By Anna Elias | Staff Writer
Pies are wonderful. Warm pie is even more wonderful. Free, sometimes warm, pie is what Sarah Fertig, 27, of Ypsilanti, is handing out at Liberty Plaza on Wednesdays as part of a movement she started: OccuPIE Wednesday.
Fertig and boyfriend Chris Kovac have been handing out free slices of pie on Wednesday’s at 5:30 p.m. since Ann Arbor’s Art Fair back in July.
“We all benefit from things we didn’t build,” said Fertig.
With influence from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “factory speech” and President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment, Fertig now literally gives away her pie to those in more need.
“People say, ‘those welfare moms just want some of the pie.’ But seriously, who doesn’t like pie?” said Fertig.
Reminding people to “pie it forward” is the main focus of the movement, Fertig says. To be able to give to others what you have, as small or as large as the contribution may be, is what she aims for.
The movement has its own “maniFEASTo,” which Fertig hands out with each piece of pie, to share with hungry residents what the slices are all about.
48-year-old Ypsi-Arbor couch surfer, Ted Murray said that eating the pie has reminded him to remember what he can share with others.
“I’ve been looking for somebody to give a few dollars to,” said Murray.
Murray said he has been coming for a slice of pie, each Wednesday, for the past three weeks. He has been clean for one-and-a-half years, and says he tries to help others with sobriety as well.
Murray is joined at the plaza by a sizeable crowd of locals, all hungry for the tasty treats.
On a good week, Fertig and Kovac have served upwards of 50 people, which warranted extra pies from Grand Traverse Pie Co., while colder evenings bring out significantly smaller numbers.
The large amount of foot traffic made the location perfect in Fertig’s mind. She had thought about doing it on campus, but didn’t want to be associated with other student-run events.
She had also thought about “splitting the pie attention” by also handing out slices in Ypsilanti, but couldn’t decide on a location with diverse foot traffic.
“I didn’t want the pie to be about one segment of society,” Fertig said. “Anyone who walks by is welcome to take a slice.”
The couple bakes three apple pies each week to be served to the community. Fertig chose apple pies because the fruit comes in large, five pound bags.
They recently started accepting donations as they had an overwhelming number of people looking to give to the cause.
Cash donations are welcomed along with extra pies.
Fertig is hoping for a big send-off as winter becomes imminent. She says that Nov. 21 will be the last day for pie this year, but hopes the event will continue next year with a new crew as she may be out of state.
“I’d like to see it started with either a new team or more crowd sourced,” Fertig said “I’d like to take OccuPIE on the road. Pull up to a new city every week and show them the movement.”
For the big send-off, Fertig is planning on bringing a slow cooker with warm cider and hot cocoa to accompany the pies. She encourages others to bring a pie – fruit or pot pies – to the last OccuPIE Wednesday for the season.
“If I can share my little slice of pie,” said Fertig, “surely people higher up on the food chain can share their pie too.”
Local tattoo shop plays Santa for annual fundraiser to benefit children in need
By Anna Elias | Staff Writer
Although they can’t get tattoos themselves, children are the focus at Depot Town Tattoo during the holiday season.
For the past four years, Depot Town Tattoo has held the annual Toys for Tats fundraiser – a modern interpretation of U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots foundation.
Dawn Cooke, co-owner of the Ypsilanti tattoo shop, thought of the idea for the fundraiser during the shop’s second year of business.
“When I was a little kid, my sister and I one year got a pack of underwear from K-Mart for Christmas,” said Cooke. “No kid should go without a toy.”
The sign-up for Toys for Tats started Nov. 1 and will continue until Dec. 15, or when all slots are filled. By bringing a toy valued at $15, patrons are able to sign up for a slot on Dec. 15 to receive free ink.
In past years, the fundraiser was strictly a one-day event with no sign-up available. It resulted in more than 200 people bringing toys, but not everyone who wanted a tattoo was able to receive one. They were sent away with a coupon towards their next tattoo.
Each person who brings a toy and signs up is guaranteed a tattoo this year Cooke said. The slots are in one hour blocks with 12 openings available from 1-10 p.m.
Patrons choose a design from a premade sheet courtesy of the participating artists. According to Cooke, this is to help the ease and efficiency of the event. The tattoos are designed to take between 10-30 minutes in order to get all tattoos completed during the extended business hours.
