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Tech firms makes move from Birmingham to Pontiac

Pontiac's tech scene just got a little more crowded this month with the move of three companies, LocalHop, Autostructure, and Cynerge into downtown, bringing in 12 tech employees with more hires pending.

 

"You can feel the growth that's going on in Pontiac," says Cynerge president and founder Matt Russell, who purchased the building at 31. N Saginaw. "And I think everybody's excited to be part of it."

 

The three firms, which were housed in downtown Birmingham, are now in the process of retrofitting and moving into the second and third floors of 31. N Saginaw. The basement of the building currently houses the Alleycat Cafe and a wine cellar. The first floor is currently vacant with tentative plans for a restaurant or deli in the future.

 

Russell founded Cynerge, an IT tech consulting firm, 13 years ago. He also co-founded Autostructure, a datacenter automation firm, in 2016 with partners Bryan Belanger and Paul Talbot.

 

But it's his third startup, LocalHop, also founded in 2016 with partners Jason Myers and Robert Bales, that's getting mainstream attention. "We were tired of searching online for places to go and things to do," says Russell. "So we decided to do something about it."

 

The idea for the company came about when Myers was looking for a beer festival in downtown Rochester. He lost track of the website and missed the event.

 

"He didn't know which weekend it was on. It's like, isn't there just one place where we can find stuff?" says Russell. "That's why we started it; it was basically just us trying to find stuff to do."

 

LocalHop allows event organizers to post community events to a single website and app, which users can then use to find out about things happening in their neighborhood.

 

"Our goal is to be at the local grassroots level, hopefully, the de facto place that everybody goes to find stuff going on," says Russell. "We aggregate that all into one place and organizations post it on there, so they are in full control of all the content."

 

Ultimately, LocalHop hopes to make it easier for organizations to promote and market events. The company plans to generate revenue through a calendar service, which will charge registration fees for users.

 

So far, Russell says 300 organizations have uploaded events to the app, and 3000 people have downloaded. The website receives about 5,000 hits per month. Heaviest participation so far has been in Detroit's northern suburbs and Kalamazoo. Russell hopes to expand to throughout Michigan and beyond

 

It will take some time and effort to create the office environment in Pontiac, but Russell is already in love with the turret views of downtown from the 1800s-era building (the turrets were added in the 1990s.)

 

"We're excited to be here, and we want to try to nurture whatever we can to try to continue growing Pontiac," says Russell. "It's the center of Oakland County. It's got a great location; it's got great infrastructure, it's got a great history. Instead of going up and then back down, let's just keep coming up. Right? And I think we've got the chance to do that."

 

My Pontiac Story: Tanesha Taylor of Quest Cheer & Dance

Tanesha Taylor owns Quest Cheer & Dance, a school for boys and girls, ages three to 18 years old. It's there where she offers cheerleading, dancing, and tumbling classes, and the opportunity to compete in tournaments all over the country. Taylor says that Quest is open to all skill levels and that no child is turned away. This fall, Taylor is starting special needs teams for children with physical and mental disabilities, which will offer free enrollment for those particular children.

In addition to the cheerleading, dancing, and tumbling classes, Taylor also offers an All-Star level of enrollment, which enters children into national competitions. These are not the cheerleaders seen on the sideline of a high school sports game but the ones seen at competitions nationally televised on channels like ESPN. A recent trip to Las Vegas yielded four first-place finishes for Quest students, says Taylor.

"Kids in Pontiac don't have anything else like this," she says. "We need more positive things going on for our young people. It gives them an opportunity to experience travel, to compete and gain skills."

Taylor says the benefits of cheer, dance, and tumble classes are numerous. Children can win scholarships to college. They also help to build self-esteem and teach kids teamwork and social skills. And then there's the health component. Exercise, fitness, and healthy-eating habits are all taught at Quest.

Taylor's cheerleading history runs deep, and starts in Pontiac. She cheered at Pontiac Central High School for four years, and would be offered an academic and cheer scholarship at Alabama State University, though she would decline that offer. Instead, Taylor went on to devote her time to raising a family and the area's future cheerleaders. She's coached cheer for numerous little league programs and schools, and has officiated and judged all sorts of national competitions. Taylor is currently the Head Varsity Coach at Pontiac High School.

In 2016, she was awarded first place in the inaugural Pitch'N Pontiac small business contest.

Metromode asked Tanesha Taylor about her past and future in Pontiac.

Q: What do you love most about Pontiac?

It's where I'm from. It's a part of me. And I'm a part of it. It's family-oriented, and I strongly believe in that.

Q: Why did you open Quest Cheer & Dance in Pontiac?

To give the kids in Pontiac the experience and opportunity that they would maybe never have. And to do that at affordable prices.

Q: What's Pontiac's biggest challenge and how do you think it can be addressed?

Honestly, I believe in unity, in coming together and working together. And staying together. That's what makes us successful. I don't think that we're all there right now. It's 'United we stand, divided we fall.'" Even city government could be a lot further along if we were all on the same page. But I do see it on the rise; I see it all coming together.

Q: What are your hopes for the city?

My hope is that this city will be revived, that the community will be revived. There was a time when we had community, love, and support. I want to see that revived.

