Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series. This is the fourth in the series written by one of our Community Correspondents.
“Our mission is to empower the Edison Neighborhood and to maximize the quality of life and sense of community.” -- Edison Neighborhood Association Mission Statement
The Edison neighborhood is home to over 9,000 of Kalamazoo’s residents. It may surprise you to know that it is the largest neighborhood by population in Kalamazoo and home to a majority of Kalamazoo’s Hispanic community.
More than 50 years ago, in 1968, the Edison Neighborhood Committee was formed. The founders' intention was to start food programs to support the children attending Edison Elementary School and to address the neighborhood challenges of homelessness and poverty.
The Edison Neighborhood Committee made its original headquarters inside of Edison Elementary School, located at the intersection of Lake Street and Russell Street. In order to avoid confusion with other local organizations the committee was renamed the Edison Neighborhood Association (ENA) and relocated to Stockbridge Methodist Church.
In 2006, Edison Neighborhood Association moved to its current home and location, 816 Washington Ave., on the corner of Portage and Washington Ave.
As a community member, resident, and new homeowner in Edison, I was thrilled to be invited down to the ENA office and interview the staff. It was another beautiful Wednesday in the Edison neighborhood. I parked my car and enjoyed the short walk in the sunshine towards the office. As I stepped into the office building, the bells on the door jingled and I was greeted by a force to be reckoned with, Tammy Taylor, the Executive Director.
The office was in a hum. Tammy and her Assistant Director Gail Shannon, were both standing in the hallway, passing files and stacks of papers back and forth. I patiently waited for them to finish their conversation, taking notice that there were no other staff members in sight. After a few more moments, Gail went to lunch and I sat down with Tammy in her office. Her desk was covered in papers and as she apologized profusely about "the mess," I made myself at home.
Tammy has been working with the Edison community for over 20 years. After she moved to the neighborhood in the 1980s, her work began with the Neighborhood Watch as secretary. Since then she has worn more than her fair share of hats in the community.
She was offered a seat on the Edison Board as Board Secretary and was also nominated as the Housing Chair for the Edison Board. As a voice of Edison and the full-time Executive Board Director, running and operating the association has proven to be a big job and she has a lot on her plate.
Just some of her responsibilities include staying in touch with the community, writing grant proposals and applying for them, referring people in need to housing programs, home improvement programs, deconstruction programs, food donation, and food voucher programs.
“I’ve noticed it this year especially. It's been amazing how many residents have been in need of food," Tammy says. "When the Edison Neighborhood Association was first founded that wasn't such a prominent issue. There was food. People had food. DHS, bridge cards, and government benefits. Residents that come in now, especially those seniors with limited mobility, asking for food vouchers.
“Thankfully, one of the many partnerships we have here is with Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes. It has been astonishing how impacted the community is with the lack of food just within the past year. I must get five to six people in here per week." She then contacts Loaves and Fishes to try to obtain as much assistance as she can for those seeking it.
In her opinion, this increase in need is largely due to government budgets for assistance being reduced or cut completely. For programs that require people to work or volunteer, Tammy says she can put volunteers to work. “I have people who have to volunteer 20 hours a week at a nonprofit to keep their government benefits. It makes the difference between not getting food and not getting shelter. So absolutely, volunteer here. You can rake leaves, take memos, pull weeds, answer phones, or sweep the floors. I'll keep you busy.”
From a distance, I could hear the office door jingle once more. Gail had returned from her lunch. Thanking Tammy for her time and relinquishing her to her duties, I made my way down the short hall to Gail’s office. Gail’s office was a perfect juxtaposition to Tammy’s. Everything was in its place and neatly organized. We dove into Gail’s background.
Gail Shannon has lived in the Edison neighborhood since 1968, having moved there from the Milwood area. Gail started her volunteer work in 1990, specifically getting involved with the Edison Blossoms program, which provides beautiful free plants to residents in the Edison neighborhood each year. She was part of the distribution for her block. “Back then it was divided into segments,” she said.
What brought her to the Edison Neighborhood Association was the word that there was a position open and her need for part-time work. She was one of many candidates that applied but ultimately she got the position. Gail’s accounting background is a major asset to the Edison Neighborhood Association. Her responsibilities include facilitating and renting the community room, facilitating Tool Share and Edison Blossoms in June, facilitating the annual meeting of the ENA in January, neighborhood cleanups, Holiday Food Drive, organizer of Building Blocks, six articles for the monthly newspaper, and grant reports.
With the assistance of Lee Andrew, who helps answer phones, Tammy and Gail split the responsibilities and operations of the facility. During our interview, Gail offers insight into the difficulties of being underfunded and understaffed.
“There is no way that Tammy could do this job without help and I only work here part-time. The phone rings constantly, for ‘Tools’...for the community room. It can be difficult. Every year we pretty much have to start from scratch (financially). Tammy has to scout for grants to cover operational costs. The city (City of Kalamazoo) has a grant for us but outside of that we have to search for the funds on our own.”
Gail has brought in a few grants this year. One of them being The Allegra FootPRINT Fund for Nonprofit Friends. This grant program is meant to help local nonprofit organizations with their printing expenses by issuing grants of up to $1,000 each per year. In past years, the Edison Neighborhood Association was fully staffed. However, due to recent budgets cuts in government funding and the scarcity of grants, the ENA has had to rely heavily upon the residents and volunteers from the community.
In the past year alone, the ENA has helped 125 residents with home ownership, home repair, landlord and homeless issues. And 1,366 pounds of food was collected for the Annual Holiday Food Drive. There were 210 tools loaned out through the Tool Share program. Plus, 1,268 flowers and vegetables were given to residents to plant throughout the neighborhood. Despite the many challenges that come with operating a nonprofit organization, the Edison Neighborhood Association has made great strides in serving our community.