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New opportunity for small businesses to get financing emerges

For many small businesses, the greatest barrier to growth is not having access to the money they need.  

The new Kalamazoo Capital Consortium has created a new online resource for small businesses to assist them in obtaining capital.

Over the past six months, SCORE, LISC, and the CIty of Kalamazoo have been working with more than a dozen financial institutions to develop a tool that will support entrepreneurs who want to seek out finds online.

The Kalamazoo Capital Consortium is a group of nonprofit and for-profit partners who are working together through the Greater Kalamazoo Business Resource Group. It has created a new online resource for small businesses to obtain access to capital. 

The Kalamazoo Capital Consortium will take businesses rapidly through a series of questions about revenues, time in business, their credit score, sector, location and capital needs, in hope of finding one or more matches with an approved lender.

The Kalamazoo Capital Consortium follows the model of platforms built for other markets such as those featuring mission-driven or otherwise approved responsible lenders, including LocalLending NYC or the Philadelphia Capital Consortium.
At launch, more than 12 financial institutions, including three Community Development Financial Institutions and the City of Kalamazoo will offer small business loans through the platform. 

The application process consists of an online Funding Request Form that outlines the business’ capital needs. The form is submitted to SCORE, and then forwarded to Consortium members. If a Consortium member wants to work with the business, then the business is contacted directly within 10 business days. 

The Funding Request Form allows small business owners to reach out to multiple lenders at once using a single document. Businesses hear only from interested lenders.
For those who do not qualify when applying, the platform provides matches for an approved Kalamazoo-area small business assistance provider that can coach them, and provide advice and support so that when the entrepreneur applies for a funding for the second time they are better prepared. 

The grand opening of the Kalamazoo Capital Consortium will be May 21, the Greater Kalamazoo Business Resource Group has announced.

Source: The Greater Kalamazoo Business Resource Group

Pilgrim Haven grand opening to be celebrated in South Haven

Pilgrim Haven Natural Area is ready for the public. A grand opening of the natural area is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12.  The event is hosted by the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and South Haven Area Recreation Authority

Pilgrim Haven Natural Area is a 27-acre nature preserve on the Lake Michigan shoreline in South Haven. It is one of the largest remaining natural areas on Lake Michigan and features almost 800 linear feet of beach, a stretch of Dyckman Creek running through a forested upland, and a critical dune habitat.
The public is invited to enjoy the area 365 days a year from dawn to dusk. It features an accessible parking lot, a barrier-free walkway to the beach including a mob mat to accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. The is also an electric gate entrance to Pilgrim Haven. 

The grand opening event will mark the transfer of management and maintenance of the natural area from SWMLC to SHARA. SHARA will take over the daily management and maintenance of the preserve. “We anticipate the next phase will begin sometime this fall,”  says Ross Stein, SHARA Chair, and South Haven Charter Township Supervisor. 

SWMLC retains ownership and will continue to care for the natural areas on the preserve. It will focus on the ecology of the forest’s understory and the protection of the dune.

Officials from SHARA will also share the next phase of improvements planned to make the preserve.

Pilgrim Haven was donated to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy in 2011 by the late Suzanne Upjohn Delano Parish. She purchased the property in 1985 to ensure that it would remain open space forever. This property formerly served the community as a camp for over 70 years, and it is well-known and beloved by many Michigan residents who visited the property as campers.

SWMLC’s continuing management of Pilgrim Haven Natural Area is supported by the Friends of Pilgrim Haven Natural Area Endowment Fund at the South Haven Community Foundation.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to share Pilgrim Haven, and now with the new public access improvements completed through the partnership with SHARA, the vision SWMLC established with broad community input is now fulfilled,” says SWMLC Executive Director Pete Ter Louw.

Source: Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Partnership’s work will improve visitor experience at the Rose Park Veterans Memorial

There are more than 5,000 veteran memorial bricks in the Rose Park Veterans Memorial on the eastern gateway to the City of Kalamazoo. 

Family and friends of veterans have purchased 2,281 brick pavers to memorialize individual veterans since it was dedicated Veterans Day, November 11, 2001. The bricks typically contain the veteran’s name, branch of service, rank, and dates of service. 

