CEDAM Blog

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3 Takeaways from the Summit on Race and Inclusion

Written by Ross Yednock, Program Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition

The first time I ever visited Holland, Michigan was in January 1992, on a football recruiting visit to Hope College. At the time, I associated this area with its lack of diversity. This was because I remember that virtually everyone I met that day looked like me, and to this day, that implicit bias on the area’s lack of diversity is what immediately comes to mind when I think of Holland and Hope.

Last week, I attended the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Summit on Race and Inclusion, an annual event held (serendipitously enough) at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. The event dates back to 2001 and began as part of a five-year regional summit on racism series. In 2006, in response to its success, it became a bi-annual event. Now, as an annual and sold-out event, hundreds of people from the region and across the state spend the day engaged with other community members and key stakeholders working to eliminate racial barriers in the lakeshore region. From this event, I had three great takeaways.

  1. Inclusion is NOT a balancing act where lifting up one vulnerable community or population comes at the expense of another. An example was given of when the City of Seattle changed the way it replaced burnt-out street lights. Prior to the change, some of the predominantly black neighborhoods that were witnessing increasing violent crime were also having burnt-out street lights not being replaced because residents were not calling the city to have them fixed. The change was to begin regularly replacing street light bulbs based-on their expiration dates across the city to decrease areas with non-working lights, especially in neighborhoods experiencing higher crime. While this change helped to keep these neighborhood’s streetlights working, an unexpected result was that residents in the more affluent neighborhoods commended the change because they were tired of calling to report burnt-out street lights. So while the policy was designed to help those residents living in more the neighborhoods more vulnerable to violent crime, all of the city’s residents benefited.
  2. People seeking to impact positive change need to preach outside of the choir. This is such a simple concept, but one that I think needs highlighting. All too often, as advocates for change and supporters of diversity and racial inclusion, we find ourselves talking to folks who are fellow supporters and champions. Rather, we should focus on those who do not agree or are reticent on the issue and work to change their view on these issues.
  3. We should work harder to recognize implicit bias and work to prevent it from negatively impacting our efforts to improve our communities and advance our work, regardless of the field. Unlike an explicit bias, which is a conscious level endorsement or refutation of an idea (e.g. I like people who went to Michigan State University, because I went there and I have an open bias toward them), an implicit bias is a bias or judgement that comes from below conscious awareness and without intentional control (e.g. “Holland is not diverse” is a visceral or sub-conscious judgement that is not supported by facts, but rooted in my past experience associated with the judgement). Negative explicit bias is often openly repudiated, but implicit bias all too often seeps into our policies and negatively impacts our work.

This annual event has become one of my favorites, and one I would like to see replicated elsewhere in Michigan. It was my second time attending and just like the first time, I left with some answers to my questions, thoughts to ponder and constructive ideas to help challenge some of the implicit biases that are out there with regard to race and ethnicity.  If ever there was a summit that needed to grow, incorporate more communities and include more participants, this would be it.

Did you attend the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Summit on Race and Inclusion? What were your takeaways?

5 Key Components to a Successful Board of Directors

Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist

Whether you are working for an organization with a board, or have sat on a board of directors, we all likely share similar experiences within the nonprofit world. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session at the Building Michigan Communities Conference in April led by Tom Williams of the Nonprofit Network that provided insight for maximizing your board’s full potential.

From this, I put together five key components to consider when either planning a board or are a participating board member.

1. Composition and Needs

checklist-1275665_640This is a fundamental, yet important thing to consider with board of directors. Rather than seeking a warm body or somebody you know, it’s more proactive and advantageous to the organization to seek out people who bring specific skills, experiences and demographics to the conversation. A board functions to direct the strategy of an organization and if there lacks this diverse spectrum of composition and needs, the overall success can be limited. Instead, begin by carefully considering the existing board composition and prioritize your list based on your governance priorities and current needs.

