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How our communities are coming together to help struggling individuals and families get ahead A continuing series in the

Summer 2013


DaÄąly News





Scientists survey county in prep for Baby Kate plant search A team of plant experts is spending its second day in Mason County today, searching wooded areas for plants that match the type of material found on Sean Phillips’ shoes on June 29, 2011. That was the day his daughter Katherine “Baby Kate� Phillips was last seen. Det. Sgt. Tom Posma said Tuesday the botanists and other experts are conducting precursory searches that will narrow down the areas to be searched by qualified volunteers June 28-29. “We’ve made some advancements,� Posma said of the progress on Tuesday. Phillips was convicted last year of unlawful imprisonment in the case and sentenced to prison. Police now are treating his daughter Katherine’s disappearance as a homicide Researchers were assaulted mercilessly by not just mosquitoes, but also by ticks on their search Tuesday, according to another law enforcement officer accompanying the scientists. — Brian Mulherin



Victoria Rose Shilander, 90, Ludington Beatrice Marie Miller, 81, Hudson, Florida




Gabriel Shane Hernandez, Ludington Tessa Lilly-Leanne Turner-Cloutier, Baldwin




BACK TO THE ’50s: Ice-cream-for-life costume contest among weekend events. Even Mr. Moonie goes with a slicked-back ’do. (See ad on B8 today)



Tonight’s low: 50° Thursday’s high: 64° Details: B8




LOTTERY ______________ A2 OPINION _____________ A4 OBITUARIES ____________ A5 SPORTS _____________ B1-3 CLASSIFIEDS__________ B3-6 PUZZLES ______________ B5 COMICS _______________ B7 WEATHER _____________ B8

Your Ludington Daily News: Read today by more than 14,880 people


WALLEYE HARVEST: More than 3.5 million fish in 25 years. A2 75 CENTS

A Cascade of opportunities Encouraging businesses to think differently about people in poverty BY GARRETT RICHIE DAILY NEWS SPECIAL PROJECTS Every month, Cascade Engineering Chairman and CEO Fred Keller sits down with about a dozen of his employees to chat about their experiences and personal stories. When employee Amy Valderas finally had her chance to speak, she couldn’t wait to tell her story about being hired in 1999.


AS COMMUNITY organizations come together to combat poverty in the area, the Ludington Daily News will be covering the problem in its own way. Garrett FOR THE next Richie 12 weeks, the Ludington Daily News — in large part through our special projects writer Garrett Richie — will be doing an extensive project dedicated to understanding poverty and how it PATTI KLEVORN | DAILY NEWS Fred Keller, chairman and CEO of Cascade Engineering, speaks to area business leaders at West affects the community. Shore Community College Tuesday, sharing his company’s success with a new way of thinking FUNDED BY Pennies from about people in poverty. The company has a successful welfare-to-career program, in part by Heaven, the project will cover a variety of issues and tophaving a social worker in the building. ics, including the stories of people in poverty and those Valderas was one of Cas- the company’s Welfare- the lives of local people working to make a difference cade Engineering’s em- to-Career program, which who are in poverty. in the community. ployees to be hired under strives to hire and stabilize SEE OPPORTUNITIES, A8

Honored for courage

In addition to custodial case

McCallum sentenced to 6-20 years in Hamlin thefts

MCC grants new Courage of Gabe award BY KEVIN BRACISZESKI DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER SCOTTVILLE — Mason County Central fourthgrader Gabe Sessions had a tough time in school this year as his health has deteriorated but he still managed to earn all A grades, and in the process, he’s taught other students a valuable lesson. On Tuesday, Sessions was honored for, in the words of MCC Upper Elementary School Principal Kevin Kimes, “displaying amazing amounts of strength and courage while staring adversity fiercely in the eye.� Not only was Sessions honored Tuesday, his name will live on at the school as each year a student will be selected to receive the Courage of Gabe Award for best displaying the courage that Sessions has exhibited in his life.