Since then it has become increasingly difficult for families to keep track of where the brick memorializing their loved ones.  

“Our club found that we were using a very outdated system to maintain the brick locations,” says Rotary Club of Kalamazoo-Sunrise member and past president Joanna I. Johnson. “It is very difficult for family members to locate their loved one’s brick when they visit the Veterans Memorial. The old kiosk at the park contains outdated information and is difficult to see.”

The Rotary Club of Kalamazoo-Sunrise led efforts to construct the memorial and beautify the park, a special project for the club since 1991. 

“We wanted to find a better way to manage the bricks for inventory, consistency, locating and placement with new technology. We believe an improved system will also allow us to have a better sense for the capacity of future bricks at the Memorial,” says Robert Lawrence, Rotary Club of Kalamazoo-Sunrise member and past president.

The Rotary Club of Kalamazoo-Sunrise, the City of Kalamazoo Parks Department and the team at Wightman have formed a partnership to create a way to maintain an accurate inventory of the memorial bricks.

“Rose Park Veterans Memorial is an important space in the community,"
says Wightman staff member Gary Hahn. “In talking with Joanna at a recent meeting, I shared Wightman’s capabilities and that we might be able to help find solutions to the challenges being faced at the park. From there Joanna took steps to form a partnership between Rotary, the City and Wightman and the project took shape.”

Goals of the project are:
• Locate each of the memorial bricks to assign a location.
• Organize all the information contained on individual memorial bricks.
• Provide a means to help family and friends locate individual bricks both online and on-site, and
• Develop a process to manage all future memorial bricks.

“We wanted to find a better way to manage the bricks for inventory, consistency, locating and placement with new technology,” says Robert Lawrence, Rotary Club of Kalamazoo-Sunrise member and past president. “We believe an improved system will also allow us to have a better sense for the capacity of future bricks at the Memorial.”

Wightman called on the high-tech skills of its GIS team along with one of its most recently added services -- High Definition Laser Scanning to create a way to locate the memorial bricks. The steps they took included laser scanning the Memorial site to create a 3D model of the Memorial including brick details. They also developed a CAD/GIS drawing file to prepare a base map for locating individual bricks on the site and a database to catalog and allow for easy access to all brick information by Parks Department staff and the public. The database will also allow for future memorials to be added and implemented seamlessly. They are also developing on-site signage to take the place of the outdated and weather-worn kiosk to provide more up-to-date information for visitors.

Once the project is complete the City of Kalamazoo will host and maintain the data on an online interactive GIS map that the public can use to search for and locate the memorial bricks. 

“The City of Kalamazoo is fully supportive of the new ideas that surround the GIS project and we will gladly be the coordinator and host of the system once it is up and running,” says Patrick McVerry, City of Kalamazoo Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Director. “We are excited about the new system, and the updates planned for the park moving forward.”

Source: Wightman

May means it's time for Farmers Market season

If you love asparagus and rhubarb and have been waiting patiently for the Farmers Market to open this spring don't sleep in on Saturday. With the chilly spring, some farmers have less of those favorites than usual. Not to worry. Famers with hoop houses and others with a variety of produce will have enough to make up for it if you miss out on the first asparagus of spring.

Farmers Market season has arrived in Southwest Michigan. May marks the opening of the Kalamazoo and Portage Farmers Markets.

There will be more than 100 local farmers, producers, and artisans at 1204 Bank Street when the market opens from 7 a.m. till 2 p.m. Saturday, May 5. The Kalamazoo Farmers Market at Bank Street runs through Nov. 17. 

The Portage Market is going into its third season this year. It's open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This year it will be located at a new location at Portage City Hall, 7900 S. Westnedge Ave. The season gets underway with horse-drawn carriage rides starting and ending at Celery Flats from noon to 2 p.m.  The Portage Market will continue to have free yoga classes twice a month.

Kalamazoo’s weekly cooking demonstration program, Taste of the Market, will continue this season in partnership with Bronson Hospital, KVCC, and the American Culinary Federation. Demonstrations take place at 10:30 a.m. and showcase local, seasonal products that customers may not know how to cook. Free samples and recipes will be available while they last, and a Free Little Cookbook Library will be set up nearby as well. The first session will feature Chef Jason McClellan
cooking with ramps.

