Welcoming the Next Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps Members

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead

10,627. That’s the number of homeowners facing foreclosure served through intake and triage by AmeriCorps members in the 2012-2013 program year.

30,000. That’s the number of hours that MFPC members provided of service to their host organizations in the 2012-2013 program year.

Last week, the newest group of Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps (MFPC) members began their year of service with a certified housing counseling agency in Michigan. This group of people, some brand new and others returning for an additional term, will spend their time on a variety of projects that help people who are facing foreclosure. They will offer countless hours of volunteer recruitment, marketing and outreach and intake and triage services. They will be empathetic toward homeowners and support them as they prepare to see a housing counselor, making sure that their process is as complete and organized as possible.

Many AmeriCorps members are just entering the professional world, others are new to this particular field. It is a big job with a lot of warm and fuzzy payback, but, as in any job, can be overwhelming. In preparation for their orientation last week, members from the last program year offered some advice.


click to view the pdf

What advice would you add?

Microenterprise Month: Putting the Heart in Michigan Communities


By Marcy Kates, Coordinator of the Microenterprise Network of Michigan

Pretend you can fly. As you soar through a bright blue Michigan sky, skimming the tops of brightly-hued autumnal trees, you spot your community and your neighborhood. Dip down closer, see the tops of the houses and buildings. Tilt your wings and swoop over a commercial area near where you live—maybe it’s the actual Main Street, or perhaps it’s simply a nearby smaller commercial/business enclave.

Land somewhere at street level, and look around. What do you see? A barber shop or salon that’s been there for decades? A husband- and wife-owned bakery? A neighborhood bookshop? Perhaps a local coffee shop or teahouse? The list may go on and on. Take a walk through your local farmers market or craft mall, and you’ll meet many more of these individually owned businesses.  Imagine visiting any of these microenterprises, and listen to the conversations that occur on a daily basis. See commerce happening—money changing hands, with approximately eighty cents out of every dollar staying right there in the community.

Click to download the pdf

(Click to download the pdf)

Now imagine that these microenterprises don’t exist.
How does it change the character . . . the atmosphere . . . the HEART of your community? How would the relationships change—who might never meet and become acquainted? Would the same level of collaboration and network exist? Are there business partnerships that might never happen?

Last destination (for today at least)—think about your local organizations, including municipal boards and committees.  Who are the people who serve your community’s civic groups? Who are the Board Trustees, the Chairs, and the board members? Who do you see at every community event, ribbon cutting, and festival? Are they the same people who operate the smallest of businesses (or those who started small and grew)? In my small community, well over half of the people who regularly volunteer to serve on boards and help run our civic organizations are small business owners.

Microenterprise owners pour their hearts and their wallets into starting their businesses, at the same time often becoming the foundations of communities. This is why Microenterprise Month in Michigan is a celebration! We celebrate and appreciate these entrepreneurs.  Please comment and tell us about the special small businesses in your own communities!  #MIMicroBiz #MIMicroBizMonth

Utility Data & Energy Efficiency Pilot Programs

Organizations that utilize grants or other federal programs to fund projects understand that reporting and data are important, constant indicators of program monitoring and success. Gathering and processing data can be time consuming and tedious for everybody involved.

Making Data Collection Easier

A variety of software applications and processes are becoming readily available to make this process simpler and more accurate. Processing tenant utility data is one such example and MSHDA is working to reduce and simplify the approach through a pilot program in collaboration with New Ecology and WegoWise. This application pulls the data directly from DTE or Consumers Energy via a landlord portal, thereby eliminating the need to enter any data.

Read the full article by Catherine Schirm about the pilot program here.

Multifamily Energy Savings in Michigan

This application and pilot program ties into a bigger initiative to help increase energy efficiency and meet the needs of multifamily housing developments. This is a collaborative effort initiated by Consumers Energy formed a partnership with MSDHA, Michigan Energy Options, Elevate Energy and Michigan Saves. The program is designed to provide a one-stop-shop with a single point of contact to help you through the process of an initial energy analysis, contractor recommendations and implementation. Coupled with credits through Consumers Energy and loan options through Michigan Saves and others, it is an unbeatable deal for organizations to consider.

