Food Forward MI: Where Food Access and Community Development Merge


A community food system isn’t just about connecting local growers to a farm market or boosting seasonal tourism.

fruit-1022519_640Everyone has a stake in community. Not only do we all eat, which affects our health and well-being, but we must purchase that food thereby contributing to our local economy. Food also transcends our culture and brings us together through social networks. Yet, in most areas there is a disconnect between farmer and consumer – a critical linkage – ultimately short changing both physical and economic health as well as missing cultural opportunity to come together. This is where food access and community development merge to ultimately inform community food systems. We can keep dollars circulating in local economies, reduce our carbon foot print and allow for more opportunity within community-level decision making.

The Triple Bottom Line: local profit staying in our local economy, overlaid with environmental integrity supporting the planet, building health and social vibrancy for all residents.

dishes-938747_640The idea of food access, where all residents are able to procure fresh, healthy and affordable food is taken for granted by many people. However, for almost 20% of Michigan residents living at or below the poverty line (U.S. Census Data), this is a challenge rather than a given. For those nearly 20%, food security – the availability and access to food – can be an episodic or recurring challenge. For those residing in more affluent areas, food sovereignty is also on the table because as basic needs are addressed, attention is tuned to determining who makes decisions about agricultural policy and how it will ultimately affect health and economy while emphasizing local control.

In particular, regions with high poverty also tend to experience higher levels of obesity due to lack of healthy food options. In 2010 across Michigan, about 66% of our population was considered overweight, and 30% obese, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Together, that’s 96% of our population weighing in as unhealthy. Not coincidentally, only 32% of adults in Michigan reported consuming recommended levels of fruits (two or more servings per day), and only about 24% of adults reported consuming recommended amounts of vegetables per day (or three servings). This is at least in part due to a lack of healthy food choices.

Is there opportunity for economic development utilizing our regional bounty to support health?

food-960070_640Agriculture contributes more than $101 billion to Michigan’s annual state economy and makes up about 22% of the state’s employment according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Capitalizing on our natural bounty, many regions are addressing those challenges discussed above and leveraging them as opportunity to bridge health and economic wellness. This is done by creatively harnessing momentum around not only stereotypical foodie culture and artisanal agri-tourism “experience”, but also for example, the development of food innovation districts and institutional purchasing. In a 2008 study authored by David S. Conner, PhD. et al. entitled The Food System as an Economic Driver: Strategic Applications for Michigan, the questions were asked: “How much more (fruits and vegetables) should we eat?, How much is available seasonally?, How much money would farmers make?, and How many jobs and dollars would that create?”

vegetable-777473_640The answers were surprising. Michiganders were found to require about 2.15 more servings of daily fruits and 1.79 times more servings of vegetables. If these nutritional goals were met based on current average size of fruit farms at 56 acres and vegetable farms at 44 acres, that’s another 182 fruit and 619 vegetable farms (respectively) of average size required. Meeting those USDA dietary requirements utilizing Michigan products was estimated to increase the net total of Michigan jobs by 1,780 and $211 million in net income to the state – or 529 fruit-related jobs with $42.4 million income and 1,251 vegetable-related jobs generating $169.1 million. Unfortunately, we’ll still have to buy our bananas and coffee elsewhere, but we do have the technology to extend our growing season to meet this need.

How can participatory engagement within community development help build food security (and sovereignty) while harnessing health and economic opportunity that ultimately reduces our carbon footprint?

playmobil-451203_640Some define community development as community benefit organizations, aka non-profits or individuals, building ongoing relationships for the purpose of applying and implementing collective vision for the benefit of residents. Others define community development as a planned process with the specific intention of working with stakeholder groups to address issues affecting their well-being. To take this proactive approach to regional community food systems development, people are buying local when possible (thereby reducing the amount of resources used and emissions expelled), and also have the opportunity to get involved with the way food interfaces within their community. But there’s more…

We have the capacity to meet local need. Can you help connect the dots?