Gabe Sessions has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rapidly progressive form of muscular dystrophy, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. His mother, Kandi Nichols, said Gabe’s illness was diagnosed when he was 4 or 5 years old. “He’s had a tough time of it lately,� Nichols said. “He’s starting to develop heart problems and can no longer walk on his own.� This year he missing 30 days of school due to the illness. SEE COURAGE OF GABE, A7



Mason County Central Upper Elementary Principal Kevin Kimes presents fourth-grader Gabe Sessions with an award for, in Kimes’ words, “displaying amazing amounts of strength and courage while staring adversity fiercely in the eye.�



FAMILY AND friends of Mason County Central student Gabe Sessions have scheduled a benefit dinner for Gabe at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27 at the MCC Upper Elementary School.

THE DINNER and silent auction will help raise money to buy a new wheelchair and other medical equipment for Gabe Sessions, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rapidly progressive form of muscular dystrophy.

Mark McCallum was sentenced to six years to 20 years in prison on Tuesday in Mason County’s 51s t Circuit Court for two counts of embezzlement. McCallum, formerly of Hamlin Township, was sentenced earlier this year to 29 months in prison for custodial interference in a February 2012 incident that saw him take his children to Key West, Florida, in violation of a custody agreement. The cases in court on Tuesday were related in that he admitted to taking items from neighbors to finance his trip to Florida to take his children away from his wife. McCallum had pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement, one greater than $20,000 and one for less than $20,000 as part of a plea agreement. But it was a third case, one dismissed as part of a plea agreement, that took center stage in Judge Richard I. Cooper’s courtroom on Tuesday. SEE MCCALLUM, A7

Jail vests, renovations recommended BY KEVIN BRACISZESKI DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER The county board’s Finance, Personnel and Rules Committee is recommending the full board approve a bid for jail renovation and also approve the purchase of 17 new protective vests for the Mason County Sher-

iff’s Office. The full Mason County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet next at 7 p.m. June 11.

JAIL RENOVATION The county only received one bid for the jail renovation work and it came from Tridonn Construction of

Muskegon. Tridonn bid on the original proposal and on three alternates, which would include more work. On Tuesday, the finance committee decided to recommend the full board approve Tridonn’s main bid and two of the alternates. Committee Chair Tom

Posma said the addition of the alternates includes replacement of the showers in the old cell block as well as replacement of the showers in the newer pod units. The total project, as recommended, includes replacing drywall that was removed from the building’s basement and carpets. It in-

cludes replacing two old air conditioning units with two new ones, since the old ones had to be removed for other work. The committee recommended including a 10 percent contingency fee to the total amount, which would bring it to about $339,000. SEE JAIL, A7


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Thursday WEATHER

AWARDS: Photography by Sue Brown. A8-9



SOCCER: LHS falls in regional semis. B1

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Award-winning images Above, Sue Brownâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photo called â&#x20AC;&#x153;Annointedâ&#x20AC;? is among those she submitted that earned her honors in the Professional Photographers of Michigan competition this spring. At right, Sue Brownâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photo called,â&#x20AC;? Trying on the Threads of Time.â&#x20AC;? PHOTOGRAPHY BY SUE BROWN

OPPORTUNITIES: â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Think differentlyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; about people in poverty FROM PAGE A1

Within four months of being hired, Valderas was chosen to go to the White House via a rented jet with a group of employees to accept the Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership from Vice President Al Gore. As big of an opportunity as this would be for anyone, it was even more so for Valderas. At the time, she had never been on a plane â&#x20AC;&#x201D; private or commercial â&#x20AC;&#x201D; and didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t own proper shoes or a dress for the occasion. So, the company bought her the attire for the event to make sure that she would be able to attend and accept the award on behalf of the company. â&#x20AC;&#x153;This is exemplary of how we think differently about folks in poverty,â&#x20AC;? Keller said. Cascade Engineering, a large injection molding company based out of Grand Rapids, has the goal â&#x20AC;&#x153;to make a positive impact on society, and the environment and be financially successful.â&#x20AC;? On Tuesday afternoon at West Shore Community College, these opportunities came to Ludington. Keller spoke to a group of local business leaders and human resources representatives to share his Welfare-toCareer program strategies in order to help make them possible in Ludington.