"Operating the cities farmers markets continues our mission to provide food access and support community and local economies through a thriving market culture," says Gaby Gerken, Farmers Market Manager for PFC Natural Grocery and Deli.

The markets have a number of new vendors of a variety of food and artisan products. Some of them are:
  • Bankson Lake Farm -- produce 
  • Cultured Love -- featuring five flavors of sauerkraut and kimchi 
  • Curve of the Earth Farm -- certified organic produce 
  • Dog House Doughnuts -- mini doughnuts in a variety of flavors 
  • Lovers Lane Micro Farm -- produce and honey
  • Mark It With a B -- homemade baked goods 
  • Mason's Candles -- farmers market inspired candles 
  • Peppermint Jim -- distilled peppermint oil and body care products 
  • Physic Kombucha -- Kalamazoo’s first kombucha brewery that is also women-owned 
  • Sacred Springs -- sound infused kombucha made in Grand Rapids 
  • Tabitha Farm -- produce, baked goods, and eggs 
  • Troll Meds -- salves infused with CBD oil 
  • Vogue Boogie -- handmade soy wax candles 
"The Farmers Market is a really affordable place for local entrepreneurs to start their businesses. The rental is really low and it gives them a place to test their product. They can put it in front of a lot of people," Gerken says.

Many vendors accept SNAP benefits. Those who have a Bridge Card can visit the market office to use their card to obtain wooden tokens to spend with vendors. Their SNAP dollars will be matched up to $20 per day through Double Up Food Bucks, a program that allows low-income customers a way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and stretch their food dollars while at the same time creating extra income for local farmers. 

The markets also accept WIC Project FRESH,  SENIOR Market FRESH, and Hoophouses for Health. A win-win situation, these programs also benefit local food producers.

The Kalamazoo Market is also bike friendly. The City of Kalamazoo recently installed additional bike racks. And the Night Market offers bike valet, front row parking for those on bicycles. Those who ride to the market and show their helmet at the market office also can get $2 in Market Bucks to spend among the vendors.

For those who enjoy some music while shopping for produce, there will again be performances at 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 am. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays at Bank Street. And , and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays at the Portage Market.

The markets are operated by the PFC Natural Grocery and Deli. PFC has been building a locally focused food community since 1970. As a consumer-owned cooperative, PFC has more than 3,000 member-owners who have invested in the business, which works to create access to food that is healthy for people, land, and the economy.

Source: PFC Natural Grocery and Deli

Upcoming Dining Out for Life helps CARES in fight against AIDS

For 10 years Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan has committed to support for the local agency working to prevent the spread of HIV and offering support services to those living with HIV/AIDS.

The tenth annual Dining Out For Life fundraiser will be Thursday, April 26. And this year 36 establishments will donate at least 25 percent of their proceeds to CARES (Community AIDS Resource and Education Services). 

CARES serves 11 counties in Southwest Michigan, and its mission is to maximize the quality of life for those affected by HIV and to minimize the transmission of the disease. It provides HIV case management services to people living with HIV, as well as emergency housing and financial assistance. The CARES prevention team also is constantly educating the community and testing for HIV through outreach and programs.

Today, 1.2 million people live with HIV in the United States. Of those, 15,629 live in Michigan, and 362 live in Kalamazoo County.

Dining Out For Life provides a fun and easy way to support those living with HIV and to help prevent the disease, says Kelly Doyle, CARES Executive Director. "This is our 10-year anniversary of the event and we so appreciate the community for dining out to fight AIDS," she says.

The event helps bring new customers into local restaurants and gives diners an opportunity to make a contribution when they have breakfast, lunch, or dinner with friends. 

In 2018, CARES hopes to raise $90,000 from restaurant donations and diner donations, as well as cash and in kind sponsorships. 

The number of participating establishments has risen from 2017 and some are giving more generously. For example, Full City Cafe will donate 50 percent of all sales, the highest percentage donated locally. Confections with Convictions, will donate 35 percent of all sales, and Victorian Bakery will donate 35 percent of all pre-orders before noon on Wednesday, April 25, and 25 percent the day of the event. 