This blog will take a tour of those cutting edge programs, regions, policy-making and partnerships driving the frontline of community development and local food access in Michigan. We’ll hear from stakeholders including omnivores of all ages, farmers, business owners, educators and non-profit programmers about how they’re influencing their community food systems and what it means for the health of residents and the economy. Last month we attempted to provide context and backdrop against which to offset local food system development and with this blog discussed what that means with emphasis on opportunity for impacting regional triple bottom line. Next month, we will begin to discuss participatory strategy and development necessary to do this. Starting with “food hubs” – a physical or virtual model for aggregating, distributing and marketing locally grown food – we’ll look at highlights from businesses and non-profits ranging from the Upper Peninsula and West Michigan to the Capital City and Detroit. This blog poses the questions, “What must be in place so that larger populations may purchase local food at necessary volume?” and follow-up with “How can I get involved?”


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 a 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 works to facilitate sustainable development through citizen engagement. 


The End to Step Forward Michigan

Written by Chad Coffman, Project Lead Michigan Hardest Hit Fund

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 9.56.44 AM

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s (MSHDA) foreclosure prevention program “Step Forward Michigan” is closing its website to new applications December 31, 2015.  

  • December 31, 2015 – Last day to register a new Step Forward Michigan loan application.
  • January 31, 2016 – Last day to submit applications to Step Forward Michigan staff.
  • March 31, 2016 – Last day for homeowners to return executed loan closing documents.

A Look Back at Michigan’s Hardest Hit Fund Program, Step Forward Michigan by Project Lead Chad Coffman.

Michigan was the first state to provide homeowner assistance through its Hardest Hit Fund program, initially called “Help For Hardest Hit (H4HH)”. The H4HH program included mortgage assistance for unemployed homeowners and homeowners that had fallen behind on their mortgage.

  • In 2011, Michigan’s program was redesigned and rebranded as “Step Forward Michigan” in order to reach a greater number of households and broaden the lender participation in the program.

Participation by mortgage lenders grew from 24 to over 320. Now, the program also includes over 50 condo associations and 80 county treasurers. See the Participating Partner List posted on the program website.

  • In 2012, the Step Forward Michigan program significantly increased the per household program assistance to $30,000 and expanded the program to assist homeowners with negative equity.

In one year the program more than tripled the number of households assisted to date through a statewide Step Forward Michigan billboard campaign and increased effort to assist those with larger delinquency balances. Michigan’s Hardest Hit Fund quarterly reports are available on MSHDA’s website.

  • In 2013, with the help of statewide County Treasurers, Michigan was the first state to use Hardest Hit Funds to address property tax delinquencies.

By expanding its marketing efforts to include television and web advertisements starring HGTV’s Nicole Curtis and adding property tax assistance, the program reached its highest annual production in 2013 by providing over $70 million in interest free loans.

  • In 2014, the Step Forward Michigan program surpassed the milestone of 24,000 unique households assisted and began addressing another issue of the housing crisis by working with several communities to demolish abandoned homes with its Blight Elimination Program.

As the first state to address blight with Hardest Hit Funds, Michigan’s program has helped focus blight elimination efforts to specific neighborhoods within 16 Michigan cities. According to the Genesee County Treasurer, the use of Hardest hit Funds helps “stabilize neighborhoods, reduce crime and create opportunities for new investment”.

  • In 2015, the Michigan’s Hardest Hit Fund Program is quickly approaching over 30,000 families assisted. For several years now, Michigan has retained the second highest number of households assisted among the 18 Hardest Hit Fund states. The program has disbursed over $179 million for mortgage assistance, paid over $74 million toward property taxes and funded $93 million to help blight elimination projects.

More than 170 internal staff and perhaps hundreds of staff from housing counseling agencies, legal aid offices, mortgage lenders, taxing authorities, and others have been involved in responding to the housing crisis through the use of Hardest Hit Funds. Looking back at the impact of the Step Forward Michigan program, this group has created a network of connections and partnerships that is more prepared to respond to future housing issues.

Step Forward Michigan is closing its website to new homeowner applications December 31, 2015.  

Funding Michigan’s Roads

Written by Christian Gray, Policy Intern at CEDAM

highway-925881_1920Finally, a road funding plan has escaped the wrath of legislative gridlock and has been sent to the governor’s office for approval. Late on Tuesday night, November 3, the House was able to garner the votes necessary to concur changes made earlier that afternoon in the Senate.