2. Structure and Committees

graphic-1020359_640While every organization is different, common best practices include a the creation of different committees focused on key areas that help ensure the functionality and strategic direction of an organization’s progress. Beyond an Executive and Finance Committee, every board should have a group of dedicated people that meet to work on fundraising, program and services, audits and other special projects as they surface. The board’s job is to follow the strategic plan and govern the organization, and while the staff may coordinate and oversee the committees, they handle the day-to-day operations and implementation. The board’s involvement in committees help provide clarity and remove uncertainty.

3. Recruitment Process

interview-1018333_640Armed with your priorities for board composition and needs, you will then need to identify potential candidates that would be a good match for your organization. The process should be involved and include identification and research, followed by an initial contact, an interview and follow up to ensure that it is a good fit and potential relationship. After this, the committee should recommend that candidate to the board.

Interviews should convey professionalism and include relevant information, including meeting dates, bylaws, policies, a commitment form, evaluation methods and other informational documents. Further, the expectations of board service should be clear and it is critical to emphasize the responsibility, legal and ethical requirements and contribution expectations from new board members.

4. Orientation

puzzle-654957_640The more a board member understands the organization, the better job they can do participating in their role. An orientation is a helpful way to acclimate people and equip them with the tools to help them do their jobs successfully. Orientations should provide opportunities for board members to become familiar with the organization chart, position functions and responsibilities, glossary of common acronyms and facts and figures (budget, audience, revenue, expenses, awards, milestones, coverage map, etc.). In addition, they should get to each other, meet key individuals and understand how board meeting will work. These steps will help ensure that things are done appropriately and derail any potential confusion throughout the term.

5. Assessments

arrows-1229845_640Assessments provide built-in opportunities to make sure that board members are accountable for their commitments and avoid conflict and difficulties later. These should be planned ahead of time and given enough time for implementation. Organizations have to decide if they plan to do assessments internally or hire an outside facilitator. Whatever the process, it should be documented and consistent, and include follow up.

Next Steps

Each of these steps highlights important considerations for an organization to maximize their board’s potential. While these are merely an overview, there are more best practices and details that can be explored for each unique situation. CEDAM offers custom services, strategic technical assistance and other resources, and the Nonprofit Network is also available for consulting services. In addition, there is endless reading available online through different search queries if you are looking for more general information and a place to start.

Are there areas in which your board could be more successful?

5 Important Things to Consider While Fundraising

Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

Many people involved in the nonprofit sector will tell you there is very little “fun” in fundraising. You’re put in the position to ask people to back up what your organization believes in, and your left to their thoughts on what your organization may do with their donation or whether they really believe in the work you’re doing. It’s a tricky spot to be in, but here are 5 ways to make fundraising a little easier for organizations.

  1. Plan your fundraising, and work on it regularly.modern-technologies-1263422_640

    See where the organization is currently at with fundraising, and ask questions pertaining to what methods worked and set realistic goals for growth. Also make sure anybody who is involved with fundraising is clear on the organization’s mission, its accomplishments and tangible results potential donors can see. Consider giving donors some small incentive, such as more regular updates on your organization or giving them recognition on your newsletter or website.

  2. Think of who can help you raise funds.

    Generally, asking for donations is okay with just about anybody. There are some people that are easy to ask, such as an existing donor base, current and former board members and volunteers who you know care about your cause. There are also others such as local officials, vendors and businesses that may be able to help you out if you ask the right person. The group that is usually the most difficult is personal contacts, such as friends and family. Do some research using Google, LinkedIn or Facebook and see if people in this group might have a tie to the organization’s cause or have a history of giving, and check in with them if they do. Also take into account any life situations (a new baby in the family, moving, etc.) that might make it better for you to wait.

  3. Ask face-to-face whenever possible. 

    Solicitation methods show that potential donors are 50-70% more likely to respond when you ask them personally. While telephone calls and events can work as well, try to ask in person when possible so the person can see your reactions and can ask any questions they may have immediately. Try to only use email and direct mail to ask for donations if you are sending them in mass, as people tend to know this is a rather impersonal method.