Participation includes various meal times at establishments in five cities; Kalamazoo, Portage, Battle Creek/Springfield, Paw Paw, and Plainwell. Nine of the 36 participating establishments are managed by Millennium Restaurant Group.
"We look forward to this CARES fundraiser every year," says Linda Rouleau, General Manager of Fieldstone Grill. "We are proud to be one of the nine Millennium Group Restaurants that support this cause and give back to the community." This will be Fieldstone Grill's tenth year participating in the Dining Out For Life event.
With the exception of a small licensing fee, all money raised will be used locally. The local event is one of 60 Dining Out For Life fundraisers planned internationally. Dining Out For Life began in 1991, and CARES became part of the annual event in 2009.

Reservations are strongly encouraged at most Dining Out For Life participating restaurants. Diners should let a participating restaurant know that they are dining with them because of their support for HIV/AIDS services locally.

"Now more than ever, we appreciate the community coming together to support CARES and our mission of ending HIV in our lifetime," says Doyle, CARES Executive Director. "In our current political climate, we have seen reductions in funding for the prevention of HIV and other STDs, the removal of the Office of National AIDS Policy and the continued attack on Ryan White funding. We have come a long way to ending HIV and we can't go backward."

For a list of participating restaurants in the Kalamazoo area, visit here. For more information about CARES, visit its website.

Source: CARES

Celebration set to take place April 17 for conservation of Schoneboom Property in Barry County

The 16,000-acre Barry State Game Area has grown by 355 acres with the acquisition of the Schoneboom property on the southeast edge of the State Game Area.

Acquisition of the land comes after nearly eight years of discussions. It increases wildlife-related recreation and habitat management opportunities for the area, says the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.
The Schoneboom property is the largest-ever addition to the Barry State Game Area, and features a mix of farmland, forest and wetlands, as well as a headwaters segment of the Glass Creek, recognized as the highest quality stream in the Thornapple River Watershed.

In 2009, working with a broad base of partners, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy created the Barry State Game Area Conservation Plan. In that plan, the Schoneboom property was identified as the No. 1 priority parcel to protect. 

In the summer of 2010, SWMLC Conservation and Projects Manager Emily Wilke began conservation efforts and discussions with the landowners about protecting their land that lasted over seven years. Ultimately, Wilke and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy partnered with the Michigan DNR, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and Tyden Ventures to fund the purchase of the Schoneboom property.

“Conserving this property was so important because it helps prevent forest fragmentation, and creates one, large contiguous protected natural area that includes the headwaters of the Glass Creek Watershed,” says Wilke. “This region also protects extremely ecologically sensitive lands and provides essential habitat for rare and endangered species like the Cerulean Warbler.”
On Tuesday, April 17, the Michigan DNR is inviting the public to a celebration event and dedication in honor of the conservation of the Schoneboom property. The event will take place across the street from McCallum Church at 5505 Otis Lake Road, and will begin at 1:30 p.m. 

The dedication will kick off with a few words by DNR Deputy Director Bill O’Neill, DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy Executive Director Pete Ter Louw, and Tom Groos of Tyden Ventures. The dedication ceremony will be followed by light refreshments at 2 p.m., and a guided hike at 2:30 p.m. The public is welcome to come and explore this new part of the Barry State Game Area.

Source: Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Kalamazoo's commitment to education topic of panel at WMU

How the commitment to educational equity has evolved from the past to current day in the Kalamazoo region will be the focus of a panel discussion Monday, April 2, on the campus of Western Michigan University.

"Educational Equity: From the 'Kalamazoo Case' to the Kalamazoo Promise and Beyond" will be discussed at 6 p.m. in Room 204 of the Bernhard Center. 

The free event is part of the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society's lecture series and is open to the public. It is co-sponsored by the WMU Cooley Law School and the College of Education and Human Development.

WMU co-moderators Dr. Kathy Purnell, instructor of political science, and Dr. Ashley Atkins, assistant professor of philosophy, will facilitate the panelists' discussion.

Panelists will include:
•   James D. Robb, general counsel and associate dean of external affairs, WMU Cooley Law School;
•   Cyekeia Lee, director of community collaboration, Kalamazoo Promise;
•   Michael Evans, executive director, Kalamazoo Literacy Council; and
•   Sandra Standish, executive director, KC Ready 4s.