Listen to the discussion with Ed Love the Program Manager for the Consumers Energy Multifamily Energy Savers and also with Michigan Energy Options, and Todd O’Grady, the Michigan Saves Finance Consultant and hear more about what the pilot program involves and who qualifies.

Energy efficiency is coming to a head in Michigan. These are only a couple of programs available that help organizations meet their needs, and there are seemingly more every day. Let us know how we can help you find those resources and help you help your community.

Voices of AmeriCorps – Leondra Fair


“Of course there’s the cliché statement of “I have grown so much” or “AmeriCorps has prepared me for so and so,” but really the most valuable part of serving with people is that it has enhanced who I am. I realized what type of person I want to be not only moving forward into the professional world but as a whole.”

Leondra Fair

Leondra Fair

I decided to join AmeriCorps for many reasons. I wanted professional experience, I wanted to feel important, I wanted the stipend, insurance and school award. I had no idea what the service really entailed other than foreclosure and I probably didn’t really give it much thought. Looking back now on the reasons I chose to join was understandably reasonable at that time. After serving almost a year in AmeriCorps, I think that it would be a waste in so many ways to move forward in my life with thoughts centered primarily on what will benefit me. I found that there is so much I could do to contribute to relieving a lot of the hidden burdens people have.

My experience as an AmeriCorps member has been a wildly unexpected chain of profit, advantages and rewards. I say unexpected because I gained a lot of wisdom and maturity from the amazing people that I serve with and those that I assist. Of course there’s the cliché statement of “I have grown so much” or “AmeriCorps has prepared me for so and so,” but really the most valuable part of serving with people is that it has enhanced who I am. I realized what type of person I want to be not only moving forward into the professional world but as a whole.

It’s been a struggle in marrying self and service. It feels like neither is complete unless one vanishes. It has become a worthwhile struggle that has resulted in a person who has learned that she wants to be a person that is on time, does what she says she’s going to do, won’t complain, practices integrity and more importantly gives 100% to her craft. These are the virtues that have been modeled before me. It’s becoming the meat and potatoes that build my strong foundation of self with material benefits becoming the broth that keeps everything happily moving, and the hard work acting as the salt to bring out the flavor of character and wisdom.

I have been fortunate and honored to work with people in saving homes. To be introduced to real life pitfalls and being immersed into people’s personal lives is a tremendous responsibility. This AmeriCorps opportunity has shown me what life is all about, a tiring euphoria of creative service.

Leondra Fair is an AmeriCorps member at Inner City Christian Federation in Grand Rapids.

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.

Consumers Energy’s Energy Savers Affordable Multifamily Program

By Ed Love, Program Manager at Michigan Energy Options with contributions made by Ariana Gonzalez of NRDC

This past May saw the launch of a new energy efficiency pilot in Michigan. The Consumers Energy program designed specifically to meet the needs of multifamily affordable housing. Elevate Energy, a Chicago based non-profit, Michigan Energy Options, an East Lansing-based non-profit, Michigan Saves, a Lansing-based non-profit and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, joined forces with Consumers Energy to tailor a program to meet this housing group’s distinct set of challenges and opportunities.


Photo taken with an infrared camera from Sagewell, Inc shows a half insulated building.

Multifamily Affordable Housing Need

Who are we talking about and why do they need a tailored program? National multifamily occupant characteristics show that:

  • 28% are below the poverty line;
  • 13.5% of a family’s monthly income is spent on energy compared to the median household who spends 7%; and
  • HUD-assisted renter families with rent assistance spend 1/3 of their housing costs on energy. Comparatively, the average household only spends 1/8 of their housing costs on providing energy to their home.

Clearly, this housing group is spending a disproportionate amount of money on energy. Possible explanations include the fact that:

  • only 2% of multifamily units have received an energy audit,
  • 63% of units are poorly or only adequately insulated,
  • 30% of units have heating equipment that is over 20 years old,
  • or that 60% of units have heating equipment not routinely maintained.