The toys are given to Carrot Way Community Center of Ann Arbor and Methodist Children’s Home Society in Redford. These centers benefit boys and girls from infancy to adolescence, with a large number between toddlerhood and pre-adolescence.
Local tattoo shop owner and artist, Jeff Zuck, has decided to assist Cooke in efforts to tattoo upwards of 120 toy-donating customers. Traveling tattoo artist, Travis Madden will also be assisting with the high-volume tattoo event.
“If it helps a kid get a toy for Christmas, I’m all down for it,” said Madden. This will be his first time tattooing for a charity event.
Mike Emmett, co-owner of Depot Town Tattoo and main artist at the Traverse City location, Front Street Tattoo, may also be joining the Ypsilanti team for the one-day tattoo-fundraiser extravaganza.
An extra free-standing tattoo-convention-style station will be set up in the center of the shop to make space for the extra artists.
Last year, each artist tattooed 15-20 people. This year, they will have an abundance of artists to be able to “sub out” to allow bathroom and lunch breaks.
On the sheet of designs, Cooke says that there is “something for everyone.” The images range from astrological to Native American symbols, and include traditional tattoo designs such as roses, birds, flowers, daggers and skulls.
“If you don’t see something you like, you don’t have to get a tattoo,” said Cooke. “No one is going to twist your arm.”
Donations are welcomed throughout the month, even if no tattoo is wanted in exchange.
“When the bottom line matters more than human decency,” said Cooke, “something is wrong.”
Anna Elias | Staff Writer
Most who are homeless, or homeless within the past year, don’t expect to go to Rio de Janeiro to become an international soccer player. But that is exactly what happened to Dave Altherr.
Altherr, 56, of Ypsilanti, thanks Washtenaw County’s project outreach team (PORT) for everything he has today. They have assisted him with housing, applying for social security disability and treatment for mental illness and drug addiction.
As a part of PORT’s “homeless soccer team” S.S. PORT, Altherr was chosen to go to Rio de Janeiro and compete on the national team for the 2010 Homeless World Cup.
“It’s life-changing for those who do it (street soccer),” said John Stacey, a supervisor at PORT.
Sober soccer, street soccer, homeless soccer – it’s been dubbed many things, but the support offered in many forms at this community event had an unlikely start.
Sara Silvennoinen, a case manager for PORT, searched the Internet for “homelessness in Finland” following a conversation with family during a visit in Finland. The first thing she saw was the Homeless World Cup for soccer.
Back on American soil, Silvennoinen contacted the first U.S. team to start up that was based in Charlotte, N.C. This was the first year they were looking to expand.
PORT was excited about starting the first street soccer team in Ann Arbor, which they called S.S. PORT. Arrangements were made for Silvennoinen to attend a street soccer conference in North Carolina.
“It’s treatment, but they don’t realize it,” said Silvennoinen.
This wasn’t just about men and women coming together to play soccer who happen to be housing insecure. It was about camaraderie, sober entertainment and most importantly getting those out on the streets in touch with PORT’s services, she said.
With soccer ball in hand, Silvennoinen and coworker Linda Bacigalupi recruited a few guys and went to a local park and played soccer for S.S. PORT’s first practice. The end goal was to go to Washington, D.C. for the Street Soccer USA Cup.
“I like getting people out of their comfort zone,” said Anna Byberg, a former intern with PORT in 2011. “If you get them to come out one time, they’ll keep coming back.”
Byberg started practicing with the team last year as an intern. She has enjoyed practicing with the team so much that she continues to come to practice.
Now, working for Dawn Farms deter center Spera, Byberg is able to help recruit people for the soccer team.
The only requirement to practice with the team is availability. People who are willing to come out to practice during the scheduled times are more than welcome, regardless of housing or financial situations.
To travel with the team, however, players are required to have been homeless within the past year, which also includes transitional housing. Transitional housing typically comes after inpatient drug rehab, which is a safe place to live with other adults trying to stay sober.
Other than difficulties with permanent residence, many of the players have encountered mental illness and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Players are required to be sober in order to play with the team, either during practice or traveling for competitions. Players find solace in street soccer as a sober event.
“It’s my outlet to be amongst other people that are not in the criminal element. They have to be sober to begin with,” said Altherr. “It brings a different class of people, most people are recovering.”
Emily, 25, of Ypsilanti, played with S.S. PORT for one year. She asked that her last name not be used in this story. Before she joined the team, she hadn’t played soccer since she was 14, although she loved the sport since she was 5.