The "Kalamazoo Case" authored by Thomas M. Cooley in 1874 in his role as Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court will be part of the discussion of the past. This legal case was based on the principle that communities can opt to use their tax dollars for investments in secondary education. The Kalamazoo Promise scholarship program and its commitment to postsecondary education will be part of the discussion of the present.

The panel will also talk about potential future paths, asking what it means to embrace a "right to literacy" and exploring an expanded commitment to prekindergarten youth that can ensure educational equity and access. 

Panelists are expected "share their thoughts on what a commitment to educational equity means and engage in dialogue on how to map a common future to expand equity and access," according to a release from WMU.

Light refreshments will be provided. For more information, visit here.

Source: Western Michigan University

Cyekeia Lee photo by Brian Powers used with permission on Encore Magazine. 

Kalamazoo Nature Center to open new maple sugar shack

The annual Maple Sugar Festival at the Kalamazoo Nature Center has a sweet new celebration this year -- the grand opening of KNC’s new Alice Batts Apkarian and Ara Apkarian Maple Sugar Shack.

Alice Batts Apkarian is the daughter of KNC founder Dr. H. Lewis Batts, Jr. She will attend this special event to share her fond memories of maple sugaring at KNC.  “My favorite activity at the KNC was maple sugaring…  The smells and tastes elicit some of my strongest memories,” she says.

Alice’s life journey has taken her to California where she is involved with, among other things, her local nature center.  However, her ties to the Kalamazoo Nature Center have remained strong over the years. 

She and her husband, Ara, recently contributed to the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s “Two Leaders, One Legacy” capital campaign and asked to have their gift designated for the Maple Sugar Shack’s construction costs. 

Rayline Manni, the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s Vice President of Development, offered great appreciation to the couple for their very fitting contribution to the campaign. “We at KNC are touched by the Apkarians’ ongoing support and special interest in our most recent capital fundraising efforts.  Dr. Batts’ legacy continues on through the very special relationship we are privileged to enjoy with Alice and Ara.”

The grand opening will be Saturday, March 10 at 10 a.m.

There will be activities throughout the two days festival including pancakes smothered in real maple syrup; an opportunity to stroll along a wooded trail with a KNC Naturalist for a fun maple sugaring tour. Maple Midway with games inspired by nature for kids of all ages.  And adults can browse the Maple Market with maple-themed vendors and products. Festival-goers will have a chance to see the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s  Birds of Prey and other ambassador animals up close at special Creature Features throughout the day.

Other Maple Sugar Festival highlights will include visits to the DeLano Homestead for horse-drawn wagon rides (weather permitting), tours of the 1858 farmhouse, ice cream topped with maple syrup, and visits to a pioneer maple sugaring site. 

Source: Kalamazoo Nature Center

Lakeside for Children names Sandra “Sam” Lealofi as new CEO

Sandra "Sam" Lealofi has been chosen to be the next CEO of the residential treatment facility and school Lakeside for Children. Lealofi will take over from Don Nitz who is retiring as CEO after 12 years. 

The 111-year old Lakeside helps vulnerable boys and girls in Kalamazoo ages 12 through 17. Its mission is to prepare children to lead responsible and fulfilling lives by providing mentoring, education, living skills, and support within a safe, structured, dynamic environment. Up to 124 youths live and attend school year-round on Lakeside’s 48-acre campus, supervised and cared for by 145 teachers, counselors, and administrators.

“We picked a winner,” says Joe Brogger, longtime Lakeside board member who led the search process for the new CEO. “Sam is a natural leader with a deep commitment to helping vulnerable kids succeed. Her experience in teaching, working with diverse populations, and building partnerships, will combine well with her background in organizational, board, and fund development. She’s just the right person to lead Lakeside forward.” 

Since 2011, Lealofi has served as executive director of Eastside Youth Strong, a nonprofit organization serving marginalized youth in the Eastside and Eastwood neighborhoods of Kalamazoo. She previously served as executive director of Eastside Neighborhood Association, as child and family advocate program manager for a community initiative serving the Eastside neighborhood, as both director of vocational education for the Work First Program and supervisor of Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative with Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan, and as a program officer with Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

She also spent 12 years in the U.S. Air Force as an academic instructor and law enforcement specialist. 