Q: What should people in metro Detroit know about Pontiac?

Pontiac is on the uprise. It's coming back. People should know that. Bring your kids here, bring your families here. There are things for everyone here. Quest is here. There are things in place so come back.

For more information about Quest Cheer & Dance, including enrollment, visit them online.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Rochester College, Leader Dogs for the Blind partner to raise puppies

A new partnership between Leader Dogs for the Blind and Rochester College is giving students a new assignment: Raising puppies.

Leader Dogs has a consistent need for volunteer puppy raisers. Puppy raisers care for puppies for about 12 months, then return the puppies so they can complete their training and be assigned to visually impaired clients. The organization has been training leader dogs in Rochester Hills since 1939. Since then, more than 14,000 dogs have been placed with legally blind handlers in every state except Hawaii.

The idea for the project came about in a visit to Leader Dogs for the Blind by students in Rochester College's Center for Social Entrepreneurship program.

"The idea was hatched to consider using Rochester College as a puppy raising community, similar to the way that Leader Dogs for the Blind has started puppy raising community in prisons," says Scott Cagnet, who serves as the college's assistant dean of student engagement. "So we are taking one of our residence halls that hadn't been occupied for a couple of years and we are reconfiguring it to allow it to be a co-ed residence hall that will allow for a good puppy raising environment."

After a competitive application process, Rochester College student Joshua Allen and puppy Logan became the first student-puppy pairing on Friday, April 28. Over the next two months five more student-puppy pairings will be made.

"We believe this is a first-of-its-kind program in Michigan and may be a first-of-its-kind in the nation between and service dog organization and a private college," says Jaymes Vettraino, director of the college's Center for Social Entrepreneurship."While it will be an amazing opportunity for the students that are selected to raise puppies, I'm most excited about the potential impact the program can have on the entire campus in terms of understanding the importance of Leader Dogs for the Blind and the social good impacts that non-profits have on our community."

Allen is raising his puppy at his parents' house for the time being. The new puppy-friendly residence hall will be open this fall. Five puppy raisers will live there along with five puppy sitters. Students who have expressed interest in being puppy raisers and sitters, but who were not selected for this year, will also be invited to live in the residence hall so that they can be mentored into the program for the next year.

"We will be installing kind of a puppy potty area outside the residence hall, and providing trash receptacles and bags, for any messes that the puppies might make," says Cagnet. "Then we're working to try to provide an enclosed fenced-in area next to the residence hall that will provide puppies the opportunity to run off leash a little bit outside."

Allen is enjoying his new furry friend, although he acknowledges that he may "bawl his eyes out" when it's time to return Logan to Leader Dogs for the Blind. But it's all for a great cause, he says.

"I think the best thing is knowing that he'll be able to change someone's life," says Allen. "The goal is to be able to lead someone that is blind, and I think that's the coolest part for me."

Residents and businesses work together in Dearborn's Eastborn neighborhood

The houses and businesses in Dearborn's Eastborn neighborhood reflect the diversity of its people. Stately brick homes neighbor modest vinyl-sided ones on lots considered small by today's standards. The houses--mostly built in the 1940s and 1950s, though it's clear where older houses have been demolished for the construction of bigger, modern homes--are full of all sorts of families, white, black, Middle Eastern, and more.

It's a demographic that's always changing, says Michael Bewick, Executive Director of the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority. He points out a Mexican family opening a restaurant on Michigan Avenue, also Eastborn residents.

Bewick's office is located on the southern border of the Eastborn neighborhood, a collection of homes, businesses, schools, and places of worship bound by Ford Road to the north, Oakman Boulevard to the east, Michigan Avenue to the south, and Greenfield Road to the west.

For Bewick, Eastborn is a reflection of Dearborn as a whole.

"A lot of the neighborhoods in the city are very similar in the fact that the majority of the neighbors get along with each other and they're always looking out for each other," he says.

In that regard, Eastborn is no different. That was on full display this past Saturday, May 20, for Eastborn Neighborhood Cleanup Day. An estimated 80 volunteers gathered to pick-up litter and trash in a neighborhood-wide beautification campaign. Residents, Fordson High School and Woodworth Middle School students, members of the Dearborn Police and Fire departments, and business owners in the EDDDA all gathered to pick up their neighborhood.

The Cleanup Day was first organized in 2014 by Erin Byrnes, who grew up in Dearborn and is still heavily involved in the community. After attending Eastborn Neighborhood Association meetings, Byrnes listened to and learned from Eastborn residents. The Cleanup grew out of those conversations.

This year's Cleanup Day started from its original central meet-up point, Argyle-Williamson Park, but also grew to include City Hall Park. Byrnes grew up playing in Argyle-Williamson, and is thankful for the opportunity to return and make a meaningful and positive impact there. In addition to the cleanup, volunteers planted flowers and perennials.

"Eastborn is home. This means the world to me," says Byrnes. "It's been phenomenal in terms of the energy and wonderful sense of community we've experienced. It's our hope that the cleanup builds on that."