Emily was in transitional housing when she joined the team. Prior to getting into transitional housing, she was homeless for six to seven months and struggling with addiction.
“(Street Soccer) helped me get involved with something that was good for me,” Emily said.
She was invited to go to Paris with the national team for a two-week trip to the 2011 Homeless World Cup in Paris. Even though they came in second to last, with a single victory over Malawi, her life is forever changed.
Emily has now moved out of transitional housing and is an intern for a prominent firm in Detroit as a graphic designer. She attributes much of her success to being involved with street soccer.
S.S. PORT is completely funded on donations. On Dec. 8, a Soccerthon fundraiser will be held at Wide World Sports Center located on Oak Valley Drive in Ann Arbor. Teams of about 20 people can rent out field space at $10 per person for one hour and play against themselves. All of the proceeds will be donated to S.S. PORT.
The team is trying to raise $10,000 for walls for an outdoor soccer field on Wide World’s property for spring/summer practices. They practice at Wheeler Park during the warmer months, but would like a more permanent location.
During the winter months, Wide World donates an hour of field time to S.S. PORT for practice each week.
“Wide World has been absolutely amazing to us,” said Silvennoinen. “Without them, we couldn’t do this.”
With so much continued help from the community, homeless soccer in Washtenaw County has been able to stay active since 2007.
“(Street soccer) is gratifying,” says Altherr. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something.”
Christmas break: a student’s most coveted holiday. The question is what to do with all
that free time? Well, it’s Michigan and it’s cold!
Ice skating could be the answer. It is local, inexpensive, and tons of fun. And mother
nature provides the place on lakes and rivers all over Michigan. All you need is a pair of skates.
But there’s another option. Whether you like it slow and easy just skating in an oval, or
fast and hard while slapping pucks around, local rinks have everything you need.
I’m a fast and hard kind of girl, myself, so I like to go for sticks and pucks at the rinks.
One of my favorites is Buhr Park, located at 2751 Packard Road, in Ann Arbor.
Being an outdoor rink, it offers a semi-old-fashioned skating experience, and there is an
indoor concession area where you can wander in and take the chill off. And the ice is sheltered
so that those unusually sunny days don’t spoil the fun.
Another favorite is the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, located at 2121 Oak Valley Drive, in Ann
Arbor. This is what I like to refer to as the mall of ice rinks in the area. It has everything from ice
skating to shopping. You could literally go skating, play hockey, have lunch, shop for gear and
clothes and attend a party in one day – never leaving the facility.
But my all-time favorite is Yost Arena, located at 1000 South State Street, in Ann Arbor.
Just walking through the door evokes a nostalgic feel with its high-ceiling, airplane hangar
appearance. It is also equipped with a concession area for those intermittent warming needs.
Each arena offers different times for different activities and also skate rental, but with the
long break coming up there is plausibly enough time to try out all three, and maybe a few more.
For schedule and price information, visit the following links:
Ann Arbor Ice Cube
Encore Records, located at 417 East Liberty Street, has a listening station for customers to sample music.
Despite what the future holds for the recording industry, despite laser readers, mp3 players and the iTunes iStore, vinyl remains increasingly viable in Ann Arbor.
Locals get their demands for analog records met at the city’s several purveyors of recorded music that populate the Liberty Street area of downtown Ann Arbor, citing higher sound quality and greater collectability for the aging albums.
To Anthony Caruso, a general studies major at Washtenaw Community College and resident of Ann Arbor, it’s about sound. Admitting to the convenience of digital mediums, Caruso still prefers vinyl for a more intense listening experience.
“The sound is way different,” Caruso said. “Many albums sound better on vinyl. CDs can’t get the full range. The lows and highs both sound better. If I want convenience, I will go for the iPod. But as technology gets better, the sound quality keeps getting worse. People are starting to see vinyl’s appeal.”
Claiming a recent trend in the reduction of auditory precision in favor of digitized convenience as behind the resurfacing of vinyl’s popularity, Caruso, 22, is irked by the lack of physicality in modern, invisible formats.
“Computer storage is more temporary. It’s more abstract and less real.” Caruso said. “Records are also a cool thing to have, like an artifact. They’re nicer to collect, like Beanie Babies.”
Underground Sounds, located at 249 East Liberty St, has a mix of new and used music for sale.