She earned a B.S. degree in occupational therapy from Western Michigan University (WMU) and has completed master’s degree coursework in development administration, also at WMU.

In 2016, she received a Woman of Achievement award from the YWCA of Kalamazoo for outstanding leadership and community involvement. In 2017, she was named an Outstanding Alumnae by the WMU College of Health and Human Services for significant contributions to the youth and families of Southwest Michigan.

Lealofi will work alongside Don Nitz until his April 1 retirement.

“I’m honored to help carry forward the legacy and mission of Lakeside,” said Lealofi. “There is such enthusiasm and energy on campus. I want to spread the word about this vital community asset and invite the community here to see it for themselves. Lakeside is changing lives. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”

Source: Lakeside for Children

Collective dream for Battle Creek goal of upcoming convenings

A movement to face the issues of privilege, race, and bias in Battle Creek is forming in the city. 

The Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation is working to address the historic and current effects of racism and bring about transformational and sustainable change as part of the work the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's efforts in Michigan and other cities across the country.

The Coalition is organizing multiple events to which the public is invited. The convenings will be in two unique community spaces and will be co-facilitated by different community leaders. An objective of these convenings is that they will be a way for community members to grow a deeper sense of connection and relationship with one another to collectively engage in a unique process for truth, racial healing, and transformation in Battle Creek. Community members will gain a basic understanding of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework and local activities and begin to collaboratively define a collective dream for promoting racial equity and eliminating racism in Battle Creek; and take action by joining the TRHT Action Teams.

There will be a number of sessions convened in coming this spring. They are:   

• Saturday, March 10, from 3-5 p.m. at the Kool Family Center Valentine Room, 200 West Michigan Ave, Battle Creek. It will be co-facilitated by Rev. Alvin Herring, Director of Racial Equity and Community Engagement with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Jorge Zeballos, Executive Director of the Center for Diversity & Innovation, and Rosemary Linares, Coordinator for the Battle Creek Coalition for TRHT.

• Saturday, April 21, from 3-5 pm at the Burma Center, 765 Upton Ave, Springfield, MI and co-facilitated by Jorge Zeballos and Rosemary Linares.

• Saturday, May 19, 2018 from 3-5 pm, pm at the Burma Center, 765 Upton Ave, Springfield, MI and co-facilitated by Kris Miller, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center for Southwest Michigan, and Rosemary Linares.

Childcare will be provided at the community convenings. Please RSVP for childcare, request to join the mailing list or ask questions by emailing To find out more information and RSVP for events, visit 

The Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) is one of 13 other communities across the U.S. working on healing the nation's racial divide as part of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s TRHT effort.

Source: Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation 

Barrier-free, universal access will soon be available at Bow in the Clouds Preserve

Creating universal, barrier-free access to Bow in the Clouds Preserve in Kalamazoo will be possible this spring now that $40,000 has been raised for the project.

Donations from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, a number of funding partners, many Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, and others, the goal for creating access was not only reached but exceeded. 

Phase One of the access will be constructed this spring and a grand opening is anticipated this fall.  Phase 1 of the plan will include: 

• a barrier-free loop trail that will be smooth and level in the upland area of the preserve that people with wheelchairs or walkers, or those with visual challenges can navigate

• a new trailhead that will be oriented so that it can be experienced from a standing or sitting position; 

• a platform with a ramp at the wetland overlook which will accommodate wheelchairs and classroom lessons; and

• several new benches where people can sit down to rest or just enjoy the preserve.

Bow in the Clouds was donated to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 2007. The 60-acre preserve includes one-mile of moderate trails and boardwalk from the parking area through a wetland and forest. The land behind the Nazareth Center off Gull Road is open to the public. 

Plans to make the preserve barrier-free were developed in cooperation with the Disability Network Southwest Michigan and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

“As a person with vision loss, being able to listen to the nature that surrounds us, touching and smelling the various flowers, feeling the fallen logs, and just sitting and feeling the breezes made visiting Bow in the Clouds so enjoyable,” says Denise S. Davies, a participant in a Disability Network field trip to Bow in the Clouds led by SWMLC’s Conservation Stewardship Director Nate Fuller.