Just as how neighboring residents are working together, so, too, are the businesses. And there are a lot of businesses in Eastborn. The neighborhood is bounded by Ford Road and Michigan Avenue, a state trunkline highway and United States highway, respectively. Both highways are main thoroughfares for the region, and not just the city of Dearborn. That means a lot of traffic, which also means a lot of businesses.

Many of those have been around for decades, including M&M Cafe, Green Brain Comics, and Stormy Records. Others are representative of the Middle Eastern influence on the neighborhood, many of which have been around for decades themselves. There are hookah lounges and markets, and plenty of restaurants, like La Shish and Manaeesh Cafe And Cheesecake Gallery. There are also national landmarks, including the Arab American National Museum.

Regardless of the type, business in Eastborn is good. Bewick says that for the district his EDDDA represents, East Downtown Dearborn boasts a commercial vacancy rate in the low teens. And Eastborn makes up a big part of that success. Those neighboring businesses are working together. Bewick cites an example last fall where Joe's Top Dog Restaurant & Bar and designer clothing store Al Wissam banded together to throw an outdoor fashion show.

"We're a well-kept secret that we're trying to tell everybody about," says Bewick.

In what's billed as one of the state's oldest and biggest, Dearborn's Memorial Day Parade kicks off in Eastborn this Memorial Day, Monday, May 29 at 10 a.m. It starts at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Maple Street and travels west down Michigan.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Two St. Clair Shores businesses combine to take over old Harper Sports building in downtown SCS

There was only one available building in St. Clair Shores big enough to contain the dreams of business owners Holly Moyer, Lyndsay Napiorkowski, and Andrea Napiorkowski Moran. The trio is combining their businesses, Moyer's Gypsi Dreamz Boutique and Napiorkowski and Napiorkowski Moran's The Rustic Root, into one: The Rooted Gypsy Market Place.

That building, the old Harper Sports building in St. Clair Shores 9 Mile and Mack shopping area, is 34,000 sq. ft. and three floors of opportunity and they plan on making use of all of it.

It's a natural pairing for the businesses, as Moyer says they often refer customers to each other's Harper Avenue shops. Gypsi Dreamz sells upcycled and organic goods, including furniture, antiques, soaps, and more. The Rustic Root is a USA-only florist that buys locally when possible.

But the new market will be much more than a simple combining of businesses. One storefront will be the Rooted Gypsy Market Place and the second will be an additional market where local crafters rent booths and sell their creations on their own accord.

Rooted Gypsy is also awaiting approval on a small, rustic wedding venue, a "one-stop shop" that will feature a salon, flowers, decorations, and more.

"You won't have to drive all over town, picking up things," says Moyer. "We have all the talent already working in our shops."

The group also wants to build greenhouses to grow their own flowers, emphasizing self-sustainability.

This past spring, the team started an online petition to garner support for their bid on the building. While not required by the zoning board, Moyer says that the city had already turned down some proposals for the building and she wanted to do all that she could to secure it. The petition garnered nearly 4,000 signatures.

"I'm excited. I know that I have so much more to give than my little shop right now," says Moyer. "I'm ready for the changes and the challenges."

Rooted Gypsy Market Place is located at 23208 Greater Mack Ave. in St. Clair Shores. It is expected to open by the end of July.

The group is currently fundraising for building repairs. Click here for more information.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Master plan for downtown Clawson recognized on national level, receives APA award

For a brief moment on Sunday, May 7, the City of Clawson was at the center of attention in New York City.

Detroit-based consulting firm Giffels Webster worked with the city to develop the Clawson Downtown Master Plan, which was adopted in 2015. That plan was awarded the 2017 Vernon Deines Honor Award for an Outstanding Small Town Special Project Plan by the American Planning Association (APA) at its annual National Planning Conference.

Jill Bahm, City Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Consultant for Giffels Webster, says the national recognition received for Clawson's downtown master plan is a result of the community, including city leaders, business owners, and residents, working closely together to help Giffels Webster identify just what it is that makes Clawson special.

While downtown Clawson has destinations that draw in visitors from out of town, it also has businesses that serve the local community. The aim of the master plan is to enhance that balance by filling in the gaps and improving what's already there.

The old downtown master plan was outdated, says Bahm, and tried too hard to make Clawson the next Birmingham or Royal Oak. That's not what Clawson stakeholders say they want to be, and the new master plan aims to enhance Clawson's downtown, rather than transform it into something that it's not.

Business and property owners are making individual improvements to their own properties. There's an emphasis on improving public spaces, including the plazas and passageways that can encourage pedestrian traffic. Simple things like better lighting and public seating can get people circulating through downtown city sidewalks and patronizing businesses.

Enhancing Clawson, and not changing its character, has been the goal from the start. The award is a recognition of that approach.

"I think it helps reinforce, for the city, DDA, business owners, and residents, that their vision is appreciated and that they're on the right track toward what's right for them," says Bahm.

"It validates what they're doing as a community."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

My Pontiac Story: Karen Jorgensen of Pontiac's Little Art Theatre

Karen Jorgensen calls it "progress noise:" the loud percussive chunks of power tools clanging off the walls of an indoor space. It might not be the most pleasant sound to most, but to Jorgensen, it's music to her ears.

