Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Eastside series.
When you’re running a neighborhood association, you can never have too many right hands.
Pat Taylor, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Eastside Association, has worked with many volunteers over her decade of running KENA, and she always finds work for them to do. There are newsletters to write and mail, phone calls to make, events to coordinate, tools to rent, residence assistance to facilitate, grants to write, and information to compile.
All of these tasks can keep a part-time director full-time busy. For that reason, Taylor says she’s grateful to those willing to donate their time, some who have for decades, and others who started more recently.
“Every little bit helps,” says Taylor. “Each volunteer has a different type of talent that is needed. Because they know the neighborhood, they live in the neighborhood and love the area, they are willing to come and help with various long term and short term projects.”
And Taylor says she enjoys the camaraderie of working with residents in the office or at events. In addition to helping fulfill KENA’s mission “to enhance the physical, social and economic environment of the Eastside," she says, laughing, “They give me feedback on my crazy ideas.
“They have been really helpful about keeping me and the office on track in regards to (KENA’s) goals.”
Miss Maggie: A maternal model for many
At “83 point 7,” Magnolia Bodley, or Miss Maggie as she is affectionately called, is an Eastside fixture at KENA and neighborhood events, like Harvest Festival, the December Open House and National Night Out. Bodley is always willing to pitch in, especially when it comes to serving food.
Volunteering isn’t new to Miss Maggie, who has been active in her five children’s activities since Boy Scouts and church youth groups (a former Boy Scout in her troop now lives across the street from the house she’s lived in for the past 50 years), and she has also volunteered at the Kalamazoo Deacons’ Conference, Simple Treasures, and Home Instead Senior Care. She still volunteers at Lending Hands through Senior Services.
“You need to be seen and be out there,” says Bodley, “not closed up in the house all the time.”
Bodley says she loves interacting with youth. “I think some of the younger people see older people out there and they have more incentive to say, ‘Ma’am, can I help you do something?’ That makes them feel good, too.”
In 2013, Bodley was honored as Michigan’s Outstanding Senior Volunteer. Her attitude towards service was passed on to her children, including daughter Teresa Lynn Johnson, who was also very active at the Kalamazoo Deacons Conference until her passing in 2017, and Kalamazoo’s own mayor, Bobby Hopewell, who is a committed volunteer in the city, especially at “his baby,” Pretty Lake Camp.
“I Just love the Eastside,” says Bodley, who believes residents “need to see faces” of older residents in the neighborhood.
And while Bodley doesn’t tell everyone she’s the mayor’s mother, she enjoys introducing him when he comes to visit. “When Bobby comes around, I sometimes let them know and he comes and shakes hands with the young people and asks them about their schools. When he does that, it lets them know they can do what he’s doing.”
When she turned 80, after several years on the KENA board, Bodley decided to step down, but she stays active by volunteering and consulting with Taylor.
“She’s a role model for me,” says Taylor, “kind of what I’d like to see me be when I grow up.”
When trying to describe Bodley, Taylor points out her “maternal presence.”
“She’s not overly excitable or overly critical, but she gets her point across,” Taylor says. “If she sees somebody going in the wrong direction, me or anyone else, she’ll point it out. And she’s always willing to be supportive with anything we’re trying to do here at the neighborhood association.
“I can count on her, even if there is no one else to count on.”
Like many Eastside residents, Bodley says she feels the Eastside is somewhat forgotten, even at times by its residents and the local businesses. She wishes there were more family-friendly businesses, like barbershops and a laundromat. She points out the empty buildings near the old Dairy Queen that could become “a place where you can have a nice cup of coffee.”
“When you’re on the Eastside,” she says, referring to both neighbors and businesses, “you should get involved.” She sees a lot that could be done by KENA and the city to attract more businesses, but says she wouldn’t live anywhere else.
“It’s close-knit as far as people who’ve been around here, plus it’s easy to get to things, like the hospital, the doctors, church or downtown. In the summer it’s really nice. Everyone has flowers out.
“I love my Eastside,” says Bodley. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I just want to be a support for Pat and the Eastside as long as I can.”