  4. When talking to a potential donor, talk about your personal connectionmoney-652560_640 to the organization.

    After opening a discussion with a potential donor and letting them know more about the organization, tell them why you care about it. People tend to have a better connection with the emotions of others, so use this so they grow to care about the organization as well.

  5. If you are raising money for a specific event, recruit a host committee of volunteers who are willing to raise money specifically for your event.

    Having a group who will handle potential donors, and making sure they are well versed with your organization, its mission, etc. can ensure that others at the organization can plan for a successful event.

These tips were learned during the Tried, True and New Fundarising Techniques session led by Rebecca Bahar-Cook, Capitol Fundraising Associates and Amanda Stitt, Change Media Group at the 2016 Building Michigan Communities Conference. What are some additional tactics you’ve tried?

2016 Community Economic Development Award Winners

CEDAM board and staff are pleased to recognize the people and organizations this year that have acted as key contributors to the community economic development field. Congratulations to all of our award winners!

Community Economic Development Leader of the Year

Each year CEDAM recognizes a Community Economic Development Leader of the Year: a member who has engaged in creative new programming, been involved in an exciting new development, or has generally proved to be a leader in the field. CEDAM wishes to recognize this year’s recipient, the Lansing Office of Financial Empowerment.

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After opening in 2013 through a
grant from the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund, a project of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Lansing Office of Financial Empowerment is the first of its kind in Michigan. Through a
number of local partnerships, financial coaching, and one-on-one services, they are available help to improve financial stability for members of the community. Between 2013 and 2015, Lansing’s Financial Empowerment Center served nearly 2,700 clients with more than 7,500 free financial counseling sessions, helping clients to reduce their debt by $4.79 million and increase their savings by $328,000. Beyond this success, they are leading by example for other centers opening across Michigan and paving the way for more innovation through local strategic partnerships that serve to empower its residents.

Community Economic Development Advocate of the Year

The Community Economic Development Advocate of the Year award goes to an organization or individual who has done the most to advance community economic development in Michigan. This year, CEDAM is recognizing Nancy Finegood. Nancy has spent her professional career working to form connections, secure resources, and provide an understanding of the value that healthy and historic neighborhoods bring to Michigan residents and the economy.

Nancy FinegoodNancy understands the full impact of historic preservation, rehabilitation, Main Streets, and other components to sustain healthy neighborhoods and works tirelessly to advocate and secure resources for them. She has served as the Executive Director for the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and is  partnered with a number of other organizations, including the Michigan Vacant Property Campaign, CEDAM’s Policy Committee, and the MiNeighborhood Program. She is constantly advocating for resources that protect Michigan neighborhoods, including direct outreach to educate legislators and showcase the full effect of nonprofit and volunteer work.

Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps Host Site of the Year

The Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps Host Site of the Year award is presented annually to recognize a MFPC host site dedicated to making a difference in the community in which they serve and exemplifies the spirit of national service. This year’s winner is the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF), located in Grand Rapids. . Despite their large size in serving six counties in Western Michigan and their variety of community programs, they always take time to provide support and guidance to their AmeriCorps members

ICCFICCF has hosted Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps’ members since the programs inception in 2009. As the first point of contact for people at-risk of losing their homes to foreclosure, members serving at ICCF serve a vital role in determining case urgency, answering client questions, readying paperwork, and overseeing all referrals from the Step Forward Michigan portal. In addition, ICCF is participating in the financial empowerment pilot project by utilizing the AmeriCorps program to build the capacity of their VITA free tax assistance program. ICCF is committed to responding to community needs in effective ways and engaging the skills and benefits of their AmeriCorps members in shaping their processes.

Join us next year at the Building Michigan Communities Conference for a variety of great conference sessions related to community economic development, and see who shone in 2016!