Jorgensen and her partner, both in life and in business, Robert Karazim, are in the midst of transforming 47 N. Saginaw in downtown Pontiac into Pontiac's Little Art Theatre, or The P.L.A.T. It's an impressive undertaking, and Jorgensen and Karazim aren't missing a beat.

The 149-year old building was most recently a law firm, but you wouldn't know it. The renovations are completely transforming the space into Pontiac's latest arts center, built for live theater, music performances, fashion shows, art openings, and whatever else the couple sees fit for the P.L.A.T. The Green Room, a small sitting and concession area, is located in the front of the building.

They've purchased furnishings that are period-appropriate for the Victorian-era building, including mohair chairs and colorful leaded glass doors. Those doors were purchased south of Cleveland. The 140-year old matching set will serve as the signature background for the P.L.A.T. stage, with a space built behind to backlight the colorful leaded glass.

From the custom-cast ornaments on the outside of the building to the wheelchair ramp leading to the stage, no detail has been ignored..

Jorgensen and Karazim bought their home, a live/work space a few storefronts down the block from the P.L.A.T., in 2012. They've since become enthusiastic Pontiac boosters and founded the Canvas Pontiac public art competition. Jorgensen takes pride in sweeping the street outside her door herself, and even organized a group of volunteers to drive around the city and tag every broken streetlight for replacement.

It's a seemingly unlikely development for Jorgensen, who is a medical case manager by day, and on, call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But that's what she likes about it.

"There are so many things that I didn't think were going to happen. But that's the great thing about life: You don't know. You just have to keep yourself open. Sometimes those skills you learn in life, you go, why did I do this? And then, all of a sudden, ten or fifteen years later, you go, thank goodness I had this experience and that experience and I met that person," says Jorgensen.

"And now it's all falling into place."

Metromode asked Jorgensen about her unlikely path and her place in Pontiac.

Q: What do you love most about Pontiac?

The people. The people are incredible. I feel like this is my big family. And I'm not leaving. They're stuck with me. It's funny, because I was born in Detroit and when people ask me where I'm from, I say Pontiac. And they're like, really? Yep, this is my home. This is it.

Q: Why did you move to Pontiac?

I moved to Pontiac because there was a great opportunity here. All kinds of potential. It's a great time to buy real estate because it's probably at the lowest it will ever be. In a short period of time, I've already seen the value of our property rise, and it's only going to continue because we have a lot of people that are finally seeing the benefit of being here. 
 
In the last six months, we've had four new restaurants open up. From here on, I think a year from now, we won't even recognize this city. Because nobody wants to be the first one to invest, it might seem a little scary. Why don't I go to Birmingham or Auburn Hills but why Pontiac? Why Pontiac? Well, let's see, we have M1 Concourse, Wesson Tennis, Links on the Lake, which is a beautiful golf course, and Ultimate Soccer. We have four incredible recreational venues here that you can't find any place else that are here in Pontiac.

Q: What's Pontiac's biggest challenge and how do you think it can be addressed?

When my parents came to this country, we were always taught the importance of appreciating that you are a guest. There are a lot of people that are of many generations that have lived in Pontiac. So, I think at first it was difficult for me not to feel a little bit on the outside. But I don't think that's an issue anymore, we all appreciate where we're coming from. 
 
The other issue, which is true of just about any city, is getting people to get together and be understanding that if we don't work as a team, we're not going to move forward. Much like the Democrat and Republican parties, we're all in the same sandbox. We all want the best for each other. But there are a lot of times where you have to say, it's not so much that I get the credit for what I do, but to know that what I've done has made an impact and other people have followed suit. You know what you're capable of doing, you know what you've accomplished.

Q: What are your hopes for the city?

That it will continue to explode like it's already beginning to do. I think the last five or six years, it seems like we planted the seed, fertilized it. We have a lot of people that have invested in downtown, new IT companies that have come in to play. We don't have a Dan Gilbert down here but we do have a lot of people that understand the importance of rolling up their sleeves, investing your time and energy, and seeing that you can make anything happen. 
 
My favorite saying of Henry Ford's was, "You think you can, or you think you can't. Either way, you're right." So when I wake up in the morning and say, you can do it, or, you can't do it, what do you choose to do? It's not maybe I can do it. It's, I know I can do it. I'm going to do it.

Q: What should people in metro Detroit know about Pontiac?

It is a city with a lot of pride. There are a lot of people that are really working towards making this a very world-class city. We came from a city that was tenth worst in the nation, and of recent, we don't even rank anywhere close to the 100th worst city in the nation, and in such a short period of time. 
 
A lot of that I attribute to the work of [Emergency Manager] Lou Schimmel, who helped tremendously in helping us re-establish our financial situation here. They were big changes, and nobody likes big changes, but the Oakland County Sherrif's department has been incredible. A phenomenal fire department like no other. And our EMS. We have really great services in this city. We got our lights turned on, we're getting our streets cleaned. All those elements you need to turn things around are here. At this point, nobody's looking back. We're going forward.

