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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

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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

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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

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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

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Davies Project takes to the road with expanded transportation services

A fierce commitment to helping families facing the long-term challenges of caring for a seriously ill child drives the growing reach of a volunteer-based organization in Mid-Michigan.

In late summer, The Davies Project—or TDP—saw the virtual odometer click when it surpassed the milestone of providing 1,000 rides to medical appointments for sick children. Those rides, says Executive Director Pam Miklavic, came through the kindness of 28 volunteer drivers who ensured that 110 children made it to their appointments.

The goal of The Davies Project is to get children to every medical appointment they need for their care, health and wellness. That appointment could be for medical, dental or therapy-related care. Just as important as getting the child from point A to point B, Miklavic says, is the sense of hope and compassion the service provides.

"The families who come to us are sometimes nervous and isolated," she says. "Our goal is to break through that isolation parents can experience when they are caring for a sick child, and to create healthier children and families."

Miklavic founded TDP in December 2014 and has steadily expanded her scope and services. About 70 percent of the families served by the project are on Medicaid, reside in Mid-Michigan, and need assistance getting to and from appointments at specialty clinics in Greater Lansing.

The Davies project recently extended its services to include rides to prenatal appointments for expecting moms and trips for parents with children in the neonatal intensive care unit. The nonprofit also received a $5,000 grant from Jackson National Life, brought two interns on board from MSU and LCC, and hired a part-time office manager and family services coordinator.

"The need is there. We just need more resources," says Miklavic. "I would love to see this service go across the country. Everyone needs a hand, and my goal is to have the service accessible to every family when their child is sick."

Source: Pam Miklavic, Executive Director, The Davies Project
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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New campaign school trains artists to run for elected office

Artists and members of the cultural community across Michigan can learn how to successfully run for elected office through the first-ever "artist campaign school" in late October in Detroit.

The inaugural event kicks off a series of all-expenses-paid trainings that will be held semi-annually across the United States. Applications for the Artist Campaign School Detroit are being accepted through September 15. Up to 100 applicants will be accepted.

The Detroit and Lansing-based Creative Many Michigan is among a consortium of nine community impact organizations involved in the effort. Fractured Atlas—one of the nation's largest arts service organizations—will lead the group.

Creative Many Michigan's Sarah Gonzales Triplett says that the Artist Campaign School enables artists to inspire deeper political engagement by seeking elected office. The school will teach practical skills needed to run successful political campaigns and will be facilitated by top-tier campaign veterans from across the political spectrum. Topics include voter targeting, message and policy development, media training, fundraising and social media strategies.

"Artists are naturally skilled at taking the complicated and distilling it to a powerful image, sound, feeling or idea and then moving others to take action,” says Triplett, the director of public policy and advocacy for Creative Many Michigan. “We are excited to partner on this effort to insert more diverse voices at the policy decision-making table.”

Triplett says the 2018 election cycle is an ideal time for the school to recruit and train political candidates, particularly those that understand the role that the arts can play in community development, education, place making and more. She says that Greater Lansing is replete with potential candidates, given the slate of current and successful revitalization efforts influenced by the arts.

"The Greater Lansing region is only growing in their unique artistic offerings," says Triplett. "The City of East Lansing is the only city in the state to have a Percent for the Arts ordinance. We are seeing the arts as a direct link to the revitalization of Old Town and REO Town in Lansing."

Organizations involved in the effort include Fractured Atlas, Alternate Roots (Atlanta), Art Up (Memphis), Creative Capital (New York), Creative Many Michigan (Detroit), For Freedoms (D.C.), The Laundromat Project (New York) and National Performance Network (New Orleans). Additional partners are expected to join.

To learn more or to apply, click here.

Source: Sarah Gonzales Triplett, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Creative Many Michigan.
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Small theatre in small town continues to grow big successes

Eighty artists. Six productions. And more than 11,000 tickets sold annually.

Numbers reveal the success of Greater Lansing's only professional resident theatre. Since 2006, the Williamston Theatre has fostered the artistic vision of primarily Michigan artists, delivering a regional art form that enriches the culture and economy of Mid-Michigan.

"We're providing opportunity, but we're also providing the local part of it," says Williamston Theatre Development Director Emily Sutton-Smith. "When we choose a play, we have our audience in mind here in central Michigan and reflect our community and their desires."

The Williamston Theatre employs five full-time people and two apprentices. Funding and support come through box office sales, grants and donations from individuals and area businesses. In return, the theatre attracts theatergoers from across the state who support area businesses and add to the cultural buzz of the growing town.

Sutton-Smith says about 80 percent of people attending plays at the theatre come from outside Williamston. And of the people who come to town, 93 percent combine their trip with a visit to a restaurant, a trip to a shop, or a stay at a lodging facility.

"All you really need to do is come downtown to Williamston and look around to see the economic growth we've helped foster," says Sutton-Smith. "When we opened in 2006, there was one restaurant in town with a high-end experience. Today, there are six."