Matthew Bradish, owner of Underground Sounds on Liberty Street in Downtown Ann Arbor, concurs. Witnessing the continued popularity of vinyl among die-hard patrons of his shop, Bradish believes the physicality of records goes beyond the discs themselves.
“People who listen to vinyl have a higher attention span and passion,” Bradish said. “It’s the having to get up off your butt and flip the thing half-way through. If you’re gonna buy a physical format, it’s the one to have. The artwork is bigger and the sound is better without all that compression.”
For the past decade Underground Sounds has been pushing records on Ann Arborites.
Bradish has noticed a recent ascension in vinyl sales as current as the Dec. 6 release of the Black Keys’ latest album “El Camino.”
“Sales have increased and record plants have had to increase production,” Bradish said. “The Black Keys was a big vinyl release. The plants can’t keep up. I ordered 20 copies and only got five.”
Many new records from current artists can be found in Underground Sounds, despite the prevalence of online media services.
East of Bradish’s emporium, on Liberty Street as well, Encore Records has been quenching Ann Arbor’s robust thirst for vinyl by the decades. Heavily relying on customer contributions of used records and tapes to fill his shelves, co-owner Jim Dwyer, 48, sees the passage of time, passing the recordings from the hands of one generation to the next.
“The truth is, it never really went away,” Dwyer said. “Sure, the industry really pushed for new formats to resell their back catalogues, but some of us never really got rid of our records. Real collectors want vinyl.”
Encore Records sells a variety of used vinyl, cds, and videos on Liberty Street in Ann Arbor.
Over the years, Dwyer has observed modern genres of music encouraging the continued use of analogue recordings.
“Punk bands and hip-hop kept vinyl alive,” Dwyer said. “It was cheaper for the punks to press, and appealing to DJs because they could easily isolate their favorite parts of songs.”
Dwyer believes the continuous popularity of records also results from a nostalgia that youngsters will only be able to wonder for.
“As the baby-boomers get older, more of their records are brought back into circulation,” Dwyer said. There’s a coolness. Young people tend to look back into music history and vinyl seems more authentic.”
Decorated labels divide vinyls and CDs by genre.
Naming artists Creedence Clearwater Revival, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Pink Floyd as his store’s biggest sellers of records, Dwyer believes listeners will enjoy a marriage with the sounds echoing from their needles deeper than any other recording available.
“It’s bigger, it’s better. It has substance to it,” Dwyer said. “You’ll feel more immediacy. It’s nice to know that you have that direct connection with the artists themselves.”
“Timber!” my sister and I cheer as we watch the giant snow crusted Douglas Fir fall to the earth.
Some people may have traditions involving caroling through the neighborhood, or covering their home in thousands of light bulbs. The Fletcher family has a tradition straight out of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”.
We all gather together in full winter gear and travel about an hour and a half away to a place called “Happy Holiday Tree Farms,” near Sheridan. Once we get there, we break out the video camera and start the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree.
After we all agree on one tree, the boys in the family work on sawing the beast to the ground. As soon as the tree hits the snowy earth, it is everyone’s responsibility to yell “Timber!” as loud as they can.
Later, after warm hot chocolate dusted with marshmallows, and perhaps a few well-aimed snowballs, we wrap the tree in string and work on the project of immobilizing by tying it to the family vehicle.
Upon the arrival home, we all work on the final mission: unleashing the tree and fitting it through the front door. I could say that we’ve always been able to fit it through, but that would be toying with the truth.
Like the Grizwolds in the “Vacation” movies, sometimes you don’t realize how big your tree is until you take it out of its environment.
If you want to adopt my family’s tradition, but maybe find something a little closer to home, here’s a list of several tree farms in the area:
For novice vegans or vegetarians, the holidays can be quite confusing and create a lot of pressure. From being a beginner in the kitchen to telling your family about your new diet, vegans and vegetarians may struggle to satisfy their holiday appetites.
For newly transitioning vegans and vegetarians living in and around the Ann Arbor area, help is just a mouse-click away.
VegAnnArbor, an online meeting place for vegan and vegetarians with more than 400 members, was created in 2008 to help with sharing recipes and experiences.
Organizer of VegAnnArbor, Nicole Leffler, 30, of Ann Arbor, says the best strategy when attending holiday parties this year is to be prepared.
“It saves you a lot of disappointment if you bring your own dish to pass,” she said.
By bringing cooked vegan food to your holiday dinners, Daniel Earle, 43, of Dexter, believes you can avoid the worst part of being a vegan at Christmas dinner.