Find the P.L.A.T. on Facebook.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Downtown Dearborn record store successfully weathers changing music patterns for nearly two decades

Windy Weber has been working in record stores for 29 years. It's not a stretch to say that music is her life, and it's something she freely admits. Both she and her husband, Carl Hultgren, had an extreme love for music at an early age, spending many a summer day flipping through bins of records while their friends played outdoors.

It's that love for music--and a bull-headedness, she says--that drove Weber and Hultgren to open their own record store, Stormy Records, in July 1999. And it's that same love for music--and bull-headedness--that keeps them open to this day. Weber and Hultgren own and operate their business together, and also make music as the ambient duo Windy and Carl.

It's not an easy business to run in the 21st century, but that doesn't make it any less important. While digital music downloads have helped crush the record store industry, the record store remains at an irreplaceable crossroads of culture and community. 
 
Weber, who started working at Record Town in Southland Mall in 1988, still serves customers that she sold records to when she was 16 years old. She knows her customers so well, in fact, that she often offers personal guarantees on her recommendations.

"I know that you, based on what else you've bought from us, ]are going to like this record. If you don't, you can bring it back. Nobody's ever--well, actually, once, my friend Jamie brought something back--but in 18 years, all those people that I've given those recommendations to, they have come back and said, 'I loved blah-blah-blah, I want more.'"

Weber and Hultgren started Stormy Records in 1999, just on the precipice of the digital music revolution that has since shuttered so many record stores the world over. Weber says other record store owners told them they were crazy, that they shouldn't even bother. She says she even got flack for being a woman opening her own record store. While it hasn't been the easiest business to run, Stormy Records is still here, nearly two decades later.

Stormy has stayed open for a number of reasons, and a big reason is their flexibility. In 1999, 90 percent of the products carried were new releases. Today, that number has flipped, and 90 percent of Stormy's stock is made up of used records. The business is on its sixth location, always on the hunt for the right mix of responsible landlords, affordable rent, and adequate parking.

Since 1999, five of their six locations have been located in east downtown Dearborn. It's another factor for their remaining open. They can manage the rent, the retail scene is healthy with foot traffic, and their being near the border of Detroit means that they get a more diverse stock of used records.

The constants that remain are the music and the customers, and the fact that a record store is a sort of clubhouse. It's more than just shopping; it's a place where people gather, learn about music, and tell stories. Every conversation, says Weber, is a learning experience.

"One of our mottos is that we are caretakers of memories. Those records were really loved. They truly had a place in someone's life. And it is our job to help those records find a new place in someone else's life and that they're going to be just as cared for," says Weber. "It's not about money. We're used to the fact that we live carefully. It's about a true and incredible love for music and what we do: Helping people hear music that is going to change their lives. That is how we've managed to stay open all these years, because we're pretty obsessed with what we do."

Year Stormy Records opened: We opened in July of 1999. We are about to be 18

Name and title: Windy Weber, co-owner

What is one interesting job you held before owning Stormy Records: I have only ever sold records, so having my own shop is no different than what I have always done

What are one or two of your favorite in-store performances that you've hosted: Jack Rose playing in our shop was amazing

Stormy Records is located at 13306 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn. Find them on Facebook.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

New soul food restaurant in Lincoln Park is rooted in family, pays tribute to mom this Mothers Day

The menu at Mrs. Pat's Soul Food is as much a product of Terence Courts' parents as Terence is himself. 
 
Terence estimates that 90 percent of the menu comes directly from his mother's own cookbook, the namesake of the Lincoln Park restaurant that opened this past spring. His dad, William Courts, is well-represented as well, and can often be found at the restaurant making his own Bill's BBQ Sauce.

This Mothers Day, every mom gets 50 percent off their food at Mrs. Pat's Soul Food.

It's very much a family affair at Mrs. Pat's. Terence has hired a number of his relatives to work the restaurant, which utilizes an open kitchen concept that allows customers to watch their food as it's prepared. The food is made with fresh ingredients and on-site, a concept that Terence is trying to re-introduce into the local dining scene.

"We're trying to get away from fast food," he says. "We cook our food fresh-to-order, giving you a better quality of food. We want that feeling of being at home and in your own kitchen."

For now, Mrs. Pat's Soul Food is carry-out only, but Terence said that business has so far exceeded expectations and that an expansion including a sit-down restaurant and possible additional locations could be in their future. Breakfast, too, is near.

Mrs. Pat's currently offers carry-out, delivery, catering, and corporate delivery services.

Terence's catch-phrase for the restaurant, "Cooking Sunday dinner today," reflects his experiences growing up. Sundays would include big family gatherings while his mother prepared her famous meals in the kitchen. The restaurant's menu includes Mrs. Pat's recipes for homemade jams, collard greens, red beans and rice, gumbo, chitlins, and okra. Gospel music plays as customers wait for their orders.

Terence's mother, Patricia Courts, is well-known in the downriver communities, he says. She was a music teacher, counselor, and college adviser in Ecorse for over 30 years, and was very active in the church community.

Unfortunately, Patricia passed away in 2015. But Mrs. Pat's is one way for Terence to honor his mother. He plans on compiling a cookbook of her recipes and selling those at the restaurant, too.