The package of bills is forecasted to eventually create $1.2 billion in funding for the Michigan Transportation Fund by fiscal year 2021-2022. The plan calls for an increase in the gas tax from 19 cents to 26.3 cents (HB 4738) and an increase in the diesel tax from 15 cents to 26.3 cents (HB 4616) beginning on January 1, 2017. Thereafter inflationary increases, based on the Consumer Price Index, would begin on January 1, 2022. Whereas the original Senate plan had a gas/diesel fuel sunset, the final proposal has no sunset. The increase in fuel taxes is expected to generate $400 million in new revenue.

car-527817_640Also included in the plan is a 20% increase in vehicle registration fees (HB 4736), which is expected to generate $200 million in new revenue for the Michigan Transportation Fund. These increases in the fuel taxes and in registration fees reflect a compromise between the House and the Senate as the plan previously submitted by the House relied on $200 million to come from fuel tax increases and $400 million coming from a 40% increase in vehicle registration fees.

The other $600 million of what has been coined as a “600/600” plan will eventually come from the General Fund. However, the money being appropriated from General Fund dollars will be phased in as only $150 million will be removed in fiscal year 2019, increasing to $325 million in FY 2020, finally reaching $600 million in FY 2021 and subsequent years (HB 4370). Governor Snyder believes that the General Famerican-963191_640und will increase in the coming years to accommodate for the reallocation of funds. Initially, the governor had stated that he would not support any more than $400 million from the General Fund, but has now claimed that the bill package will fix the roads in a “fiscally responsible” way.

Other elements of the plan include an income tax rollback, which is scheduled to take place after January 1, 2023 and only when General Fund growth is 1.425 times the rate of inflation (SB 414). Additionally, the House and the Senate agreed to increase registration fees for hybrid electric vehicles and non-hybrid electric vehicles (HB 4614). Lastly, there will be an expansion to the Homestead Property Tax Credit (HB 4370), which would increase the amount of gross rent/mortgage paid that can be utilized to calculate the credit and increase the household income phase-out range by $10,000.

Food Forward MI: An Introduction


Daily we hear that demand for fresh water, energy and food are rising. This causes many great concern and at times a sense of hopelessness, as media digestion can leave us reaching for antacids.

A Growing Crisis: Food and Energy Shortages

farm-500658_1920According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, across the globe, agriculture accounts for about 70% of our fresh water draw. The FAO estimates that about 60% more food than currently produced will be required to feed the world population by 2050 and total agricultural water withdrawals will increase by 10%.

Many states within the US are already facing a shortage. Energy consumption is also increasing at an even faster rate and projected to double by 2035. While this allows us to be more connected than ever before, we are currently facing a widening health and income gap within the US and Michigan. It is here that our communities are poised and have significant opportunity to be healthier, smarter, faster and more self-reliant by tuning in to our own local food systems within the mitten state.

Food Deserts in Michigan: A Growing Problem

As the second most agriculturally diverse state (California being the first) and with abundant fresh water, Michigan has the potential to lead the way into the new millennium as the agricultural powerhouse. However, with this wealth of produce and increasing number of farm market operations, about 30% of our population is still found to be obese by the National Center for Chronic Disease Preventionmcdonalds-904054_640 and Health Promotion. This indicates a lack of healthy food access – and the USDA reports that many Michigan cities are home to overlapping census track designated “food deserts.”

A food desert is defined as an urban or rural community where residents who do not own a car or have access to public transportation and there is no place one may walk to buy groceries.

Therefore, shopping is typically done at a convenience store with limited offerings of fresh, healthy foods. Not coincidentally, Michigan also ranks higher than the national average in population living below the poverty line. Within Lansing’s north region alone, about 24 food desert tracks overlap, and all children within the Lansing School District are on the free and reduced lunch program.

Quality of Life, Employment and Food Access Are Inextricably Linked. 

As we find ourselves in the middle of this predicament, one blog can’t address it all. However, we do have some influence over how our communities and households react, or proactively act, to address this situation. In fact with small changes, individuals and organizations seemingly unrelated to one another can affect the greater web of sustainable development within their community and our state.

Opportunities to Educate and Engage

education-662458_640Taking a look at these opportunities through the rest of 2015 and 2016, the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan and Prima Civitas will be sharing regional, state and federal level opportunities and “food for thought” about how individuals and communities can make change within their own regions through the lens of food access and education for K-12.