Food Forward MI: Food Sovereignty and Governance

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Over the last few decades as food inputs and sourcing is of increasing interest to consumers and “buy local” campaigns grow more main stream, the idea of food sovereignty and governance frequently comes up. Who controls our food, food decision making and rights? Nationally, a rare bi-partisan compromise has helped move forward the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, for example, making it more palatable for K-12 planning and implementation of healthy meals in 2015. Similarly and not surprisingly, within Michigan the history of food policy also winds its way according to government administration, as well as funding and local champions. Much progress has been made, however, and Michigan stands out nationally as a trailblazer in the local food movement, including policy. Currently, philanthropic, academic, public and private partnerships are working together on food access challenges ranging the gamut from institutional procurement to farmland rights and migrant labor law, to name a few.

At the end of 2015, HB5180 was introduced by the American Heart Association with the intention of complimenting the MI Good Food Fund (a philanthropic partnership) and goal of facilitating local food access by offering food retail supports. This type of a collaborative effort goes well back, but gained governmental acknowledgement and support in 2005 under the Granholm administration through development of the MI Food Policy Council. The Council was developed to recommend policy and programming that would build a local, healthy food supply chain. Out of this effort, the MI Good Food Charter was developed envisioning 20% of Michigan intuition’s foods sourced from at least 20% of MI production, feeding 80% of the population with healthy, local foods by 2020. The Council was abolished at the end of 2014 and Governor Snyder consolidated activities to form the Interdepartmental Collaboration Committee Subcommittee on food policy, however the work of the Charter continues to gain momentum and still drives policy work.

Today at the local level those looking to engage in regional policy advocacy and change are encouraged to join the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems facilitated Local Food Council Network – a peer to peer learning network that helps convene those functioning municipal level food councils to recommend practices and policies affecting their food system. These recommendations and action steps might include work around: business supports or livestock ordinances, for example, as well as how to effectively advocate and educate law makers. To better understand what is happening on the ground level and get involved now, connect with the statewide Food Justice and Sovereignty Work Group. For more information on Michigan food policy, please read the full article here.

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mary-zumbrunnenAbout the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the Director of Talent & New Market Initiatives at Prima Civitas, a statewide economic development non-profit catalyzing Michigan. She holds a BS in agriculture and natural resource communications from Michigan State University (MSU) and an MS in community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies, also from MSU. Currently she is pursuing a master of business administration. A small business owner and backyard farmer, Mary energetically works to facilitate sustainable development through citizen engagement. Connect with Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen and learn about other development projects onwww.primacivitas.org today.

CEDAM member Amber Paxton assumes national leadership role as co-chair of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Coalition

Written by: Megan Kursik, Coordinator of the Michigan Communities for Financial Empowerment

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Amber addressing the Mayor of Miami during the coalition meeting last week.

Cities from across the U.S. convened in Miami last week for the bi-annual Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Coalition Forum. The CFE Coalition is a group of city governments committed to supporting the financial capability of their residents through innovative programs and local policy. Forums bring coalition members together to share new ideas and learn from each other’s experiences.

Amber Paxton’s selection as co-chair is indicative of the strength and success of the City of Lansing’s Office of Financial Empowerment, which was created in 2013 as part of Mayor Bernero’s commitment to ensuring all Lansing residents have the opportunity to take advantage of economic development happening in the city. As Director of the Office of Financial Empowerment, Amber oversees programs that help Lansing residents to access free financial counseling, affordable banking and savings tools and consumer protections.

I caught up with Amber to congratulate her on her new leadership role and talk with her about Lansing’s financial empowerment work.

MK: Congratulations on your first CFE Coalition Forum as co-chair! Can you tell us about what the coalition does?

AP: The CFE Coalition is member-led and all about connecting with other cities engaged in municipal financial empowerment. We get to share our successes, but also get help addressing challenges that pop up when we implement programs in our cities. Because this is a fairly new role for cities to play, the coalition helps connect peers from across the U.S. We also want to spread the financial empowerment message and grow the movement, so we look to invite new members every year.