According to the Disability Network Southwest Michigan, more than 50,000 or 20 percent of Kalamazoo County’s residents have a disability. “Too often, barriers in the physical environment create segregated communities and feelings of isolation," says the Disability Network's CEO and President Joel Cooper. "Having access to recreational activities and the means of being able to share that experience with others aids in creating a healthy and inclusive community.”

The barrier-free, universal access improvements at Bow in the Clouds will not only create a natural haven for people who are mobility-challenged, they will also provide the foundation for nature-based education programs serving children in Kalamazoo’s Eastside Neighborhood, says Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy's Fuller.

The SWMLC will continue the Eastside Arts and Sciences Experiential Learning (EASEL) program with Eastside Youth Strong at Bow in the Clouds, and has been working with the  Spring Valley Center for Exploration to learn how Bow in the Clouds can be integrated into their K-5 Communities in Schools curriculum.

SWMLC is planning further universal barrier-free access improvements in a second phase of the project which could begin as early as 2019 if fundraising is successful.

Source: Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Kalamazoo real estate investor to show America how he takes houses from 'Gritty to Pretty'

A television pilot featuring Kalamazoo real estate investor Jeremy Cole and local production company IMEEDIA will air Saturday, Feb. 10 on the DIY Network. 

"From Gritty to Pretty" highlights  Cole’s real estate investment projects, where he works to find the worst houses on the market to transform them.

Jeremy Cole bought his first property at 19 years old and has been actively purchasing and renovating properties for more than a decade. He currently owns 16 rental properties around Kalamazoo County, taking the homes that no one would want and making them into something the community can be proud of. 

Jeremy began filming some of his projects with IMEEDIA, and IMEEDIA posted them on their YouTube channel for their viewers. The videos and Cole’s endeavors caught the eye of Arcadius Productions, a Detroit-based company. It approached Cole and IMEEDIA for a television show development deal in February 2017. 

Their work was featured by Southwest Michigan's Second Wave here and here

In a press release, IMEEDIA and Rebuilt Incorporated say they are excited for “Gritty to Pretty” to showcase the best of what Kalamazoo has to offer – a great community and great opportunities for entrepreneurs. 

IMEEDIA founder and CEO, Stanley Steppes, says that his production company “strives to give a lens on what’s possible, to move people forward.”  

Rebuilt Incorporated and IMEEDIA are two companies based in Kalamazoo. Both led by Kalamazoo natives and African American entrepreneurs, this collaboration highlights the best of underrepresented communities working together to create dynamic, economic development opportunities, the collaborators say.

Jeremy Cole of Rebuilt Incorporated, and Stanley Steppes of IMEEDIA, both independently left their careers in finance to create new career and business opportunities for themselves and others. Both companies strive to employ and network individuals from underrepresented communities, as well as youth, to create a new narrative on what is possible for those that have a dream.


Sweetwater Donut Mill gets into the franchise business with Plainwell shop

2017 was a very good year for Sweetwater's Donut Mill. It was named one of the 10 Best Donut Shops in America by Business Insider, won Best Bakery in Michigan by Yelp voters, and Best Donut Shop in Michigan by Best Things Michigan. 
Now, the donut shop with the glowing accolades has expansion plans for 2018. Sweetwater’s Donut Mill was founded by the Garner family -- Kathy, Greg & Trish -- in 1983 with its first location on Stadium Drive. The second store opened three years later in Battle Creek and a third opened in 1989. 

In February, Sweetwater’s Donut Mill will open its first franchise store in Plainwell. The store at  554 Allegan Street is expected to open in mid-February. It will have 4,200 square feet and serve as a full retail outlet and training center for future franchisees. Because it will be used for training the site is larger than the typical stores that will range from 1,800 – 2,500 square feet. 

The Plainwell location is now under construction. Chris Olsen, president of Ridgeview Franchising, says it will be the template franchising store and retail location. "The store design, and decoration is representative of what future franchise stores will look and feel like. New additions include a fully integrated Point Of Sale system, modernized drive-thru, and refreshed look and feel. 

"Donuts are made onsite, and that will continue with all stores," Olsen says.  "We believe this is essential to our formula of success." Sweetwater's Donut Mill offers more than 50 donut flavors and 14 muffin flavors. It makes more than 100,000 donuts a week.