Traditionally, multifamily affordable housing is considered hard to reach, but Michigan Energy Options’ Energy Savers “One-stop shop” program proves that groups are beginning to break through.  To qualify, a multifamily housing facility of 5 or more units must have at least 66% of its residents earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

“One-Stop Shop” Breakthrough

The “one-stop shop” not only provides a model for access, but a model for resounding success with a typical energy savings of 20-30%. What makes the program so effective is its comprehensive, yet streamlined process where the building owner has a single point of contact throughout the entire pursuit for deep and persistent energy efficiency.  The program walks the building owner through an energy analysis and on-site assessment, cost-effective energy saving recommendations, low-cost financing options with the help of Michigan Saves, contractor bids, construction oversight and quality assurance, utility incentives, and post-retrofit energy use monitoring. We act as the building owner’s advocate in assuring that energy efficient improvements are a good economic decision.  Aside from the measurable savings in lower utility bills for “the house”, there are other economic advantages to be had, such as tenant retention, shifting of energy allowance funds to rental income and more.  Most improvements are eligible for “reserve” funding, which helps building owners utilize capital that is usually reserved for improvement made under a capital need assessment.

The pilot’s goal is to touch 1,224 units in 79 buildings and utilize $400,000 worth of incentives over the next two years. Based on a typical centrally heated, 3-story, 24-unit masonry structure with 24,000 square feet of heated space, measures such as air sealing, roof insulation, boiler replacement, boiler controls, radiator replacement and CFL installations can result in savings on energy costs reaching $44,350 in 5 years. Seeing approximately the same level of success in these 1,224 units could translate into over $2,200,000 in energy cost savings in just 5 years!

Achieving Energy Efficiency for All

The launch of the Michigan Consumers pilot is one important step towards achieving energy efficiency for everyone. Energy efficiency is an incredible resource that can address so much more than just the burden of high energy costs. It can provide a more comfortable, affordable living space, reduce pollution, create healthier living environments and maintain affordable housing–particularly meaningful for this group. As Michigan continues to push toward higher renewable and energy efficiency standards, look to programs like this to be the model for clean and comprehensive energy solutions.

To apply for this program or for more information contact Ed Love at Michigan Energy Options at 517.337-0422, ext: 303 or via email at elove@michiganenergyoptions.org. Or visit their website at michiganenergyoptions.org and complete the online application.

Want to hear more? Join in our webinar with MEO and Michigan Saves on Thursday, Sptember 25 from 12-1pm. Register here.

Co-Working Spaces to Suite YOUR Needs

By Marcy Kates, Coordinator of the Microenterprise Network of Michigan

There’s a trend out there, and it is taking hold around the country—shared (or co-working) spaces are springing up in communities large and small, and can range from a spare office rented to a newly launched business, to no-wall open spaces housing a variety of start-ups, through full-service incubators and more.  Co-working in all its forms can lead to creativity, innovation, and success—for extroverts AND introverts—if the physical space and environment is carefully selected.

For the extroverts among us, this is obviously great—plenty of colleagues off which to bounce ideas (or hacky sacks), debate business philosophy or to beta-test apps.  The  no-wall/open space model works great for those who work best with abundant noise and activity—to an extrovert, that may be the preferred “white noise.” For introverts, who gain energy and motivation from quiet calm, this type of uber-social concept might appear problematic, if not terrifying.

Fortunately, there are many co-working spaces available that feature individual offices for tenants, but then offer common lounge, conference and other areas so that individuals can tailor their levels of social interactions. Many have round-the-clock availability, so tenants can select the hours when they are most productive—and perhaps even when the noise level suits them best.

It takes time and research to seek out the right space, as well as serious self-reflection about our own work habits and preferences. However, just as tailoring education plans to individual learning styles increases success in students, the time spent finding the most appropriate space will pay off in the end. All the services and assistance in the world may not help the new entrepreneur if the environment is inconsistent with his/her personality type.

For additional reading, here are a couple of interesting articles on the topic.