MK: And why was the City of Lansing invited to the coalition?

AP: Lansing was invited to join the coalition in 2014, after successfully launching a Financial Empowerment Center and establishing our Office of Financial Empowerment in 2013. I think Lansing is an important city to be represented because we are a lot smaller than the other member cities. Lansing proves that the municipal financial empowerment approach is effective even in cities with smaller populations and smaller budgets than original coalition members, like New York and San Francisco.

MK: Has Lansing’s financial empowerment work grown since you launched your Financial Empowerment Center?

AP: Most definitely! After launching the Financial Empowerment Center we decided to take a look across the life course and target programs to our children and young adults. The Financial Empowerment Center serves adults in our community with free financial counseling. We wanted to find a way to start earlier with conversations around saving and good financial habits. In January 2015 we launched Lansing SAVE, which enrolls all kindergarten students in the Lansing School District in seeded college savings accounts. The accounts are provided by Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, who also comes into the classrooms to teach financial education. Now we are planning a program to target young adults in the city’s Summer Youth Employment program. We’re going to help them open bank accounts, sign up for direct deposit and plan how to use their first paychecks.

MK: And why should cities be involved in this work?

AP: At the City of Lansing, we strongly believe that financial empowerment should be considered a public service. It’s not enough that we just provide emergency services and other supports to stem families’ financial crises. While these programs are extremely important, we also owe it to our residents to help them do better in the future. Financial counseling and other financial empowerment programs help families target the root causes of their financial instability. After working with us to deal with debt, increase their credit, access affordable financial services and start to save for emergencies, Lansing families can take control of their financial lives.

MK: Thanks so much for chatting with me!

AP: Anytime!

The Michigan Communities for Financial Empowerment is a program of CEDAM. To learn more about the work described in this blog post, check out mcfe.cedam.info or contact Megan Kursik at kursik@cedam.info.

6 Things To Do in Lansing

Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communication & Training Specialist

Whether a frequent or first-time visitor, there are a lot of things to do during a trip to Lansing. With the upcoming Building Michigan Communities Conference in mind, CEDAM staff put together this list of six things to do in Lansing.

1. Take a Walk on Washington Ave

Photo credit: Jeff B., flickr

Photo credit: Jeff B., flickr

With its old cobblestone road, shops, restaurants and historic architecture, Washington Avenue is Lansing’s downtown district and right outside the conference doors. Iconic buildings include the Knapp Building and the Boji Tower and feature Art Deco-inspired architecture. Busy with walkers and nearby employees taking lunch breaks, it’s an area full of daytime energy.

Colorful, charming and accessible, Washington Avenue is a great place to take a quick walk, get some fresh air and grab some local snacks when you have some free time.

2. Visit the Capitol Building

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(Photo credit: Carolyn Carrigan, flickr)

Speaking of the Capitol building, no trip to Lansing would be complete without a visit to the Michigan State Capitol Building. Approximately one block from the conference center, you can’t miss at least seeing iconic building.

Completed in 1879, construction took six years and it contains more than nine acres of hand-painted surfaces. Designed by Elijah E. Myers, the Victorian-inspired building is award-winning and a local favorite. While a novelty to take in views from the outside, is also breathtaking on the inside with the exquisite rotunda and beautiful decor.

Open from 9am-4pm daily, you can take a guided tour or freely roam around.

3. Walk Along the Lansing River Trail

River Trail in Lansing (Photo credit: Marc, flickr)

(Photo credit: Marc, flickr)

If you walk outside the Lansing Center, you can immediately step onto the Lansing River Trail. Following the river, you can travel all the way to MSU or up through Old Town, taking in pretty views of natural landscape and neighborhoods.

It’s provides a readily available opportunity to get a breath of fresh air with any available free time, even if just a few minutes.