CREATING OPPORTUNITIES IN MASON COUNTY According to the American Community Survey, Mason Countyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s median household income between 2006 and 2010 was nearly $8,000 less than the state average ($40,039 versus $48,432) and the poverty rate was .4 percent higher (15.2 percent versus 14.8 percent). With these stats in mind, it is the hope of local organizations and businesses that Ludington can bring positive change to Mason County as Cascade Engineering has brought change to Grand Rapids. John Wilson, who gave the introductory remarks

â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Thought always precedes action. You have to think

different first before anythingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s going to happen.â&#x20AC;&#x2122;

Chrysler refuses request to recall vehicles DETROIT (AP) â&#x20AC;&#x201D; A defiant Chrysler is refusing to recall about 2.7 million Jeeps the government says are at risk of a fuel tank fire in a rear-end collision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent Chrysler a letter asking that the company voluntarily recall Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002 through 2007. Chrysler Group LLC, which is majority-owned by Italyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Fiat SpA, said in a statement Tuesday that the Jeeps are safe and it â&#x20AC;&#x153;does not intend to recall the vehicles.â&#x20AC;?

HERE IS how Mason County compares to the state of Michigan as a whole in regards to average poverty rate, median household income, and per capita income from 2006 to 2010: POVERTY (people of all ages): MASON COUNTY: 15.2% Rank among Counties: 42 MICHIGAN: 14.8% (Poverty as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau: Total income of less than $11,945 for a single person under 65 years of age or $18,480 for a family of three with one dependent)

John Wilson Pennies from Heaven founder

MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME: MASON COUNTY: $40,039 Rank among Counties: 53 MICHIGAN: $48,432

Floracraft, Quick-Way, House of Flavors, Ludington Beverage, and other local businesses, as well as representatives from Ludington Schools and the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce were invited to hear Kellerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s discussion Tuesday at West Shore Community College. Afterward, the CEOs of each business were invited to a separate meeting with Keller to discuss the ideas brought up during the presentation.

PER CAPITA INCOME: MASON COUNTY: $21,760 Rank among Counties: 40 MICHIGAN: $25,135


for Keller, founded Pennies for Heaven in December with his wife, Anita, and has been brainstorming ways to address poverty and its related issues in the community. Pennies for Heaven, along with United Way of Mason County, West Shore Community College, the Community Foundation for Mason County, and the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce, have formed a new community partnership to support workforce development. Wilson said part of the reason for forming the partnership came from thinking about what the biggest needs were in Mason County. He approached Lynne Russell, executive director of United Way of Mason County, for help. She had one major message for him: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Think different.â&#x20AC;? And think differently he did. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I was kind of struck by that,â&#x20AC;? Wilson said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Thought always precedes action. You have to think different first before anythingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s going to happen.â&#x20AC;? Wilson soon came across a dissonance between labor statistics â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Mason Countyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s unemployment was 9.7 percent as of March (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) â&#x20AC;&#x201D; and claims by many local businesses that they are at full employment. Something wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t adding up, and Wilson saw in Cascade Engineeringâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s strategies a model for doing something different. So, representatives from

A CULTURE OF UNDERSTANDING One of Kellerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s main ideas about hiring workers from poverty was the importance of creating a culture of understanding for the new hires who are trying to transition to a stable job and life after poverty. Often times, workers in poverty face a large number of barriers to success that middle class or wealthy workers might not think about â&#x20AC;&#x201D; whether it be car trouble, childcare conflicts, domestic abuse situations, or something else. Keller said one of the main keys to the success of the Welfare-to-Career program was teaching the company and its employees to create this culture of support, not judgment, for those being hired out of poverty. In the past, a lack of understanding would only lead to more employee turnover. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The old style was, if Mary was having a problem with the quality of her parts, the supervisor would come to Mary and say, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Mary, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re having a problem with the parts,â&#x20AC;&#x2122; and Mary would say,

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 5-Year Estimates 2006-2010 â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Oh I have a problem with my car, or with my boyfriend, or my kidâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sick.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; And no matter what the question was, the supervisor would say, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not hear to talk about your personal life, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m here to talk about the parts.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; Then thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a fight-or-flight kind of environment, and either that person leaves voluntarily or theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re fired as a result,â&#x20AC;&#x2122;â&#x20AC;? Keller said. But according to Keller, it no longer has to be this way. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The new way of thinking about that same situation is the supervisor says, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll get Joyce (the social worker). Joyce is able to support Mary, who can stay on the job that day and doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have to go home. The anxiety goes down, Maryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s able to focus on the job, and Joyce loves her work and loves to be able to have the job of keeping people on the job,â&#x20AC;&#x2122;â&#x20AC;? he said.