Mrs. Pat's Soul Food is located at 1119 Southfield Rd. in Lincoln Park.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

My Pontiac Story: Amy McIntyre of City Girls Farm

Amy and John McIntyre are city people at heart. That's why they run their City Girls Farm, a goat livestock operation, out of the city of Pontiac, rather than out in the country.

When asked why they started in the city instead of the sticks, owner Amy McIntyre responds, half-jokingly, "Because we don't want to live out in the sticks."

Though the McIntyres' reasons run deeper than that. The family got its start in the goat business simply enough; the McIntyres' daughter began having problems with lactose and, in 2011, Amy read online that goat milk ice cream was a more suitable substitute for the traditional kind. The McIntyres bought a share in a herd of goats in Brighton and would drive an hour each way, once a week, to pick up a gallon of goat's milk to make ice cream for their daughter.

Soon, the family thought about running their own goat-based dairy farm, but eventually decided that it wasn't a sound business decision. However, a line of goat milk-based soap and lotion products, as it turns out, is a much better business to run.

The McIntyres bought their first goat in 2012--Winnie, who they still have today--and kept her on an urban farm in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood, where they initially thought they'd build their farm. But a series of meetings with city brass left the McIntyres exasperated. That frustration would lead to the fruition of City Girls Farm in Pontiac. The McIntyres partnered with Tim Travis, owner of Goldner Walsh Garden & Home, to purchase 3.5 acres adjacent to his nursery. City Girls Farm will celebrate their third anniversary in Pontiac this June.

Amy doesn't miss her former life as a bookkeeper and enjoys bringing neighborhood children into the farm to meet the goats.

"Agriculture is hard, but it's fun," Amy says. "On the hardest day, it's still better than on the best day as a bookkeeper."

The McIntyres now have 24 goats, and some of their does are pregnant again. In addition to their line of goat milk-based soaps, lotions, laundry detergents, and candles, the City Girls goats can be rented out for conservation grazing purposes.

Metromode asked Amy McIntyre about raising goats in the city of Pontiac, and the city itself.

Q: What do you love most about Pontiac?

I love the spirit of Pontiac. And the people. I think a lot of people don't have a choice to leave. A lady came one day to see the goats. A business left, and her job was gone, and she couldn't leave. But the people here are so open to the change that is happening that there's a shift--everyone's invested in it.

Q: Why did you come to Pontiac?

Honestly, it's the whole thing where you have to pivot, and with every meeting we went to in Detroit, it was like slamming your head against a brick wall. In Pontiac, it's been effortless. And then you get to know the people, and you start to think, I want Pontiac to get to experience the same thing that Detroit has right now. But it's going to be stronger because they're doing it without all the press. I think that's the cool thing. It's resilient.

Q: What's Pontiac's biggest challenge and how do you think it can be addressed?

The thing that worries me about Pontiac is the schools. I'm always concerned because I think when you have a city, you need to have the kids. It sounds trite, but they're the future. It needs to be a city where kids are welcomed and are valued. The ITA is a technical academy, and they don't have a science lab. And so, it has to be about the youth.

Q: What are your hopes for the city?

I hope it survives all of this. I hope it becomes a thriving urban center of really cool stuff. I really do. I just think it's awesome. It's a city smack dab in the middle of the wealthiest county in the state of Michigan. And it's not treated well. I want it to be treated well.

Q: What should people in metro Detroit know about Pontiac?

Don't be so scared of it. It's just another city that's fallen on hard times. People who come to the farm, they say, "I didn't even know it was here," and, "I never stop here." And it's like, are you kidding me? It's a city that's fallen on hard times, and it's not scary. I think there's such great potential here. It's amazing. People just need to see it. They need to come to Pontiac and see what's going on and tell people about it.

Learn more about City Girls Farm online.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Metro Detroit communities embrace archery

More Metro Detroit residents will have an opportunity to try the sport of archery this summer, thanks to a new grant program to help fund the development of archery programs in public parks.

 

Sterling Heights, Oakland County Parks, and the Southeast Livingston County Recreation Authority were among six communities across the state selected to receive archery equipment grants. The grants are funded by Easton Sports Development Foundation and are distributed in partnership with USA Archery and the Michigan Parks and Recreation Association (mParks).

 

Each park organization received $4,000 in April to purchase all of the equipment needed to start local programs and participated in an Academy to receive training. The program is part of a growing movement to build an archery sport and industry in Michigan, according to Bryan Farmer, deputy director of special services for the City of Farmington Hills.

 

Farmington Hills launched its archery program in 2010 and quickly saw success in the community, which led them to build a full range in 2015. A modest fee paid off the initial investment in a single season, and the program now generates adequate revenue to be self-sustaining. According to Farmer, the sport offers a new form of recreation, gets people outdoors and builds up the outdoor recreation economy.

 

"When we surveyed the people of Farmington Hills, a third of the people said they already bought the equipment because they liked archery so much. That's $766,000 spent on equipment," says Farmer. "Then 63 percent said they plan to purchase equipment in the future, which would equal $1.5 million."

 

The survey also uncovered participants' desire to use their new archery skills to try hunting as a sport, which has the potential to translate into even more of an economic boon for the state.