The Bright Side: Small Business

Designed for entrepreneurs, this episode covers starting a business, business incubators, locavesting, lending, patenting, DDA resources and the Microenterprise Network of Michigan.
pdfEpisode Transcript


1-introBusiness Intro[watch now]Additional details on some of the videos in this episode. 2-startStarting a Business[watch now]Tips and tricks for starting a business in Michigan presented by the I-69 Trade Corridor Region SBDC.

Full recording of the Starting a Business class.

3-incubakeIncu-BaKe, Holt

[watch now]

Incu-BaKe is a food business incubator with a commercial kitchen and a storefront with many Michigan-made foods.

4-investLocal Investing, Ypsilanti

[watch now]

Angela Barbash, founder of Reconsider, discusses how to use Michigan’s MILE Act to invest in local businesses or fund a startup through investment-based crowdfunding.

5-loanMicro and Business Loans, Flint

[watch now]

When a small business in Flint or Genesee County does not qualify for traditional lending, that is where Metro Community Development steps in.


[watch now]

Reid DeManche, a patent attorney with Quinn Law Group, explains the basics of patenting and the time and costs of each step of obtaining a patent. Inventor resources are online at USPTO.

FULL VIDEO coming soon

7-mnmMNM Resource Directory

[watch now]

How to use the MNM resource directory to find business resources in Michigan.

8-blissfieldBlissfield DDA, Blissfield

[watch now]

Michigan downtown development authorities have resources to help businesses locate downtown. Visit downtown Blissfield for an example.

9-nowNow or Never

[watch now]

Closing remarks on business in Michigan and when it’s time to dive in.


Partners for Rural America Conference Recap

By Jessica AcMoody, Policy & Program Specialist

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Wyoming for the Partners for Rural America (PRA) annual summer conference. The conference highlights rural economic development around the country, and gives members of PRA an opportunity to share exciting rural development going on in their state as well as learn what is happening regionally and federally with government programs aimed at rural communities.

Partners for Rural America was formed to support the efforts of State Rural Development Councils (SRDCs) which are positioned to expand economic and social opportunities for America’s rural communities and their residents, promote equal treatment of rural America by government agencies and the private sector, and to provide a collective voice for rural America. (More information on SRDCs can be found here).


Fossil Butte National Monument

Along with members of SRDCs in numerous states, attendees included representatives from HUD, USDA Rural Development, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, the State of Nevada’s Governor’s Office, Clemson University, Southern Utah University, chambers of commerce and extension offices. Sessions included a presentation on the Sustainable Communities Initiative, the Regional Center Area Sector Analysis & Process, and a panel on funding of SRDCs. One of the most interesting sessions was on rural philanthropy and the transfer of rural wealth (featuring stories from our two communities in our state – the Barry Community Foundation and the Fremont Area Community Foundation). This session highlighted the issues that the Michigan Rural Council’s Rural Philanthropy workgroup focused on and talked about ways community groups and foundations in rural areas could tap into wealth in the community. I was also able to give a brief presentation highlighting rural placemaking in Michigan, and the activities going on throughout Michigan surrounding MIplace and the placemaking initiative.


The Westmoreland coal mine

The second day of the conference was a tour entitled “Economic Drivers of Wyoming: Energy, Tourism and Agriculture”. The tour highlighted the various ways rural development is advancing the economy of Wyoming. It included a visit to a coal mine where surface mining takes place, a visit to a Wyoming Main Street program participant, a stop at a cattle ranch that included four generations of ranchers, a drive through a wind turbine field and a visit to Ft. Bridger State Park which first served as an emigrant stop along the Oregon Trail, then as an important stop on the Mormon trail in the 1850s, and finally as a military outpost in 1858.

It was inspiring to see the innovative ways that rural areas across the nation are finding to drive economies, increase wealth of rural areas and improve the lives of rural residents. I hope to lead the Michigan Rural Council in building on the ideas and innovations that I brought back to Michigan from the conference to help revitalize and enhance our rural communities.

How to Overcome Sudden Obstacles When Planning a Conference

By Liv Hagerman, Events & Membership Associate

When planning events there is bound to be obstacles. They can either be manageable or cause you a decent amount of stress. The following will help in dealing with the difficulties that are to follow an obstacle.