Some may filter food and K-12, determining this discussion does not impact them or their work. However, there is opportunity for all to learn about our food systems, including our talent, innovations, natural resources and policy impacting each and every one in this myriad of challenges and growth.  Many conversations are taking place around governance, purchasing, production, people and our great state’s potential to step forth as a global leader in agriculture.

Actions Creating Impact

Do you eat? The answer is yes. Do the young people in your life eat? The answer is yes. How can we collectively set forth at the institutional and neighborhood levels to better meet our health, environment, educational and economic needs?  Your actions impact the entire supply chain though most reading this are likely on the consumer end – and that is the true beginning. All readers effect the supply and value chains of this state’s sustainability and economic growth – a finely balanced scale that you are able to help keep at level growth.

Avenues for Change and ConsiderationANC Food Hub2

Therefore, in partnership, it is our hope to deliver this Michigan update and opportunity blog to offer avenues for change and consideration, that members may be more empowered to impact their community, clientele, constituents and/or household. Through 2016, we’ll take a look at innovative ideas like food hubs as economic drivers for the physical and economic health of our state, food innovation districts, educational and talent pipelines, food policy councils and urban farming. We’ll also offer a snap shot into the interconnection between farm to fork and much in between. How does local food access really affect our state, our health and our children? Let’s go on a tour and find out….


mary-zumbrunnenAbout the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the director of Talent 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 a 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 works to facilitate sustainable development through citizen engagement. 

Detroit Community Benefits Ordinance Update

By LaToya Morgan, Public Policy Manager for the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD)

“Agreements reached through good faith negotiation with the legal weight of an ordinance will provide assurances that promises made are promises kept.”

Proposing the Detroit Community Benefits Ordinance

Grass roots community leaders are calling for an up or down vote from City Council on the proposed Detroit Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO). Speaking for the Northwest Neighborhood Community Benefits Consortium, Bill Hickey urged Council to vote on the ordinance at the September 29 regular session.

On June 30 this year, the Michigan State Legislature voted House Bill 4052 into law. The resulting legislation, Public Act 105 of 2015 targets the ability of local governments to pass laws “regarding the regulation of terms and conditions of employment within local government boundaries for employees of nonpublic employers.”

PA 105 does nothing to stop local municipalities from passing CBOs. It does, however, seek to limit what goes into those CBOs with respect to the employee/employer relationship. Following the passage of the bill, the city’s Legislative Policy Division (LPD) forwarded a memo to Council outlining recommended changes to the current draft CBO. While it is not in the public’s interest for council to pass a local ordinance that would be vulnerable to court challenges, just how much editing of the current draft is necessary to remain compliant with state law is subject to interpretation. LPD has made its recommendations and the community awaits action.

Navigating Development with CBOs

Some have questioned the value of a Community Benefits Ordinance when it is certainly possible for developers to reach agreements without an ordinance. But, without an ordinance to set specific permanent legal parameters, developers can choose to not engage the community whatsoever. Another very important note is that the CBO does not absolutely require that an agreement be signed. Written into the law are exceptions in cases where an agreement cannot be reached due to impasse. Under the ordinance, developments of a certain size (those worth $15 million or more) that ask for a certain amount of public subsidies such as tax abatements and public to private land transfers, require developers to engage the community. Those agreements can contain any number of community benefits. Common examples of community benefits agreed to by developers across the country have been environmental mitigation and agreements to hire a certain percentage of local workers. However, agreements can contain any number of benefits that fit the needs of the particular community. Across the U.S. there are many examples such as transportation opportunities for local residents, community centers, social services and even new grocery stores.

The CBO also contains provisions that would serve to legally hold developers accountable for honoring benefits agreed to. The importance of legal accountability for promises made has become obvious in light of incentive packages granted to developers in Detroit over the years. A prime example is the Marathon Oil Refinery expansion project in southwest Detroit. Marathon received a $175-million property tax break for the project in 2007 and pledged to recruit Detroiters for new jobs at the refinery. Since then, Marathon has hired few city residents. Read the Detroit Free Press Article here.