CREATING MORE OPPORTUNITIES Aside from those in poverty and the Welfare-to-Career program, Cascade Engineeringâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hiring tactics also include a â&#x20AC;&#x153;Returning Citizenâ&#x20AC;? program, which reaches out to those who were previously incarcerated. A great example is Jahaun McKinley, who spent nearly half of his life behind bars after going to prison at age 18. McKinley got his first

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job with Cascade Engineering â&#x20AC;&#x201D; at the age of 36. Today, he is a supervisor for Cascade Engineering and speaks around the state to audiences about his experiences going from prison to a successful career. Keller said the companyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s open-minded and understanding approach to hiring gave them the opportunity to take on and benefit from McKinleyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work. While procedure in the past had been to sort applications by whether or not the employee had been incarcerated in the past, the system was updated to one where potential job applicants were given a first round interview before previous incarceration would even be taken into account. Keller is glad they adapted their process in order to give people like McKinley a chance. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Had we been following our (previous) standard procedure, we wouldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve missed him,â&#x20AC;? Keller said.

stabilize creates a positive business cycle â&#x20AC;&#x201D; the lower turnover of employees leads to more effective team efforts, which in turn lead to continuous improvement, increased customer satisfaction, and finally, improved profitability and growth. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It seems to be a virtuous cycle for me,â&#x20AC;? Keller said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s something thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been very effective for us.â&#x20AC;? So effective, in fact, that Cascade Engineering currently has an employee turnover rate of only two percent. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The fact is, you can find things that are good to do and then make them good for your business,â&#x20AC;? Keller said. Following Kellerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s philosophy, implementing similar processes in Ludington and Mason County could yield similar results. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I think business has a really wonderful opportunity to make a difference,â&#x20AC;? Keller said.


CONTACT EITHER News Editor Patti Klevorn, 843-1122, x341, patti@, or Garrett Richie, 843-1122 x342, garrett.richie@

Keller said being able to implement a system where businesses work with new employees to help them


QUEEN’S CUP: Boats to arrive Saturday morning. A9


Daıly News

Summer 2013

FIRE: SUV destroyed. A2





Mayoral candidate forum July 16



Hazel Helen Christie, 95, Ludington Gladys Listing-Lehrbass, 94, formerly of Scottville John Hemmer, 70, Ludington



Shae Antonia Gundersen, Kentwood





Poverty a serious issue for schools Denise Jones serves as the homeless education liaison and coordinator for Mason County Central schools and works with students in need on a daily basis.

BY GARRETT RICHIE DAILY NEWS SPECIAL PROJECTS Local schools have now been out on summer vacation for over three weeks. For the most part, classrooms, halls and lunchT H E

?9H SEE TODAY’S STORIES ON PAGES A6, 7. rooms will remain empty until the beginning of September. For many students, this is great news. Summer means no homework, trips to the beach and vacations.

But for other students — for many more than a lot of people would probably guess — school is the place where they receive two

meals a day. School is a safe place for them to go. School is a roof over their heads. School is stability, routine, security.