1) Stay Calm

It seems pretty simple and obvious, but surprisingly the most forgotten step. When you let your anxiety take over, you begin to think unclearly and make sudden rash decisions. If you don’t stay calm you cause yourself unnecessary stress, as well as make the people around you stressed. Remember where there is a will, there is a way.

2) Back to the Drawing Board

Before the problem appeared, you chose this specific option. Go back to your other options. Reassess which one is the best with the new information, and roll with it. You can either choose one of your original options or create something new. Until a contract is in place, you can always start over.

3) Be Quick

When an obstacle happens, it takes time away from the final product. It’s always better to encounter an obstacle earlier rather than later. When you have been working on something for a while when the obstacle occurs you have suddenly wasted a grand amount of time. When starting over you have to move more swiftly in the decision making and the final details. Time suddenly flies, don’t let it trip you up; you must move quickly as well but you want the same kind of quality and effort you originally exerted.

4) Organization is Your Savior

From the start of your planning keep everything. Notes from the initial planning stage are important for when you need to revisit them to come up with option B. Also, read through all contracts line by line and make sure you understand all the language used. For more important details, such as deadlines, prices and contact information; it is best to highlight. It is more efficient to find such information if it already was found and sticks out. Being organized won’t only save you time but also decrease your stress level.

5) Put a Smile On

Don’t lose you’re charismatic self in the mix of it all. It’s much easier to get what you need if you’re friendly. People want to work harder for someone they like. Smiling makes you friendly and likable. If you let the stress change you persona, people will move slower and not make what you need a priority. Plus, a smile looks good on everyone! =)

6) It Will Work Out

There is always a solution to a problem. There is nothing you can’t overcome. There are other options that deserve to be explored, it may not be your first choice but it’s still a choice. Things are never perfect but you can put in the extra effort to make it the best you can do. If you do your best, people are still going to think the end result is awesome. Keep pushing on, things will fall into place.


Voices of AmeriCorps – Shannon Farmer


Shannon Farmer

I lost my husband five years ago to a brief illness. Shortly after, unable to meet the demands of being mother and father as well as the sole provider for my family, my three children and I became homeless. I felt ashamed, and everywhere I went, I felt like people thought I was looking for a hand out. I will never forget the feelings that I experienced during my stay in the homeless shelter. I felt like I had failed my family.

As a result of my experiences, I decided that I wanted to prevent others in my community from becoming homeless. When I first started my position with the Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps (MFPC), I was unsure that foreclosure intervention was my calling. After all, these people already had homes, and although they were fighting against circumstances usually beyond their control, they are not what I considered to be the vulnerable, homeless population that I felt I had a calling to work for. Despite my reservations, I decided to go for it and jumped in head first.

My experience as an AmeriCorps member has been challenging. I was like a fish out of water in the foreclosure prevention program because of my lack of experience with foreclosures. I have never even owned my own home. I have, however, been through many trying times and am able to empathize with clients. A person does not truly understand how it feels to be homeless unless they have felt that pain personally, and I use that personal experience to relate on a deeper level with clients. Some days I feel inadequate to the others working in my site office because I lack basic knowledge of some parts of the home ownership arena. Being able to put aside my insecurities and dive into the program was tough for me. With only a few months left, I am so glad I did. I feel a sense of accomplishment for serving my country while at the same time, learning new things and figuring out what I want to be “when I grow up.” I know I want to work with others in need and honestly, I don’t care in what aspect I do that.

I feel pride in myself that I have never felt before whenever I help a new client understand their DHS benefits or when I answer the phone and realize that I have the answers to the questions they have regarding their home in foreclosure. The other employees at my site come to me with questions about how to help clients because my experiences in life have taught me many things about the government system and community resources. My past is no longer a dark spot in my mind filled with tears, embarrassment and frustration. Those experiences have now transformed into tools that only I have to be able to assist and empower clients. I hope to continue this work after my year with AmeriCorps is over because I found new purpose in my life and want to continue to have an impact on lives one family at a time.

Shannon Farmer is an AmeriCorps member at City of Grand Haven Neighborhood Services in Grand Haven.

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.