Elnora Rodriguez: One day at a time
As a newbie to KENA volunteering, longtime Eastside resident Elnora Rodriguez started assisting with KENA paperwork two years ago, when she was a spry 84. As the unofficial KENA receptionist, she files papers, answers phones, and greets visitors.
“I wanted to get out of the house so I went up (to KENA) to see if they needed some help, and Pat told me, ‘Come on in.’”
While Rodriguez didn’t grow up on the Eastside, she often visited her grandmother who lived there and so was familiar with the neighborhood. Thirty years ago, she moved into her grandmother’s old house on Charles Street.
“I feel comfortable where I’m living because it was my grandmother’s house,” says Rodriguez. “The people are friendly.”
Rodriguez’ favorite parts of volunteering, she says, are meeting new people and getting acquainted with different organizations that do business with the neighborhood association. And she’s known for her great stories and ongoing curiosity, especially with reading books.
As it’s only two and a half blocks from her house, Rodriguez walks almost every day to KENA, despite the hills, as long as the weather allows. “I’m used to hilly,” says Rodriguez. “That’s good for your exercise.” And the views are pretty, she says, “especially during the summer when the trees are all leafed up. It reminds me of Peeler Street where I grew up.”
What would Rodriguez like to see on the Eastside? A laundromat, some department stores for women and children, a stop or slow sign on the curb at Charles, and for the rocks that have fallen out of the stone wall at East Main to be replaced. “That wall’s been there for 99 and a half years, and people don’t pay any attention to it,” she says.
Beyond that, Rodriguez is satisfied. “I live day by day, and thank God I’m still here and still able to give some time,” she says.
Beverly McCall: Giving back to her Eastside home
Raised on the Eastside where she also raised her own two children, Beverly McCall always wanted to give back to the neighborhood. When her youngest graduated from high school in 2010, she took the leap.
“I always said that once my kids got more independent that I was going to volunteer because that’s just how I am,” she says. Not only did McCall assume coordination of Eastside events, such as Harvest Fest, but she also joined the KENA Board of Directors.
“I love living over here and I just see so much potential,” she says. “I thought, maybe if I join KENA I can help get things going and help it reach that potential to make some changes.”
As a longtime resident, McCall has seen the Eastside’s heyday when the East Main corridor was thriving with businesses and a library. “KENA wants to revitalize that corridor and I want to be a part of that because the Eastside is a great place to live.”
McCall says she loves the camaraderie of her neighbors, some of whom go to her church. “Friends who I grew up with still live there. My kids grew up here. And now I have grandsons, and they say, ‘Nana lives on the Eastside’ and they come to visit Nana.”
At times, she says, the slow growth of the Eastside has been frustrating; the Eastside, she says, can feel like the “stepchild” of the city. But she also gets excited thinking about the current KENA projects that are “changing the framework” to make revitalization more possible.
“I just want more,” she says. “I see other neighborhoods and how they are thriving and things are changing. It doesn’t happen overnight. But we’ve been working to get the attention of people. 'Come, look at us over here. We have potential, too. Help us here, as well.’”
Volunteering to improve her neighborhood, McCall says, has been very rewarding, and she says Taylor is “a joy to work with.”
“I feel I’m giving back my time because I’ve lived here for over 30 years,” she says. “I love meeting people. When you participate on boards and committees, you get to know more and more people.”
And she says she loves the collaboration that arises from those connections such as her sorority, the Kalamazoo Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., hosting an event for seniors at KENA in April.
“We have a lot to offer,” says McCall of KENA. “Our residents don’t always take advantage of that, but I wish they would.”
Both Taylor and McCall say that KENA is always seeking more resident participation, both at events and in terms of volunteering.
“We would love to have more board members, people who have a heart for the Eastside and who want to work, especially young people,” McCall says.
But meanwhile, KENA is providing a center where residents can come to with their ideas and concerns, and to get to know their neighbors.
“I’m grateful to have so many right-hand people,” says Taylor.
KENA is currently seeking volunteers for the following positions: event assistance, marketing assistance, volunteer coordinator and data entry. If you have a special skill you would like to share with the neighborhood, you can fill out the online volunteer application here