Varying Perspectives of CBOs

In Detroit, there has been both opposition and support for a CBO from business and economic leaders. Rodrick Miller, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), has stated that a CBO could create additional barriers and discourage new investment. http://michiganradio.org/post/debate-heats-over-community-benefits-ordinance-detroit#stream/0

The Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC) publicly supports the adoption of the Detroit CBO while the Southeast Michigan Chamber Alliance remains opposed. President and CEO of the MBCC Kenneth Harris says that he and his organization support the ordinance because it would help build relationships between developers and local small businesses. Read the article here.

Many laws exist to create a predictable process such as private property rights laws, building and zoning ordinances and laws that regulate banking and investment. It is widely recognized by economic development professional world-wide that all markets and bargaining processes need sufficient structure to function.

Understanding Local Economies

Local residents bring to the table a deep understanding of the unique needs and economies of their communities. Agreements reached in cities across the nation and the world demonstrate that community inclusion in development decisions does not hinder economic growth at all but actually promotes more equitable people-centered growth and development.

The community believes the proposed Detroit CBO has been on the table long enough. It’s time for Council to vote and let Detroit residents know if their elected representatives support a predictable process that ensures an equal voice for the community in development decisions. Community benefits agreements reached through good faith negotiation with the legal weight of an ordinance will provide assurances that promises made are promises kept.  

Read the current proposed Detroit Community Benefits Ordinance here.

Learn More at Destination: Vibrant Communities

Join LaToya Morgan, Former State Representative Rashida Tlaib and other community leaders in a workshop that will explain community benefits agreements and lead conversations that will help participants identify potential solutions and models for their own communities. This workshop is one of several to choose from at Destination: Vibrant Communities in the areas of real estate development, capacity building and community engagement. Learn more about the upcoming training and register here.

Is There A Rental Crisis in the U.S.?

This infograph is reposted with permission.

The community economic development industry is aware of the different housing types available to residents. What people choose to invest (or not) invest in, is based on opportunities and preferences, and with many changes arising over the past several decades. Most recently, we see many choosing to rent versus own the place where they live.

Why is that? Although the answer is has many components, this infograph offers some insight and indicates that there might be a shortage as a result.

What do you see in your communities?

Rental Crisis
Source: Affordable-Online-Colleges.net

Mapping Assets for Community Development

By Aaron Goodman, Community Engagement Manager, Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD)

The ability to access and utilize accurate data is critical to so many of our efforts in community development and revitalization. Information about that various factors that impact neighborhoods and the organizations working in them help to tell their story and make the case for community-based investment and capacity building. In Detroit, the demand and use of data that describes neighborhood conditions and investment of resources has grown substantially in recent years, however it can still be a challenge to know and understand the scope of the multitude of organizations who are doing vital on the ground work to build and maintain vibrant and healthy communities.


An Opportunity to Discover and Connect Detroit Assets

In order to better understand the depth of neighborhood organizational capacity in Detroit neighborhoods, Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) is excited to launch the Detroit Community Organization Mapping Project (d[COM]munity)! d[COM]munity is a comprehensive web-based map and directory that displays the locations and activities of community development organizations (CDO), block clubs and other neighborhood organizations in the City of Detroit. Neighborhood groups, community development organization, and block clubs will be able to submit their information through an online survey to and put themselves on the d[COM]munity map. The interactive map is accompanied by a full profile where users can learn about the organization including contact information, mission, and highlighted activities.

d[COM]munity Leading the Way for Collaboration in Detroit

Neighborhoods and communities are complex places with many actors and activities and it can be an overwhelming challenge for organizations and residentCDAD-July-Meeting-43s to have a clear picture of what is going on and how to connect with other groups. d[COM]munity addresses the absence of a comprehensive, centralized source for information about Detroit’s community based resources and neighborhood initiatives. We envision that this exciting and unprecedented effort will lead to better collaboration and coordination of efforts among residents, community organizations, government agencies, non-profit resource providers and funders.

Dig Into Neighborhood Data Challenges at Destination: Vibrant Communities

The upcoming Destination: Vibrant Communities professional development conference will provides a great opportunity to dig in to neighborhood data challenges and learn about d[COM]munity and other complimentary efforts. Join us at the session: “Using mapping and open-data sharing to build capacity for neighborhood-level revitalization and learn about the efforts of organizations and activists in Detroit using online platforms and map-making technology to break down silos, build new partnerships and democratize knowledge about Detroit neighborhoods and the community-based organizations working to improve them.