 

"Regarding the economic impact, if 15 percent more people got into hunting and fishing and those type of sports, then they're going to buy a lot more equipment. They're going to pay for gas to go up north to go hunt. They're going to buy licenses. That's $3.5 million that would be generated just from Farmington Hills if we had 797 new people come into hunting."

 

However, finding opportunities to enter and practice archery in Michigan can be a challenge. Farmer believes promoting the sport through local parks systems is one way to increase access.


"It's hard to find through conservations clubs," says Farmer. "People just don't know how to get involved with it. So that's where Parks and Recreation comes. We can hit all ages, all ethnicities, and that's what is happening in Farmington Hills. That's what's going on. A lot of people want it, and the participation is amazing."

Ready for business: Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Dearborn prepares area youth for leadership

A good idea is a good idea, no matter the age of the thinker. This fact is well represented in Dearborn at the Metro Detroit chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!. The national program enrolls middle and high school students in a class that teaches them how to turn their ideas into actual businesses.

Grant Sobczak, a graduate of the 2016 season, is a good example of the type of minds that enroll in the Dearborn program. At just 14 years old, Sobczak had already started his own business, Modern Mind Technology & Companies. The YEA! program helped Sobczak get his business off the ground. He came up with a solid business plan and started an LLC.

"I definitely learned a lot, from financials to human resources to marketing. It takes you to a fully realized company," says Sobczak. "The added benefits is the networking, meeting future partners and customers."

Sobczak is currently working on an online platform for school permission slips, and he says that his only current competitor in the field is a company in Canada. At just 16 years old today, Sobczak is hoping that his first paying school district will pick up his platform for the 2017 and '18 and school year. He estimates that the online permission slip system will save school districts approximately $16,000 per year.

This year, Sobczak was a member of the investor panel, which sees students pitch their products to a table of investors. Sobczak was pitching his own product last year, and being on the panel this year allowed him to see things from the other side of the table.

One of the students doing the pitching was Anthony Vickers, CEO of Rally Bands, a head band logo product for sports teams and other clubs. On May 5, Vickers took his pitch to the national Ninth Annual Saunders Scholars National Conference & Competition in Rochester, New York.

Though he didn't win, Vickers, like Sobczak, has a bright future ahead of him.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

It's a party: Green Brain Comics goes all out for Free Comic Book Day

While the random person on the street might not associate a comic book store with a giant party, that's just what's happening Saturday, May 6, at Green Brain Comics in downtown Dearborn. It's Free Comic Book Day, an international event where comic book stores hand out free comic books all day long.

But that's not all that Green Brain has planned.

Green Brain co-owner Dan Merritt anticipates handing out around 10,000 comic books at this year's event. The store has averaged 1,500 visitors for the event each of the past several years.

Over 50 different comic books will be available, created specifically for the event and covering a wide swath of genres and intended age ranges. "There is something for everybody," says Merritt.

Patrons of Free Comic Book Day are allowed three free comic books, though Green Brain is offering the opportunity for people to receive more. Encouraging Cosplay, Green Brain will offer an additional free comic book to those who show up in costume. Up to two additional comics are available to those who bring canned food to be donated to Gleaners Community Food Bank, used books to be donated to Friends of the Dearborn Library, or old cell phones to be donated to Cell Phones for Soldiers.

For every sale Green Brain makes that day, the store will donate a portion of each purchase to Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit. That organization will also be on site with an adoptable dog. Merritt says the store is 3-for-3 in getting pets adopted in years past.

And all of this at a comic book store.

"We want to get the next generation of comic book readers interested, and get their noses out of their iPads. We want to create new readers at a younger age. Literacy is very important to us," says Merritt. "We also want to get people into a comic book shop to see what it really is versus what they might think it is. It's not what you see on Big Bang Theory."

In addition to free comics, Green Brain will have door prizes, grab bag giveaways, and free art prints. DJs and artists will be on hand, as well as a number of surprise guests and activities. A large event tent will be outside, along with The Roaming Hunger food truck.

Check out Green Brain Comics in 360:

Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

On the Wednesday before Free Comic Book Day, May 3, Green Brain will be hosting celebrated and Detroit-born comic book writer Saladin Ahmed for an in-store signing from 5 to 7 p.m.

Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 6, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Green Brain Comics, which is located 13936 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn. The event is free and open to the public.


Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Sixth graduating class of Henry Ford Early College exit with two debt-free diplomas, ready for work

This May 11th, hats and tassels will cloud the skies of Dearborn as students of Henry Ford Early College become that school's sixth graduating class. The program began in 2007, preparing students for a career in the healthcare industry through a unique curiculum that takes students through the 9th to 13th grades. Students not only graduate with a high school diploma, but also a two-year associate degree or certification in a healthcare field.

The early college program was started by Dearborn Public Schools and is open to high school students throughout Wayne County. Students attend class at the Henry Ford College campus where they study a mix of high school and college level courses, taking one college course in 9th grade and increasing that number through the 13th grade level. The focus is on the healthcare industry; students begin shadowing employees at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in the 9th grade.

It's an opportunity for students to be ready for the healthcare workforce before they enter their twenties--and debt-free, too. Graduates are also better prepared for a four-year degree, should they want to further their education.