Tonight’s low: 60° Friday’s high: 74° Details: B10



LOTTERY ______________ A2 OPINION _____________ A4 OBITUARIES ____________ A5 THE SCENE ___________ A9-11 SPORTS _____________ B1-3 CLASSIFIEDS__________ B5-8 PUZZLES ______________ B7 COMICS _______________ B9 WEATHER ____________ B10

Your Ludington Daily News: Read today by more than 17,865 people




Last Tuesday, our news editor, Patti Klevorn, told me about the mobile food pantry going on that JEFF KIESSEL morning at Cor| DAILY NEWS nerstone Baptist Church. We both figGarrett ured getting Richie involved with In Mason County, pover- community efforts to comty and homelessness in the bat poverty would be a good schools is apparent in the way to gain experience for numbers. Bridging the Gap. SEE BRIDGING THE GAP, A8 SEE RICHIE, A8

Free Soil annexation helps MCE pay off deficit




The tug-barge used to dredge the Ludington Municipal Marina enters the channel on its way to Lake Michigan. The dredging of the marina was completed in time for this weekend’s Queens Cup sailboat race. Boats from the race will be docking in the marina as well as along the wall at Waterfront Park. See more on the Queen’s Cup, LudRock and other weekend events on pages A9, 10 and 11.

Of the U.S. they sing ‘Let Freedom Ring’ has 2 performances Sunday BY MELISSA KEEFER DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER


A special publication of the Ludington Daily News

Students’ need for help doesn’t end during summer months

The Ludington Daily News and the Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce are co-sponsoring a forum Tuesday, July 16 at 7 p.m. at Ludington’s Waterfront Park featuring the four candidates for Mayor of Ludington. Ryan Cox Candidates Ryan Cox, A. Pete Engblade, Dave Kosla and Wally Taranko have all agreed to participate. Ludington A. Pete Daily News Engblade Publisher Jeff Evans will be the moderator. Questions will be asked by Evans and Kathy Maclean, Ludington Dave Kosla and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, will ask questions of the candidates. There will be a chance for Wally those in atTaranko tendance to submit written questions. The public is also invited to submit questions via email to The forum is being provided as a service to the community. — Steve Begnoche, managing editor






Voices from around the community will join in song Sunday, June 30 for the fourth annual “Let Freedom Ring” patriotic concert, a benefit for the local veterans endowment fund. The concert, which has two performances Sunday, at 5 and 7 p.m., at the United Methodist Church of Ludington on Bryant Road, features the United Methodist Church of Ludington Choir, the West Shore Community College Choir and area vocalists and musicians. The singers form an 80-member vocal ensemble, backed by a 15-piece band and featuring vocal soloists. The choir is directed by Becky Sopha, Lew Wilson and Franklin Fahrer, who have been rehearsing with the group for more than six weeks. Featured soloists include Mark Soles, Rich Chasse, John Fuhrman and Colleen Unsal. As in years past, the event provides an array of inspirational music from traditional to contemporary that reflects the American spirit of freedom while paying tribute to the men and


Singers rehearse for the “Let Freedom Ring” Patriotic Concert, which will be presented at 5 and 7 p.m. Sunday at the United Methodist Church. The performance is a benefit for the Mason County Veterans Endowment Fund. women in uniform who have defended and continue to defend these freedoms. A free-will offering will be taken to benefit the Mason County Veterans Endowment Fund. Organizers encourage all to come out and experience the true spirit of freedom, as told through some of this country’s greatest music, from “Shenandoah” to “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to a “Salute to the Armed Forces.” SEE VETERANS FUND, A3




TO CONTRIBUTE to the veterans fund beyond the concert, send a donation to the Mason County Veterans Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 10, Ludington, MI, 49431.

IF YOU GO: THE FOURTH annual “Let Freedom Ring” patriotic concert will have two performances Sunday, June 30, 5 and 7 p.m. at the Ludington United Methodist Church on Bryant Road in Ludington.

CUSTER — Mason County Eastern has been paying off a deficit for the past two years and will now make the last payment by July 1. District officials also expect to finish the upcoming 2013-14 school year with about $315,000 in the bank. “It’s a positive fund balance and we’re out of deficit, or will be by July 1,” said Superintendent Paul Shoup. “It’s great news.” Shoup had planned to finish the current school year with about $53,000 in the district’s fund balance and a remaining deficit of about $171,000 after receiving about $4.11 million and spending about $4.03 million during 2012-13. But after the annexation of Free Soil Community Schools, MCE will receive a transfer of Free Soil’s remaining general fund of about $200,000. The annexation will also increase MCE’s revenues for the 2013-14 school year as it begins receiving 18 mills for the non-homestead properties in the formerly Free Soil school district. Shoup said the state will also provide the district with about $165,000 in grant money for the annexation. That will bring MCE’s revenues to about $4.5 million for next year with projected expenditures of $4.2 million. Among those expenditures are three 2-year-old buses. “We’re pretty excited about that,” Shoup said. “We took 1995, 1996 and 1997 buses off the line and that will make our fleet a lot nicer.” The MCE school board approved its amended 201213 budget and 2013-14 budget following a public hearing Wednesday.