This session will feature presentations on d[COM]munity as well as Michigan Community Resources’ Neighborhood-Exchange, an online hub for networking, learning and resource sharing and #maptimeDetroit which seeks to help everyone learn how to make maps and become literate map readers through hands-on exploration and map creation using mapping tools and technologies. Additionally, you will learn about the work of Data Driven Detroit to make neighborhood level data more accessible and useable as a tool for your community development work!

We hope you can join us at this session and the whole exciting line up for Destination: Vibrant Communities. Register today!

Asset & Property Management: A Complementary Relationship

Mary Manuel, Asset Manager for Cinnaire (formerly Great Lakes Capital Fund)

Nonprofit organizations across Michigan (and the country) are helping to create vibrant and sustainable communities. Through a variety of neighborhood programs, opportunities for disadvantaged populations enhance their quality of life through access to safe and affordable housing and other supportive services.

However, real estate development is complicated and requires many decisions and functions that require diligent attention for it to be successful.

Asset and Property Management: A Necessary Pair

Commons at Penn Place

Commons at Penn Place – Development supported by Cinnaire (formerly Great Lakes Capital Fund)

At the very core of property ownership, asset management and property management are two important functions in successful real estate development and ownership. The two go hand in hand, yet they function very differently from one another. As assets, particularly real estate assets, are incredibly valuable to owners, success (or failure) is a direct result of understanding the details and expectations of these two essential functions.

A better understanding of these two important components will help those investing in real estate and working on development projects determine how to best use their resources.

A Global Outlook with Local Management

plumber-228010_640Broadly defined, asset management refers to any system that monitors and maintains things of value to an entity or group and takes on the global view of an asset. This includes the financial structure, short and long term goals for the asset, performance expectations, maintenance and perhaps eventual disposal and/or improvement of the asset.

Property management, on the other hand, is the day-to-day operations on the ground, resulting in systems and processes that ensure the functionality of the asset. Some examples include performing repairs, routine maintenance items and managing the people utilizing the asset (i.e. residents in apartments or commercial tenants in office buildings).

The Role of a Nonprofit

As many nonprofit organizations consider engaging in projects that require property development and/or management, it’s important for the strategy-developing team to decide how involved to be in each component that is required. Every single property owner, which may be the nonprofit organization, needs to build a skillset that understands the complexity that both components entail and manage them for sustainability and success, even if certain functions are contracted out.

Leverage Your Position

Market Street 1

Market Street – Development supported by Cinnaire

Real estate development has the potential to create important placemaking within communities, opportunities for residents and a better Michigan for everybody. Understanding the importance of marrying these two concepts into a bigger strategy, along with the implications of mismanagement is a serious consideration when organizing the necessary resources to prepare for future projects.

Whether your organization is interested in getting into real estate development or is already doing projects, a better understanding of these two functions and how their interrelationship supports successful projects is highly recommended, and will only enhance your proposals.

I encourage you to join us in Detroit on November 4 at Destination: Vibrant Communities, a professional development day hosted by CEDAM and CDAD. I will be leading a session that better explains these two functions: “Hand In Hand: Understanding Asset and Property Management Functions.” I hope to see you there!

Working Through Contradictions and Achieving Great Things

By Jennifer Grau, Grau Interpersonal Communications and presenter at the upcoming Destination: Vibrant Communities in Detroit.

Human beings are full of contradictions.

  • We are social animals, yet crave privacy and autonomy.
  • We live in a hyper-stimulating world, yet complain we are bored.
  • We accomplish remarkable feats, but can only exist in a narrow range of physical conditions.

Understanding people and their complexity is the secret to conquering the obstacles that keep us from giving our best and achieving remarkable things.

The business world calls this engagement.

Where Business Meets Community

Grau IC LogoI spend a lot of time walking between two worlds. By day I am a trainer, coach, facilitator and professional speaker. I work with people to enhance their communication, and by extension, their effectiveness in life. By night, I’m a community organizer. I work with my neighbors to make our community a vibrant, safe and welcoming place to live, work and play.

P1000383The day job makes my night job easier. I’ve learned that unless there is a crisis most people don’t have time or attention to participate in community activity. But that does not mean they are unwilling to make time if they feel valued, respected, needed, appreciated and welcome. They need to find some joy, connection, success, worth or growth when they give you the precious gift of their time. And the same holds true for staff in the work world. If you want the best from people you need to create the conditions for them to thrive … not just survive.