4. Visit Old Town

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(Photo credit: Brandon Bartoszek, flickr)

Complete with unique and locally owned shops, galleries, restaurants and beautiful historic buildings, Old Town is about a half a mile away from the Lansing Center right off of the River Trail. The Old Town experience is unmatched in Lansing with a general energy in the community, and is a fun way to spend some free time.

The Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA) is a Great American Main Street and a CEDAM member. In addition to the general support provided to the business district, the OTCA hosts a variety of events and placemaking activities throughout the year, including music festivals, networking breakfasts, gallery walks, fun runs, theater and more. Stop in their offices on Turner Street and say hello if you are in the neighborhood.

5. Visit Allen Street Market

Allen Street Farmers Market (Photo credit: Prima Civitas Foundation, flickr)

(Photo credit: Prima Civitas Foundation, flickr)

The Allen Neighborhood Center (ANC), also a CEDAM member, is located in the Eastside Neighborhood in Lansing along Kalamazoo Avenue. Among all of the great programs the ANC has to support its neighborhood, the Allen Market Place is an innovative food hub that is worth checking out. The Market Place hosts the Exchange, their online wholesale market for local foods, a licensed incubator kitchen, rental space for events or meetings and a year round farmers market. The farmers market brings a variety of local farmers, artisans, restaurants and vendors to provide delicious and quality goods for sale, and is open on Wednesdays from 3-6:30pm. Learn more here.

6. Take in Local Craft Beverages

(Photo credit, littlekiss, flickr)

(Photo credit, littlekiss, flickr)

Like many places in Michigan, Lansing is embracing the local distillery and beer movement with many nearby local venues in the Stadium District. The Lansing Brewing Company is down the street from the Lugnuts Stadium on the corner of Cedar and Shiawassee Streets. This brewery was the first in Lansing, opening in 1897. Prohibition led to its closing in 1914, but its 2015 revival has been widely popular and is a local favorite. A full food menu is available along with a variety of craft beer styles.

If spirits are more your preference, check out the American Fifths Distillery on Larch Street. Serving locally produced gin, whiskey and vodka, an extensive menu of craft cocktails are available. Their light menu consists of light snacks and finger foods.

If you are stopping by the Allen Market Place (see number 5), stop inside Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale. Part of the Allen Market Place, they serve locally brewed artisan beer in their tap room on Wednesdays from 4-7pm and Fridays from 5-7pm.

Enjoy your trip to Lansing, whether for BMCC or for other reasons. Let us know how you spend your time and what you think of our list of places to visit. Also, stop by the CEDAM office anytime. We’d love to show you around.

What is it Like to Live in Poverty?

Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist

“We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”

Be Great 004This famous statement by Nelson Mandela rings true for people working to create vibrant communities and provide supportive services for people. Serving our communities, we all have a basic understanding of economic disparity and the associations that come along with it. However, if we all have different life experiences and come from different backgrounds, can we truly empathize if we don’t share similar stories?

Further, can we really provide the highest level of service if we aren’t sure of the different needs and opportunities in our communities?

Poverty Simulation

Be Great 039CEDAM facilitates poverty simulations to help staff better understand what it’s like to live in poverty. This interactive training puts everyday challenges into perspective by providing participants with a new persona for their time in poverty. During the simulation, participants go to work, take care of their children, visit the grocery store, bank and community agencies and try to end the simulation in a better situation than they began.

In most cases, participants at some point feel frustrated, are broke and can’t quite do what it takes to make ends meet or get everything accomplished in time.

Benefits

Be Great 010The poverty simulation allows participants to consider another person’s circumstances and compare it to what they think we already know about life in poverty. It also reminds attendees about all the resources that can be utilized to help the people served by their organizations.

With this resonance, we as service providers can do a better job serving our community. Our interactions with each other shape our experiences. Using perspective along with every possible piece of information that we have makes one less barrier toward a better future for somebody who is just trying to make it.