The company says that over the past 35 years many entrepreneurs have inquired about franchising Sweetwater’s Donut Mill across the United States due to the brand’s popularity and financial success in West Michigan. In 2015, Sweetwater’s Donut Mill approached Ridgeview Franchise Ltd. to learn about franchising. From there, SW’s Donut Mill was born. 

"Part of the process intent was to go slower, to ensure that we did not lose any of the Sweetwater’s attributes that make up the culture and the customer experience," Olsen says. "We also began looking for new site development for the franchise template store that also serves as a retail outlet. Site selection can take a while because we look for a specific set of metrics for store location--20,000 plus cars per day, morning-side drive, within one-half mile of major highway entrance, major commuter throughway, and drive-thru.  

"The City of Plainwell was great to work with and the community has been overwhelming with support."

The original stores will retain the Sweetwater's Donut Mill name and the franchise shops will be called SW's Donut Mill. 

Source: Sweetwater's Donut Mill

Career Life Expo: More than a job fair

For many, there are more obstacles to finding a job than drafting a resume. Lack of transportation, lack of affordable childcare, lack of stable housing, lack of experience in interviewing  -- any one of these hurdles can undermine a person’s ability to get hired and keep working.
The Career Life Expo, created through a partnership with United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and Michigan Works! Southwest was designed to assist those who need help over the hurdles.

It will have local employers that are hiring and service agencies to help job seekers with other needs that get in the way of working. And it will also feature social service agencies to help job seekers with the challenges that get in the way of working. 

“Southwestern Michigan has companies that are hiring and qualified people eager to work,” says Eric Stewart, Administrator for Michigan Works! Southwest. “A run-of-the-mill job fair can connect those two groups. What makes the Career Life Expo different is its ability to help people address other issues that keep them from being able to work.”

Matt Lynn, Vice President of Community Impact for United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, says linking employment and support services is vital to helping people become financially stable.

“Nearly 39 percent of households in our region are what we call ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed),” said Lynn. “These are hard-working people who have jobs and yet struggle to make ends meet. Many are already in poverty. One car repair or one sick child can cause them to miss work, get behind on rent or utilities, maybe even cost their

“We want to help people resolve those problems. We also want to help local businesses fill job openings so they can be successful. That strengthens the local economy and benefits everyone,” Lynn added.

The Career Life Expo takes place Tuesday, Feb. 20, from noon to 4 p.m., at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo. More than 80 area employers will be there to conduct interviews for hundreds of job openings. As jobseekers enter the building, they’ll be greeted by representatives from several area service agencies to help them with everything from building their resumes to finding affordable child care.

The first hour of the Expo will be a VIP session for anyone who has served in the armed forces and for anyone with a disability. All job seekers will be welcomed starting at 1 p.m. Sponsors of the Career Life Expo include United Way, Michigan Works! Southwest, Wings Event Center, AmeriFirst Home Mortgage, and Midwest Communications.

Free transportation is available from Michigan Works! service centers in Kalamazoo (1601 S. Burdick St., pick up 12:30 p.m., drop-off 3:15 p.m.) and Battle Creek (200 W. Van Buren St., pick up 11:30 a.m., drop-off 4:15 p.m.).

Questions about the Expo can be directed to Michigan Works! Southwest, (269) 383-2536 or Updates on the event are found at

Source: United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, Rick Chambers & Assoc.

Kalamazoo Community Foundation names new marketing director

Sarah Lee is the new director of Marketing Communications at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation

She will lead the market communications team that includes communications officer Tom Vance.

Previously, as director of Marketing and Communications for Kalamazoo Wings at Wings Event Center, she led the marketing strategy for the minor league hockey team where she increased walk up ticket sales by 27 percent year over year in the 2016-2017 hockey season. 

Earlier she led and managed the marketing operations for 15 business outlets under Greenleaf Hospitality Group. 

She began her career in marketing communications with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce. Sarah earned a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and a Master's degree in Organizational Communications from Western Michigan University. 

She is the co-founder of Kalamazoo Social Media Week and TweetUp Kalamazoo, and a graduate of Leadership Kalamazoo.

Source: Kalamazoo Community Foundation
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