Though Dearborn Public Schools started the Henry Ford Early College with a focus on the field of healthcare, they've since expanded their offerings. The district now offers a similar program for students entering the manufacturing and technology industries and is looking to start a third program in the fall of 2018 that focuses on students that want to become teachers.

Other extended learning options offered by the district include the Henry Ford Collegiate Academy and the Michael Berry Career Center. Dearborn Public Schools also boasts the most dual-enrollment classes in the state.

"We want to provide students with a wide variety of options," says Dearborn Public Schools Marketing and Communications Director David Mustonen. We want students to have those choices because not every student fits into the same peg hole. Everyone has different paths and we want to promote different opportunities for them."

While not the sole factor, Mustonen credits Dearborn's early college programs as contributing to that district's rise in graduation rates and decline in dropout rates. Dearborn Public Schools had a 93 percent graduation rate in 2016, a significant increase from its 76 percent graduation rate in 2011. Over that same period, dropouts decreased from 113 in 2011 to 32 in 2016.

Learn more about Henry Ford Early College online.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

My Pontiac Story: Sonia Acosta of Centro Multicultural La Familia

 Ever since a young age, Sonia Acosta has enjoyed helping people live happier, healthier lives, first in Mexico and now in Pontiac, where she's the president and CEO of Centro Multicultural La Familia, a non-profit that takes a holistic approach to assisting the community with social support services.

"It's satisfying to help others have access to things like health equity and equal opportunity to advancing their lives," says Acosta. "We want all children to do well at school so they can be happy and productive members of society. We want them to say, 'Yes, I can do this just like anybody else.'"

Sonia Acosta got her bachelor's degree in psychology in Mexico. She'd then be awarded a scholarship from the Rotary International Foundation, bringing her to Western Michigan University for her masters in psychology. She'd also receive her Ph.D. in psychology from WMU. She got married at that time, and had her daughter here, too.

When Acosta joined Centro in 1992, the agency focused solely on mental health treatment. Under her leadership, Centro has expanded services to cover a wide range of issues, including health and wellness assistance, citizenship education, and English as Second Language classes. Centro also helps other agencies engage with Pontiac's Latino community, improving residents' access to additional services.

In 2007, Acosta helped split off Centro into an independent non-profit. Today, Centro is offering more services to more people. Acosta believes her role with the non-profit is to develop programs based on the feedback she receives from the community, to respond to people's experiences.

"There's been an increase in immigrants feeling unwelcome, these past few months. We're working to help reduce those levels of anxiety and help children feel safer here. We want people to go beyond prejudice, and not be so quick to judge," says Acosta.

"That's what motivates me."

Metromode asked Sonia Acosta more about her motivations and her Pontiac.

Q: What do you love most about Pontiac?

This was the first city I came to where I found a job that I love and continue to love. It allows me to work with people of different backgrounds that are very interested in making Pontiac the Pontiac that they knew before. I got here in 1992, but I understand from talking to people that it was a very prosperous city and I feel that we're moving in the right direction. I've participated in events with the mayor and faith-based leaders, the nearby universities, the Pontiac Business Association; they're all interested in making Pontiac a better place to be. We're one of the oldest tenants in the Riker Building, and I've always felt very safe here. With all the restaurants opening and the music, food, and culture happening--it's the right place to be.

Q: Why did you move to Pontiac and why do you stay?

This is the city where my job is and the people we serve live here. I think it's a great place to be from. Lakes and parks surround us, and there are lots of great businesses in the area. To me, it's surprising that there are not more businesses here because of the geographic area that we're in, all these natural resources, the people that love this city. For all the businesses that have moved away, others are coming back because they see the potential here.

Q: What's Pontiac's biggest challenge and how do you think it can be addressed?

I feel that some people that have been here for a long time have become complacent. There's still a lot of disagreement between people because they're focusing on their own interests and that's what stops progress. People don't get along because they're not focusing on our common goals. But I assume that happens everywhere. Bureaucracy, red tape are things I've never liked. At Centro, we're working to remove that. What we can do is at the community level, try to be there and offer solutions, give input, and make some changes. We're not on a political level but a community level and focus on a healthier and happier Pontiac.

Q: What are your hopes for the city?

That it continues going in the right direction. Here, when a business opens, you feel more support for the small business owners. People are meeting about concerns, especially in the downtown area. The building we're in, the new owner is making a lot of improvements, and you can see it help the economy. I want to see more of that happening. The work with schools, the police department and its relationship to the community--there has been a lot of that happening and hope it continues to happen. I hope people put aside competing interests for the benefit of the city. There's a lot of potential and no reason it shouldn't be that way.

Q: What should people in metro Detroit know about Pontiac?

That Pontiac is in a renewal state where it welcomes people from all over the state and beyond so they can come and be a part of the rebirth of the city. And that we see the changes that cause prosperity, not only financially but where people feel more connected. We don't want to be an island. We want to be a place where people from other places come and take part in cultural events. The mayor seems concerned about all the residents, regardless of their backgrounds, and listens to the needs of the community. Those who used to be down on Pontiac are now promoting it to their friends. You can come here, have fun, and engage with all the different activities happening.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.
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