“Someone slaves over something especially for you during the holidays and one ingredient turns out to be not vegan,” he said. “You’re caught where you want to be gracious, but you have to turn it down.”
Temptation can occur at the dinner table to deviate from one’s belief system. Earle says it depends on personal values.
“If you’re a vegan for ethical reasons, it won’t cave in my belief system,” he said. “If it’s for health reasons, you may be tempted to have a piece of cheesecake just that one time.”
Accounting major Kristy Lawless, 24, of Ypsilanti, finds it easy to stick to her beliefs in the local market. Lawless would rather cook her own meal because it keeps the family tradition alive.
“It’s much easier around here being that I’m from Flint,” she said. “You can get a Tofurkey at the Ypsilanti Co-Op, the Ann Arbor Co-Op or Whole Foods.”
For the traditional celebration, the Washtenaw Voice has compiled some places to pre-order meals and some traditional recipes to get out of the kitchen quickly for your special day.
Josh Chamberlain contributed to this report.
Vegan Green Bean Casserole
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
- 1 tsp dried savory
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (3-ounce) can of French fried onions
Cook the green beans in a pot of boiling salted water until tender. Drain well and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic, cover, and cook until softened. Stir in the mushrooms, savory, and thyme, and cook until the mushrooms are soft. Combine the vegetable broth and soy sauce in a small bowl. Whisk in the flour until smooth and add it to the mushroom mixture. Simmer and continue stirring until the liquid thickens.
Stir in the soy milk and nutritional yeast (if you decide to use it) and simmer until thick, about 7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the reserved green beans, stirring to coat. Transfer the green bean mixture into an oiled casserole dish.
Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and top with the French fried onions. Bake uncovered until browned and bubbly, about 10 minutes longer.
Christmas is not about dreams of sugar plum fairies for Megan Scott, a former Washtenaw Community College student. For Scott, it’s about making dreams come true for hundreds of children around the world, in a shoebox.
“This is my favorite thing to be a part of,” Scott said.
The 21-year-old human resource management major from Brighton is referring to Operation Christmas Child. A charity event run by Samaritan’s Purse, the benefit serves children living in areas hit hard by poverty, natural disasters and war. The organization, led by Franklin Graham, annually delivers more than 8.1 million shoeboxes worldwide. Shoeboxes contain gifts, school supplies, hygiene products and candy
Residents from all over southeast Michigan are involved in trying to beat last year’s count of more than 43,000 shoeboxes. This year giving is up, too. Relay center volunteer Sue Cole, of Highland, is seeing a 25 percent increase from last year.
“We get all our family and friends to contribute boxes every year from our church,” Cole said, referring Highland United Methodist Church.
Suzie Aheimer, of Northville, is a community relations coordinator for the Southeast Michigan Area Team of OCC and works to increase awareness and participation for the project.
“I am hoping to increase the number of collection and relay centers across the area,” Aheimer said.
Presently, the only relay center in Washtenaw County is Keystone Community Church, located in Saline on Waterworks Road.
Although collection locations are scarce, volunteers come from a wide array of people. The Eisenhower Center, a residential rehabilitation facility for brain trauma victims in Ann Arbor, encourages its residents to pack shoe boxes as a yearly project. Area scout leaders bring boxes put together by Girl Scouts earning community service patches. Members of several area churches bring boxes as well as individuals learning of the project online.
The Whaley Center, a home for abused children in Flint, encourages juveniles who are accustomed to being cared for as wards of the state to participate in creating shoeboxes for those less fortunate than themselves.
“They put together 114 boxes in one day for the first time, knowing that they too can make a contribution to society,” Aheimer said. “Showing love outside of themselves is amazing, and to be a part of that is very special. God is opening the doors. The eyes should be on him and we are just planting seeds through a shoebox.”
Aheimer said that the recipients of the shoeboxes are typically youngsters 2–14 years old. Donations are purely need-based, with no family discriminations. The needs change each year, and locations are determined by Franklin Graham and his national team as it travels worldwide assessing the need.
“Samaritan’s Purse is often the first Christian relief organization on the ground in any national disaster supplying medical supplies, shelter, and food,” Aheimer said.
Countries receiving boxes over the last few years have been Japan, Haiti, Sudan, Iraq and Uganda.