The Care and Feeding of Volunteers and Staff


  • Have you ever worked on a project that was joyous?
  • Have you worked on a team that was productive and fun?
  • Have you felt exhilarated and satisfied overcoming obstacles?

Experiences like these feel like magic but they are not. Chances are someone in your world created the conditions for your productivity, joy, growth and success.

Here are a few things you can do to foster an engaging environment for volunteers and staff.

  • Acknowledge and appreciate someone’s work. Even if it is their job (or volunteer commitment), it feels good to have your efforts and outcomes recognized.
  • Identify and express the connection of their work to the bigger picture. Essential tasks like stuffing envelopes may be dull and repetitive, but are fundamental requirements for a successful event or initiative to support your mission.
  • Transform your next mundane activity into something special. One easy way to do this is to bring food.
  • Design tasks to people rather than expecting people to be a perfect fit to the volunteer roles or staff description. Inquire about their interests and talents, along with what they might want to do or explore.  Support them in fulfilling those growth  needs.
  • Meet people where they are. Whether physically or ideologically start where your staff and/or volunteers are and create safe places for open interaction.
  • Level the playing field. There are lots of ways to do this, but too many to cover in a blog.

DVC-Postcard-print-v2Join Us to Learn More

Are you ready to understand more about the complexity of humans and how to nurture productive, engaging environments that advance your community?

Destination: Vibrant Communities is a single day of premier training hosted by CEDAM and CDAD in Detroit on November 4, 2015. I am leading a two part interactive session on community engagement. I will teach you how to create experiences like these for yourself and others and will explore the ways you can support, encourage and engage your staff and volunteers. I hope you will consider joining me and a bunch of talented, motivated and interesting people who are busy changing the world.


3 Reasons To Be Excited About Destination: Vibrant Communities

Written by Brian McGrain, Associate Director and Chief Operating Officer of CEDAM

DVC-Postcard-print-v2As the Associate Director of a nonprofit community development organization in Michigan, its not often that I get access to training directly relevant to what I do on a day-to-day basis. Aside from the Building Michigan Communities Conference (BMCC) held in Lansing every Spring, there’s not a lot of opportunity to participate in small group learning sessions that will help me successfully manage my duties to grow and enhance my organization.  

That’s why I’m especially excited about the upcoming Destination: Vibrant Communities conference hosted by CEDAM and CDAD in Detroit in November! Many talented, dedicated nonprofit professionals and advisers will be providing their time to help us hone our skills in diverse areas including fund, organization and real estate development.

Here are the top three reasons why I am excited for this upcoming day of professional development.

1. New Strategies for Fund Development

Richard Martin of Lutheran Social Services will walk us through some strategies for fund development deployed by top-level fundraisers. Richard is a recent recipient of the Chair’s Award for Outstanding Service presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He is a national leader in the fund development world with more than 20 years of experience and is well-connected in SE Michigan. He has taught and mentored thousands of fundraisers in techniques of professional fundraising.

2. Jennie Grau’s Super Session on Community Engagement


Jennie Grau leading a session in February 2015 about developing your own human capital.

Jennie Grau of Grau Interpersonal Communications will be returning as a favorited trainer. She has more than 20 years of experience in consulting work and in leadership development. She has conducted speaking, listening and conflict management workshops for corporate, nonprofit and educational clients. For this training, she will work with attendees to develop their engagement skills to bring the most benefit to the communities they serve in a longer, super session.

3. Keynote Speaker Amanda Edmonds

Finally, our keynote will be provided by Amanda Edmonds. Amanda is not only the founder of Growing Hope, a community group focused on improving residents’ lives through gardening and health food access, but she is also the recently-elected Mayor of Ypsilanti. She will share her experiences with starting, sustaining and growing a nonprofit as well as providing frank insights regarding challenges faced and lessons learned.
These are just three of the many talented speakers to be featured at Destination: Vibrant Communities this year. As we intentionally keep the size of the conference small so to facilitate greater one-on-one time between speakers and participants, you’ll want to sign up right away as to not miss out on these great sessions! Looking forward to seeing you there!

Register for the day of professional development before October 9 to receive the early bird rate. Register here.