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A8 |


| THURSDAY, JUNE 27, 2013

BRIDGING THE GAP: Helping hands

RICHIE: Making my day


I drove over to the church and pushed my reporter duties aside for a few hours. I introduced myself to the volunteers, told them about my project, and got ready to stack some food. For nearly three hours, I helped unload pallets, boxes and crates of food from West Michigan Food Bankâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Feeding America truck and helped hand them out to families in need who came to the food drive. As I passed out 24-pack cardboard flats of yogurt, I chatted with other volunteers. While I have been hearing plenty of stories about poverty and homelessness since my summer project began, this was different. Being at the food drive, face-to-face with the families and individuals Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m writing about on a daily basis, as well as those helping to serve them, struck a very personal chord. The Bridging the Gap project took on a human form. In it I now see Greg Tyndall and his siblings selflessly organizing and handing out food. I see parents telling their young children to say â&#x20AC;&#x153;thank youâ&#x20AC;? as they receive food from the drive. And I see Lisa Vasquez, who after driving her car through the line at the food drive, parked with the rest of the volunteers and started helping, bursting

Fifty-seven percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Baldwinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rate is a staggering 94 percent, while Ludingtonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rate â&#x20AC;&#x201D; the areaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lowest â&#x20AC;&#x201D; is still 49 percent, nearly half of all students. According to Denise Jones, Mason County Centralâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s homeless education liaison and coordinator, 345 students were identified as living in a homeless situation in 2012. And thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s only the students that could be identified. So when the summer comes around, what is left for these students? What can they do to replace the role school plays in their lives for nine months of the year? Luckily, most of the options available during the school year continue on into the summer. Students can still make appointments to go to the Ludington Area Schools Youth Resource Center for food, clothing, personal hygiene items, or other needs. Students living in homeless situations can still meet with their schoolsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; respective homeless education liaison and coordinator to get the resources they need. And as far as host meals are concerned, there is even better


Jim Koss, left, and Randy Wolf, right, co-chairmen of the Pere Marquette Council 1492 of the Knights of Columbus, present Mark Boon with a check for the Ludington Area Schools Youth Resource Center. Funds came from the Knights of Columbusâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Memorial Day weekend yard sale. Many area organizations offer help to the resource center, including this weekendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Queenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Cup finish and LudRock concerts at Waterfront Park.

Students can still make appointments to go to the Ludington Area Schools Youth Resource Center for food, clothing, personal hygiene items, or other needs. Students living in homeless situations can still meet with their schoolsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; respective homeless education liaison and coordinator to get the resources they need. news: Mason County Centralâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Food Service Department offers free breakfast and lunch for students at various locations in Scottville, Custer and Luding-

ton, and no income bracket requirement or documentation is required to participate in the program. In todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s first in-depth installment of Bridging the


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CONTACT THE Ludington Daily News through News Editor Patti Klevorn at 843-1122 x341, or Garrett Richie at 8431122 x342 or







with positive energy. Slinging terms of endearment around to everyone as she handed them baked goods, her positive energy and friendly composure made the entire morning for me. After speaking with her and asking about her personal story, I asked if I could share it in todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s installment of Bridging the Gap. I knew she was exactly who we had been looking for â&#x20AC;&#x201D; someone who had benefited from help in the community and was doing her part to give back. I hope her story, and the stories of those included in todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s installment of Bridging the Gap, make your day as well.



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Gap, we tell the stories of these organizations, programs and workers, as well as those of the students and families they have helped.

Being at the food drive, face-to-face with the families and individuals Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m writing about on a daily basis, as well as those helping to serve them, struck a very personal chord.