The Williamston Theatre kicked off its 12th season in September and will run through August 2018. Artistic Director Tony Caselli says theatre lovers have a lot to look forward to, including world and Michigan premieres by Michigan playwrights.

"One of the things we try to do is to have plays that people can relate to," says Caselli. "One of our upcoming plays, for instance, takes a warm and humorous look at the challenges of people who live in our state. 'Doublewide' is the kind of play we can connect with and relate to, and shows what our world is and how we can make it better."

Caselli and Sutton-Smith point out that in addition to supporting Michigan playwrights and actors, the theatre also provides opportunities for faculty and students from Michigan State University.

"I love the relationship we have with the MSU Department of Theatre," says Caselli. "We give students a lot of opportunities to start their path toward professional union membership and to build their careers. We take a lot of pride in being an equity theatre."

For information on the 2017-18 season and for tickets, call the Williamston Theatre at 517-655-SHOW (7469) or visit here.

Source: Emily Sutton-Smith, Development Director, Williamston Theatre
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Former ArtPrize piece installed on Lansing River Trail

Walkers, bikers and runners on Lansing's River Trail are discovering philosophical pathways through a new set of directional signs installed in late August through the city's public art program.

Designed by Lansing visual strategist and designer Ben Graham, "Sign Language" consists of seven individual signs that present positive, uplifting statements. Messages such as "Peace & Love," "Smell the Roses," "No Whining," "Aspire," and "Be Happy," appear on signs in the traditional shapes, sizes, and colors of those used to direct traffic.

The idea behind the work, Graham says, is to encourage people through simple assertions. He says an installation resembling directional traffic signs was a perfect medium for presenting positive messages.

"I became very intrigued with traffic signs as a communication device," says Graham. "We follow and pay attention to what they tell us without even thinking or knowing we are. They give us a command and we just do it. And they take us where we want to go and are very successful for the most part."

"Sign Language" was featured at ArtPrize 2015, and was noticed by a board member of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. Graham says he was later approached by LEAP to permanently install the artwork on the River Trail beginning at Impression 5 and stretching north along the Grand River.

"This is a great piece that makes a strong statement, and inspires really interesting conversations," says Bob Trezise, President and CEO of LEAP. "It's the kind of piece that works to shift us away from the antiquated 'rust belt' moniker that doesn't match with where we currently are."

The acquisition and installation of "Sign Language" was coordinated through LEAP's new place making pilot program ENGAGE. Funding was provided by the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau's Greater Lansing Destination Development Foundation.

Source: Ben Graham, Visual Strategist and Designer, Ben Graham Group
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Salus Center to provide resources, gathering space for LGBTQ community

When Phiwa Langeni returned to Greater Lansing after being gone for 10 years, the ordained Christian minister noticed a general gap in the services, resources and gathering spaces available for the LGBTQ community.

In September, Langeni will open the doors to a nonprofit center that looks to fill that gap.

Named for the Latin word meaning wholeness or well-being, the Salus Center will provide a physical space for LGBTQ individuals, families, friends and allies to gather, find resources, and participate in activities and services. The comprehensive community center will offer education, meeting spaces, medical and housing resources, a Sunday afternoon worship service, and access to holistic services onsite.

"This is a culmination of spaces I've encountered that were useful and transformative to me," says Langeni. "I'm creating an oasis where people can just be their most full and whole selves as LGBTQ folks."

The Salus Center will be open part-time hours beginning September 9, and will be staffed solely by volunteers. The 1,500-square foot space is divided into two main areas with large windows, as well as a smaller community room, office and restrooms. Local artwork will fill the walls, and be changed up through rotating exhibits of local artists.

"Typically, a lot of gathering spaces for LGBTQ people are bars," says Langeni. "Many of those spaces have closed, and that's devastating. But even so, those places only serve a portion of the community. My hope is that this space will increase the age of people who can be here, and offer a type of programming that can bridge gaps between communities."

The Salus Center is located at 624 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing and will host an open house on September 9 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The center will be open Sunday through Thursday, with hours to be announced. Langeni says the facility may also be rented for events during non-business hours.

The multi-faith Salus Center is supported through donations from the United Church of Christ and private gifts. Grant support is being sought. To find out more about the Salus Center click here.

Source: Phiwa Langeni, Founder, Salus Center
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Belle Row Boutique reshapes business, combines online and pop-up shopping

Devon Bradley launched her clothing boutique in a traditional brick-and-mortar fashion. Today, she's transformed her business into a combination of online sales, pop-up shops and girls night out events that reach markets in multiple locations.

Belle Row Boutique moved to a new service model after a three-year run in a small retail space on E. Lake Lansing Road. As her shop captured the interest of fashion-minded customers from areas like Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and southeast Michigan, Bradley decided to make a bold move. She closed the physical shop in early 2017, pushed traffic to her online storefront, and upped the number of creative on-the-road shopping experiences she offered.

"One of the fears of closing my brick-and-mortar store was that I would lose contact with my customers," says Bradley. "But now that I'm doing more pop-up shops, it allows me to keep and have that interaction which was the favorite part of my business."

