs to outdoor entertainment spots.

"Our goal is to broaden our reach, including reaching students during the academic year," says Sell. "We want to show talent all the best parts of Lansing, and illustrate the benefits of making Lansing your next home."

Source: Chris Sell, Founder and Chief Architect, Lansing 5:01
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor


East Lansing Public library joins movement, debuts accessible pantry

Jessica Lee-Cullin saw a hunger for something other than knowledge at East Lansing Public Library.

As the teen librarian, Lee-Cullin overheard that some of her adolescent and young adult patrons hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch, and didn't have the means to buy or prepare it for themselves. Paying close attention, she heard about high schoolers who needed not just food, but personal hygiene products and school supplies, too.

"The need surprised me a bit," says Lee-Cullin, a Chicago-land native. "But it's something I've seen in a lot of communities. The reputation of an area might be more affluent than all of the members of that community."

Lee-Cullin took matters into her own hands starting in 2015. She brought in a plastic supply bin and put it in the library's teen room. Every week, she bought things like soup, Chef Boyardee and Pop-Tarts to fill the bin. Every week, things disappeared. Soon, library patrons got involved and started putting things in the bin, too.

As the cycle continued, Lee-Cullin explored additional ways to dispense needed items. She arrived at an idea for an anonymous, accessible pantry that could be placed outside the library door. In late 2016, she presented the concept at the Michigan Library Association's Library SOUPa fundraising event that empowers local residents to financially support neighborhood projects. Her idea was awarded $630 and people stepped forward, offering to help.

Within months, library patrons, city departments, MSU sororities, and supporters had built, painted and stocked the small, free-standing pantry for anyone needing food, school supplies, personal care items or information on crisis intervention programs. And on October 13, 2017, the box debuted, situated for discreet access near the library's front door.

Meanwhile cross-town, another person was simultaneously doing something similar to Lee-Cullin. In August 2017, Adrianna Flores had launched an effort to provide personal essentials like tampons, pads and toilet paper to low-income women through a small pantry. She had stationed her "Empathy and Equity Box" near Edgewood Village—a low-income housing complex on the northeastern edge of East Lansing.

"It was all serendipitous," says Flores, a recent graduate of Michigan State University. "Jessica and I didn't even know of each other and didn't even meet until the end of September. It all just came together."

Flores and Lee-Cullin met and agreed to unite behind a single name and movement. In October, the second Empathy and Equity Box—or E2 Box for short—was completed and stationed in a nook near the library's main entrance. A small engraved plaque on the outside of the bright blue and white 5-foot tall structure invites people to "take what they need, leave what you can." Tampons and pads, cereal, dry and canned goods, snacks and school supplies rotate on the shelves, visible through a see-through door.

"It's amazing we were thinking along the same lines at the same time," says Flores. "I'm so happy these boxes exist and hoping they will be at other places, too. On the other hand, I'm sad that the need is even there. But it's good that so many people are saying it's not OK and are addressing the issue."

Source: Jessica Lee-Cullin, Teen Librarian, East Lansing Public Library
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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


LAFCU invests in Michigan-based fintech company, offers software to small businesses

An investment in a Detroit-based financial technology company has positioned LAFCU on the leading edge of providing user-friendly software that helps their members and business owners manage funds.

Beginning this fall, LAFCU business members can sign on for Autobooks—an innovative payment and accounting software integrated with online business accounts. The software enhances cash flow with electronic invoicing, multiple options for accepting payments, and automatic bank reconciliation.

"Technology is accelerating efficiencies in the financial sector, and we want to be on the forefront of providing these efficiencies to our members," says Patrick Spyke, LAFCU CEO. "We want to be leading the way."

Kelli Ellsworth Etchison, senior vice president of marketing, says that Autobooks is ideal for small businesses like attorneys, lawn care service providers, painters and property managers. She says that while small businesses do their craft or service well, most are not accountants and may need assistance with the financial piece.

"Anytime we can offer something that streamlines a process so you can spend more time on your business rather than books, we want to," says Etchison. "We are just as responsible for helping our members succeed as they are, which means we need to be on the cutting edge of creating products and services that help make their lives easier. Autobooks is one of them."

Autobooks is a recent startup in Southeast Michigan that offers bundled payment and accounting software to small companies through banks or credit unions. The business was identified as one of 20 fintech companies to watch in 2016 by American Banker, a daily trade newspaper and website covering the financial services industry.

Use of the software is free through LAFCU, with a small processing free of 1.99 percent on incoming customer payments—which is below typical charges for credit and debit card use. The fee for payments via electronic funds transfers and checks is capped at $5 each.

"Any small business that starts using this software will find it slick and easy to use," says Etchison. "We are the first in the Mid-Michigan area offering Autobooks to their members. There's a lot of buzz around Autobooks. We're confident our business members will be excited about it."