Of the 8.1 million boxes, 5.5 million came from the United States; all 50 states and Puerto Rico participated in the effort. The remaining 2.6 million boxes were supplied by Austria, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
When average drivers find themselves becoming nicely acquainted with a roadside ditch, it’s safe to say they either got really unlucky, or they forgot how to drive with pretty white flakes on the ground.
It happens every year.
“Unfortunately, the general population doesn’t drive well in ideal conditions,” said Don Sherman, 66, the technical director at Car and Driver Magazine. “Put some stress on them, and it’s even worse.”
Megan Devries, 21, an automotive student at Washtenaw Community College, speculates that drivers simply get out of the habit of driving safely in inclement weather.
“People forget how to drive in the snow,” she said, “because in the summer they drive fast and don’t remember to slow down.”
But being ready for winter can be simple.
“It’s a combination of preparation and experience,” Sherman said.
He knows his way around cars and driving, and here are his helpful pointers to keep you safe on Michigan’s winter roadways:
- Be prepared! The car and the driver must be prepared for the worst winter has to offer.
- Get good tires. This is the most important part. Spend the extra money to get a set of four snow tires. Get rid of those old bald ones.
- Gather a few survival items. Have an ice scraper, jumper cables, a means of getting or being towed (such as a tow strap or chain) and something warm like a blanket, just to name a few essential items.
- Understand the capabilities of your vehicle. “Most people don’t use the majority of their car’s capabilities,” Sherman said. “Getting a feel for it helps people be prepared. People don’t know how to drive to their car’s full capabilities.” He suggests practicing in empty parking spots, or wide open streets. Get a feel for your car’s ABS (anti-lock brake system) when it kicks on during hard braking, or what it’s like to loose control of your vehicle. This will prepare you for when it happens on the mean streets. You don’t want your car to surprise you.
- Be ready for other people’s incompetence. Not everyone is as gifted as you are behind the wheel. Give them space on the road.
- Leave earlier than normal. Common sense, but some people forget to allow extra time for driving slower in bad conditions.
- Car Maintenance. Top off washer fluid, replace old and dried out wipers and check your tire pressure.
This list is only intended as a reminder. Devries says Michigan drivers should try and recall treacherous experiences from previous years.
“Drivers should only be given like two weeks after the snow falls to adapt to new driving conditions,” she said. “After that, people are just dumb.”
One way to give back to the local community is through volunteering to educate our youth. In particular, teaching low income and at-risk youth can make a lasting difference both in the life of an individual and the community at large.
Several area volunteer agencies specialize in education. Here is a sampling of a few who could use more volunteers.
Family Learning Institute ― Reading and Math Education
Volunteer coach Cliff Grupke and student Matthew Frazier meet one-on-one for reading help at the Family Learning Center in Ann Arbor. (Family Learning Center Courtesy Photo)
Each spring for the last five years, WCC has hosted a spelling bee called “Bee on Board for Literacy.” This fundraiser brings in up to $35,000 for the Family Learning Institute or FLI.
FLI helps children of poverty find a way to succeed in school. The organization, started by retired teacher, Doris Sperling, served the first few students in 2000 and has grown since. Currently, FLI is providing reading help for 48 students and math help for 14.
Students from Washtenaw County in second through fifth grades who qualify as low-income and are at least one grade behind in reading may enter the program.
When students complete a reading book they are rewarded with an official certificate at the Family Learning Institute in Ann Arbor. (Bob Conradi/The Washtenaw Voice)
Each child, upon admission, is given a test called the Qualitative Reading Inventory. This test becomes the basis for an individualized plan to build the student’s ability where he is weak. A test at the end of the year assesses progress.
The program gives focused attention to learners that is often difficult for teachers to provide in schools. In addition to weekly one-on-one sessions with an assigned coach, the students meet in small groups to practice writing and group interaction skills.
The teaching focuses on practical skills like organizing thoughts. For this skill a “brain storm box” is used, where a central theme is supported by the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. The five fingers of a hand aid in recall.
Amy Rolfes, executive director, is the only full-time staff at Family Learning Institute in Ann Arbor. (Bob Conradi/The Washtenaw Voice)
Teachers follow a scripted lesson plan.
“We’ve come a long way in supporting the coaches,” said Amy Rolfes executive director of FLI. “When a volunteer signs up to coach it’s our duty to teach the teacher.” This includes classes for coaches on specific topics such as the culture of poverty.
The results of FLI’s methods have been impressive. Between 70 and 80 percent of the students increase their reading grade by at least one level.