Bradley describes her boutique as a trendy women's clothing shop that carries premium denim, dresses, coats, sweaters and plush staples. Shoes and accessories round out the eclectic mix of exclusive, feminine designs at prices that range from $20 to $80. A fashion enthusiast, Bradley handpicks each item with fashion vendors, and typically only purchases one to two items in each size. That, she says, ensures each customer walks away with something unique.

Since early 2017, Bradley has held regular pop-up events at The Runway in Lansing. It's a way, she says, that her online customers can come in and try on items to get a feel for the fabric and fit. Bradley stocks each event with her total inventory so a customer can buy what they like on the spot. She also features a special sale rack at each event that includes items that don't appear on her website.

"This model has been really beneficial," says Bradley. "I can travel around more and expand my market."

Bradley has grown her inventory from 25 vendors to nearly 100 in three years, and regularly travels to fashion shows to check out new and exclusive clothing lines. To discover a pop-up event, browse available fashions, or to schedule a girls night out with Belle Row Boutique, click here.

Source: Devon Bradley, Owner, Belle Row Boutique
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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LAFCU offers slate of free seminars to up financial savvy

A leading credit union serving Greater Lansing and beyond continues to offer seminars to members and nonmembers on topics ranging from identity theft and fraud to home buying. In late August, about 100 people attended a LAFCU seminar to hear Eaton County detectives and credit union managers speak about spotting and preventing identity theft. The seminar also featured an individual who had been a victim of the growing crime.

Marketing and Communications Specialist Alyssa Sliger says that more than 15 million American were affected by identity theft and fraud in 2016. Personal finance crimes are on the rise as more consumers use online and mobile platforms to do their banking, finances or shopping. She added that consumers who are familiar with the signs of fraud can spot things more quickly, and minimize the damage.

"We see the need for more education, especially with the increase in fraud every year," says Sliger. "Our goal is to provide resources to the community and help people understand a variety of topics that affect their finances."

The recent identity theft seminar was part of LAFCU's ongoing Cyber Scout program launched more than a year ago. The program is designed to decrease the incident of fraud and identity theft among LAFCU members, and to provide general education to interested residents of nearly a dozen counties in Mid-Michigan.

The 81-year-old credit union offers seminars year-round on a variety of topics, including mortgage and home buying, financial planning, and Medicare and long-term care. Seminars are free and open to the public.

"Finances can be scary for some people," says Sliger. "We want to be a source of reference, and set people up with the education and information they need to understand their finances, regardless of their age."

Source: Alyssa Sliger, Marketing and Communications Specialist, LAFCU
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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Silver Cafe to Go brings Airstream nostalgia to outdoor events

Jaisy Spinazzola was en route to band practice when her trek took her in a different direction. There, catching the sun by the side of a country road, was the magic bullet that would change her way of life: A vintage Airstream.

Within days, Spinazzola had gently convinced her partner Eric McVay to add a third dimension to their business as the acoustic duo Fringe. McVay would become a master at barbecue. She would summon her culinary talents and acumen for small business. Then, with the 1970s Airstream in tow, the two would combine music and food at public and private events--both local and statewide.

Silver Cafe to Go launched in 2015 and has been steadily picking up acclaim from Williamston to the Upper Peninsula. McVay and Spinazzola remodeled the interior according to health code and other regulations, while retaining original interior features like the stove and oven. Spinazzola even went in search of late 1960s and early 1970s utensils and small appliances to evoke the period flair of the 29-foot trailer.

"It's just beautiful," says Spinazzola. "It's mostly wood cabinets. All of the hardware is mid-century modern. There are Jetson handles on the stove and olive green cabinets. And we added a dark teal blue to bring out the color of the wood."

Based out of McVay's hometown of Fowlerville, Silver Cafe to Go goes on the road for weddings; birthday and retirement parties; flea markets, fairs and festivals; and other family- and friend-based events of 100 or more people. The trailer has also appeared on approved business sites in Williamston. Customers can walk up and enjoy the signature barbecue, as well as sides that change with the seasons including mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cranberry stuffing and pasta.

"I love to cook, so it's very creative," says Spinazzola. "And we've also incorporated his mom's recipe for chili. It's kind-of southern."

Spinazzola equipped the Airstream mobile diner with a collection of outdoor chairs and plaid blankets. Depending on the event, Spinazzola packs orders into picnic baskets, and provides customers with blankets and chairs to enjoy their meal al fresco. Spinazzola and McVay also occasionally perform—she on vocal and guitar, him on bass—featuring original compositions and covers in the pop-acoustic vein.

"There's never a dull moment," says Spinazzola. "I was previously a hairdresser, and was so accustomed to meeting people. This is another great way to do that."

Silver Café to Go can be booked for events six to eight weeks in advance with more information here. Spinazzola says the diner has the capacity to serve up to 500 people per event, and occasionally hires staff to help with larger events.

Source: Jaisy Spinazzola, Co-owner, Silver Café to Go
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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