Source: Kelli Ellsworth Etchison, Senior Vice President of Marketing, LAFCU
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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


Community picks up brushes, transforms overpass near Potter Park Zoo

While the name of her business implies she works small, Tracie Davis' recent string of artistic projects reveal she often takes things to a larger scale.

As the artist behind St. Johns' Whimsical pARTy Gallery and Tiny By Design, Davis has a penchant for children's artwork and murals that involve entire communities in the creative process.

"You can bring in people to see artwork, but when they get a hand in it, they take pride," says Davis. "People want to do things in their neighborhood and to improve things."

Murals, she says, are a fun and ideal way to get people involved.

In late October, Davis partnered with fellow artist Diane Harte to organize the beautification of the Pennsylvania Avenue railroad overpass near Potter Park Zoo. Sponsored by LEAP's Engage Placemaking Pilot Program, Davis and Harte invited community members, schools and neighborhood groups to pick up a paintbrush and contribute to a paint-by-number mural of zoo animals.

In a weekend and a few days, the #Penn4People project had transformed the gray confines from an overgrown, dank weed patch to a tidy, bright environment for paintings of 19 animals. With eight sections in total, the mural features a moose, eagle, two otters, and a snow leopard, among others. Plans are to paint more animals into the menagerie after a solid "canvas" of brightly colored paint cures.

Davis drew the designs in her studio then mapped the images onto the undersides of the overpass. Numbers were assigned to particular areas and coordinated with a palette of primary colors. Participating painters were given a brush and a two-ounce cup of an individual color, then directed to paint areas that matched their choice.

"Some people painted a dozen, some painted one or two," says Davis. "It was up to them."

Four groups from the Southside were involved in the painting including the Holmes Street School Community and the Potter-Walsh, Clifford Park and Scott Woods neighborhoods. Other volunteers and students from Mount Hope STEAM school were big contributors.

Davis says the project is completed for the time being but that she and volunteers may come back in the spring to do touch up and add details. She says she feels great about the results and was excited to see her design come to life in such a short period of time.

"I hope it inspires communities to come together and work tog to make their neighborhoods safe, happy places to live, and to bring more art and culture to their community," she says. "Our goal was to make a bridge that brings people together, rather than a barrier that separates them."

The community mural is the third project in the LEAP's Engage Placemaking Project. Since August 2017, the initiative has advanced placemaking projects identified by residents and community leaders, with projects-to-date including the installation of original artwork by Lansing-based artists on the Lansing Rivertrail and painted pianos to downtown Charlotte.

Source: Tracie Davis, Owner, Tiny by Design
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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


Chocolate Tasting Adventure offers fine chocolates just for the tasting

Most people probably don't realize that adventure can reside in a square of chocolate. Janet Lee is ready to show that it can.

In early fall, Lee launched a business built from a long-time curiosity of gourmet and artisan food. Chocolate Tasting Adventure invites people to explore the world of fine chocolate through specially arranged events focused on chocolate tastings, pairings and education.

"I think I have always been someone who is adventurous by nature and always curious," says Lee. "I was also the little kid that wanted to eat dark chocolate when my friends wanted to eat milk chocolate."

About four years ago, Lee combined her affinity for learning with her passion for chocolate and began doing chocolate tastings as a sideline. Over time, word spread about her events that introduce people to handcrafted chocolates in a format that emulates wine and craft beer tastings. Realizing the demand, Lee set out on to formalize her Williamston-based enterprise in mid-2017, and to bring a new option for chocolate tasting to mid-Michigan.

"Chocolate Tasting Adventure is all about bringing that handcrafted, really fine quality chocolate you can't get anywhere else and helping people discover what it tastes like," says Lee.

Lee has held chocolate tastings at corporate or non-profit events, business meetings, bridal showers, weddings and other special gatherings. She advises on appropriate wine, cheese or beer to pair with particular chocolates, and enables clients to run their own one-hour events or enlist Lee's expertise as a chief chocolatier. Lee also provides guides on how to discern particular flavors and tasting notes, as well as background on the origin and ingredients of certain chocolates.

Clients can select fine chocolates from Lee's sister company Artisan Fine Chocolate. Varieties include vegan, organic, sugar free, single origin, and inclusion bars that feature ingredients like fruit, nuts and spices. Specially created collections are also available. All chocolates are crafted by artisans who source cacao beans from any of 27 countries, then grind, roast and temper the chocolate into bars.

Chocolate Tasting Adventure offers chocolate tasting kits online that include artisan chocolate bars, a chocolate guide, tasting dishes and notes. Holiday tasting and special event gift boxes are also available.

"Think of all the people who go to wineries and want to learn more about wines and how to taste them," says Lee. "This taps into that same kind of curiosity. Chocolate tasting is something unique and it's just a fun thing to do."

The e-commerce company is booking events from now through May. Click here for more information or email Janet Lee here.

Source: Janet Lee, Chief Chocolatier, Chocolate Tasting Adventure
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor


Sparrow, Health Department join forces to expand services to homeless

Underserved patients in Mid-Michigan will have additional resources for care when the Sparrow Medical Group Volunteers of America Clinic becomes a federally qualified health center thanks to a new collaboration with the Ingham County Health Department.