826Michigan ― Teaching creative expression through writing
The intriguingly named Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair Store sells an array of novelty items, mostly with a robot theme. Here one can purchase replacement positronic brains, grasping appendages, robot tears and even “Robot Roast” coffee.
Behind the red curtain at the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair Store is a world designed for learning, 826Michigan. (Bob Conradi/The Washtenaw Voice)
It is behind the red curtain at the back of the store where the real magic happens. In the back room, students ages 6-18, obtain homework help and learn to express their creativity through writing.
Welcome to 826Michigan, one of only eight 826 sites around the country. The original 826 was created in San Francisco, in 2002, by author Dave Eggers.
Ann Arbor got on board with the franchise in 2005. The store was originally monster-themed and located on State Street near Briarwood Mall. However, the robots staged a coup and moved the headquarters to 115 E. Liberty Street.
Volunteers, who call themselves “robotiers,” (pronounced: robot-ee-ays) mind the store. Emily Jennings, 38, of Ann Arbor has worked there for three years and enjoys the freedom it affords to do her own work on her laptop. The robots pique the children’s interest in learning. Money from sales goes to support the educational projects.
Emily Jennings, 38, of Ann Arbor ia a volunteer robotier at the Robot Supply & Repair Shop on East Liberty Street. (Bob Conradi/The Washtenaw Voice)
Volunteers are also central to supporting this mission.
One such project is drop-in tutoring, which takes place Monday through Thursday, between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.,. Here, local students may get individualized help with their class assignments.
Another project is the Creative Writing Workshops offered on weekends and evenings. These sessions introduce creative forms of writing and usually last 90 minutes. Themes have included mapping a fantasy universe, exploring the concept of infinity and creating one’s own superhero.
Besides these one-off classes, there is a continuing session called Story Problems: Prose and Poetry Workshop where students bring in and discuss their independent writings with others. Classes are held regularly for SAT preparation and essay writing for college applications.
“We give students as much one-on-one attention as we can,” said Program Coordinator Catherine Calabro. “That’s something that’s disappearing from a lot of classrooms.”
The student-teacher ratio is usually no greater than 3-1.
Youth who venture into the back room of the Robot Supply & Repair Store find a world designed for learning. (Bob Conradi/The Washtenaw Voice)
Most of these teachers are volunteers, adults who have completed high school, filled out an application, passed a background check and gone through an orientation session.
826Michigan especially needs volunteers for its off-site projects in the Ypsilanti area.
At Ypsilanti Middle School, 50 students meet from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. for homework help and a book project, four days a week. The book will be a professionally bound anthology of written works from all of the participants. Volunteers make this happen.
In-school residency programs are another way to contribute. Volunteers in the program act as teacher’s aids by providing one-on-one help to students, grading papers and manning reading and writing stations.
826Michigan provides all the training needed for willing volunteers, but they need people to train.
To get involved visit 826Michigan.org, click on the volunteer tab, then click on the link to the online volunteer application.
Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum ― Science Education
In the spring of most years, the Automotive and Motorcycle Technology Department of WCC transports a load of equipment and puts on a fun-filled weekend demonstration at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum located at 220 E. Ann St. The project is run by volunteer students and faculty aided by museum staff.
Similar events occur throughout the year at this family-oriented science education venue. The museum is designed to engage youth in the joy of science by making it interactive and fun.
It takes a village of volunteers, however, to make all the projects happen, about 500 volunteers each year. These unpaid helpers are typically high school or college students or members of a community or industry group with an interest in science education.
Volunteers must be older than 18 or 11-18 with a work permit, said Ann Hernandez, acting director of Educational Programs.
Jobs may include preparation and packaging of materials for hands-on experiments, mailing out materials for videoconference-based learning, manning demonstrations, office work and fund-raising. Some representative projects have been kaleidoscope building and making slime.
Learning science is a family affair.
“When people are helping out with these activities they are not only talking to just kids, but also to whole families,” Hernandez said.
Groups that have volunteered at the museum include Key Club (high school Kiwanis), Circle K (college Kiwanis), the Rotary Club, fraternities and sororities like Alpha Phi Omega from the University of Michigan.
Join the fun the next time WCC presents its Car Carnival, but don’t wait until then to enjoy the museum and to get involved with this valued community asset.
To join the fun, visit aahom.org and click on “Volunteer” in the “About Us” dropdown menu. There is both a group and individual volunteer application.