Participate

CEDAM is hosting a poverty simulation at the Building Michigan Communities Conference on Monday afternoon. All conference participants can join and work with people from different organizations.

We will also travel to your community to host a poverty simulation. Learn more at cedam.info/resources/poverty-simulation.

3 Reasons to Attend the Small Town & Rural Development Conference

Written by Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist at CEDAM

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Every year in April, the Michigan Rural Council hosts the Small Town and Rural Development Conference. The conference attracts everyone from city managers to Chamber Directors to local economic development professionals who are interested and passionate about small towns in Michigan and the great potential of our rural areas.

Here are three reasons to attend the 2016 conference:

  1. Our lunch keynote speaker, Paul Costello, the Executive Director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development will talk about how America’s rural roots influence the larger process of where we are going as a state.

  2. The City of Mt. Pleasant worked with developers to facilitate redevelopment of properties without mandating full conformance with current standards, resulting in transformed downtown residential areas that are safer, more aesthetically pleasing and with significantly raised taxable values. Learn how they did that.

  3. Learn about an innovative Talent Retention Program in Michigan’s Thumb area in which a group of community foundations are incentivizing their college-educated youth to return home after obtaining a college degree.

2015RuralConferenceAnd, of course, you won’t want to miss the Tuesday night dinner which will include food made with Michigan ingredients and a beer pairing from North Peak Brewery.

The conference provides an opportunity to showcase topics critical to rural development in a way that facilitates discussion of new ideas and moves ideas to action. You will be inspired to see the innovative ways that rural areas across the state are finding ways to drive economies, increase wealth of rural areas and improve the lives of rural residents. We hope to see you there! Register here.

Follow updates on twitter throughout the conference using #Miruralconf

Voices of AmeriCorps: Danielle Harvey

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Danielle Harvey serves with Community Housing Network in Troy

My name is Danielle Harvey, and I am an AmeriCorps member serving at Community Housing Network in Troy as a Foreclosure Prevention Intake Specialist. I receive calls from clients who need help with delinquent property taxes and/or mortgage payments. I point eligible clients to the Step Forward Michigan Program, and help them keep their homes. I enjoy every single minute of being an AmeriCorps member, I wish I could have been involved in AmeriCorps even sooner than my start date 3 months ago!

The Step Forward Michigan Program assists homeowners with their delinquent property taxes and/or mortgage payments. Before starting my service term, I had no idea that a program like Step Forward even existed. The Step Forward Michigan Program is one of those programs that should be around for everyone to give monetary relief for those in need of help. It saddens me not to able to send clients to Step Forward Michigan and give them relief of stress about losing their home.

So far being an AmeriCorps member has taught me to be stronger and to keep striving for greatness. I assumed that only low income people would need assistance from Step Forward but I have spoken with people from a wide variety of income brackets. A lot of these clients have run into hard times: one small change in their income or misstep in their plan causes their whole world to unfold. For example, a divorce or a spouse who has been diagnosed with cancer can be an unforeseen financial stress, or for seniors their income becoming social security can be an issue. As an intake specialist I answer the phone and do intake with clients, assess the situation and try to help. I realize these are people just like me who are looking for an ear, looking for someone to listen to their story, looking for someone to care. By providing that customer service, I am able to assist people through their crisis and make an impact in their lives.

Being an AmeriCorps member has also taught me the importance of planning and following through when it comes to buying a house. I was not aware of the enormous process that goes into buying a home prior to AmeriCorps. There are so many moving parts and people involved. It is important to know and understand all players of the game, like the servicer, investor, insurer and others. You need to know what you are getting yourself into and know that owning a home may not always be what is best for everyone.

Danielle Harvey is an AmeriCorps member at Community Housing Network in Troy.

This post is part of a blog series highlighting the viewpoints of Michigan AmeriCorps Foreclosure Prevention Corps members serving at different foreclosure host sites around Michigan. View information about the program or see more stories in this series.