The new federal designation announced in early October enables the health center to expand services to include a full-time medical social worker and outreach and enrollment support from the health department for those eligible for insurance coverage. Expanded services will also include outreach care for the chronically homeless who do not typically seek services within traditional facilities.

"The Ingham County Health Centers has a long history of providing care for traditionally underserved members of the community," says Ingham County Health Officer Linda S. Vail. "We're proud to collaborate with Sparrow Health Systems and to add the Sparrow Volunteers of America Community Health Center to our family of health centers."

Patients at the expanded health center will continue to be served by Sparrow providers. Sparrow opened the clinic within the Volunteers of America at 430 N. Larch St. in Lansing, in 2014. The clinic is the second such collaboration in the nation between the VOA and a health system and the first in Michigan. The clinic transforms care for more than 3,000 patients annually.

Many of the patients served at the clinic are physically disabled, suffer from mental illness, or both. Most have difficulty accessing government health benefits to which they are entitled. The clinic provides quality, preventive care to these patients who previously may have only gone to the Sparrow Emergency Department for treatment.

Ingham Community Health Centers Board Chair Jon Villasurda says the development is a win-win for the community, ICHC and Sparrow. He says the ICHC's history is rooted in serving the homeless, with nearly 2,400 homeless receiving care through their health centers.

"This collaboration strengthens our mission and fosters key relationships to help create a more seamless health care delivery system for our county," he says.

Source: John Foren, Director of Media and Public Relations, Sparrow
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Mobile tool trailer brings equipment to park volunteers

Volunteers are cleaning up thanks to a new mobile tool trailer that provides all the small tools anyone would need to beautify parks and land preserves in Meridian Township.

The Meridian Township Parks and Recreation Department purchased the new 7- by 16-foot enclosed trailer through a $6,500 grant from the Community Foundation. The trailer is filled with equipment that includes shovels, rakes, brooms, wheelbarrows, bags and gloves for use during volunteer cleanup and stewardship efforts at one of the 49 parks and land preserves. Township staff drop off and pick up the trailer on request for the ease and convenience of volunteer groups.

"It's been our culture in Meridian Township to support the environment," says LuAnn Maisner, township parks and recreation director. "We have a long history of supporting high quality of life and environmental conservation. It's a priority."

Maisner says the township has about 800 acres of land preserves, 900 acres of parks, and 80 miles of bike and pedestrian pathways. The department facilitates numerous volunteer events through the year that include school children, seniors, MSU students, church and service groups.

In 2016, 453 volunteers committed 5,413 hours over the spring and summer to pull out weeds and invasive species, improve and maintain natural paths, spread mulch, plant flowers and make sure parks and land preserves are in good shape. Maisner says the estimated value of donated hours amounts to more than $127,530.

"We are so fortunate to have such a great community that wants to be engaged," says Maisner. "We try to make things as simple as possible to get involved, and this tool trailer is just another step toward that."

Source: LuAnn Maisner, Director, Meridian Township Parks and Recreation Director
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Such Video evolves into Render Studios

No company can do business for 36 years without amassing history, going through business cycles, and experiencing how clients and consumers change. That longevity, too, comes with a company's ability to continually look ahead and envision what can be.

Since 1980, the Lansing-based Such Video has specialized in video production and motion graphic content. In mid-September, the company took a bold step forward and rebranded to Render Studios—complete with a new mission and vision for the company.

"Our rebranding is a reflection of how we've been seeing our change happening," says Karen Stefl, principal and producer at Render Studios. "It's been an evolution for us, and this represents a re-energized focus on what really matters."

Render Studios will continue to provide strategic creative video for clients, with a special focus on clients and partners who influence economic development and care about their impact on the world. The new mission, Stefl says, serves as a roadmap for the company to concentrate on working with clients who recognize the power of video as a medium for change.

Stefl started at Such Video 22 years ago. Since then, the company has evolved from creating video that relied on huge broadcasting budgets or tens of thousands of VHS tapes being mailed. Today, she says, content is more accessible, and audiences are more savvy and distracted.

"Those factors mean we have to have an elevated creative approach," says Stefl. "We have to think about the strategy behind the 'wow.' Our new brand reflects how we build community with our target audience and how we answer our client's needs."

The company will remain rooted in Lansing's Old Town and continue along the path of producing content from the heart of Mid-Michigan. The new brand comes with a renewed commitment to strategic community change in Greater Lansing and beyond. Render Studios employs six people, including founder and co-leader David Such.

"This shift is affecting how we'll interact, who we'll work with and what we'll do," says Such. "When you're around for 36 years, people think they know you. Render Studios marks a true change for us. People might not know us the way they think they do. We're thrilled to introduce our new brand."

Source: Karen Stefl, Principal and Producer, Render Studios
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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

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