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A6 | Ludington daily newS

| THURSDAY, JUNE 27, 2013



| A7

Students lean on schools, even in summer How our communities are coming together to help struggling individuals and families get ahead

A Boon to a family in need

Michigan’s lowest Kids Count 2013 rank is in children’s economic well being According to Kids Count 2013, there were 700,000 more children in poverty across the nation in 2011 than 2010. In Michigan, the child poverty rate was 25 percent, compared to the national average of 23 percent. Kids Count ranked Michigan 31st overall for child well being. Out of the four trending subcategories measured — economic well being, education, health, and family and community — Michigan’s lowest rank was economic well being, which was 36.

BY GARRETT RICHIE Daily News Special Projects


ive years ago, Lisa Vasquez was in the hospital to get a hernia repaired.

When the doctors began the procedure, they discovered another problem: liver cancer.

At the time, Vasquez had separated from her husband in Muskegon and had just moved back to Ludington with her two children, Jerica and David Wilbur, who were both seniors at Ludington High School. As a single parent in the hospital, things were getting tight for the family. One day at school, Jerica approached Mark Boon to tell him about the situation. Boon is a former teacher, attendance counselor and principal who is now an at-risk worker at the high school and is involved with the Ludington Area Schools Youth Resource Center. It didn’t take long for Boon to get moving. “My daughter had told him I had liver cancer, and the next thing I know he’s bringing grocery bags and boxes to the house,” Vasquez said. Boon, who was one of Vasquez’s teachers when she was a student at Ludington High School, didn’t stop with the food. He also brought Pizza Hut gift cards for the students, and took them out shopping to buy Christmas gifts. “Boon is the bomb,” Vasquez said. “If anyone ever gets a teacher’s award, it should be him.” Recalling what was happening with Vasquez five years ago, Boon said the family was in just the type of situation the resource center exists for: families who have, for whatever reason, gotten down on their luck and would appreciate and benefit greatly from some extra help. “That’s a perfect example really of what the resource center does,” he said. Now, school’s out for summer. The students have left, backpacks slung homework-less over shoulders, but the resource center remains open. Lisa Vasquez is far from the only one to have faced hardships leading to economic troubles. Many students are anything but stressfree — during the school year and the summer. Students and parents struggle with unemployment, poverty, homelessness, overdue medical bills, and other situations, often beyond their control and overwhelming. That is exactly why staff like Boon are around to help these students have at least some of their basic needs met.

Students were faking it, pretending they were doing just fine, but that wasn’t at all the case


oon’s interest in helping students and other kids in need started 20 years ago with the start of the school’s charity Christmas program. “I think at that point was when I realized how many kids and how many families were maybe faking it and pretending they were doing well,” he said. Mark’s wife, Sue Boon, started the Youth Resource Center nearly a decade ago while she was working at Journey, an alternative high school and middle school associated with both Ludington Area Schools and Mason County Central. However, the resource center soon grew too large for Journey to contain, so she brought the work to Ludington, where she still does the majority of the clothes sorting and other work. Nearly all of the food currently at the center came as a result of Ludington’s food drives at O.J. DeJonge Middle School and Ludington High School this year. Monetary donations that come to the center are put toward buying underwear, socks, personal hygiene products, and small gift cards for grocery stores. Originally, clothing was not among the items the center was going to offer, but it does now,

‘It’s more about putting our

resources at the front end rather than having to pick up the pieces at the back end.’ Lynne Russell United Way of Mason County

Jeff Kiessel | Daily News

MCC Food Service employee Lisa Thompson serves food on the second day of MCC’s Summer Feeding Program at the Upper Elementary in Scottville. Thompson said they usually serve 70 students for both breakfast and lunch every weekday.

Garrett Richie | Daily News

Lisa Vasquez loads a box of food into her car at the mobile food pantry Tuesday in the parking lot of Cornerstone Baptist Church. Vasquez, who has fought through liver cancer and also broken her back in three places, volunteers at the drive after picking up her food in order to give back to the community.

Garrett Richie | Daily News

Mark Boon leans against a table in the Ludington Area Schools Youth Resource Center. Boon, who was formerly a teacher, attendance counselor, and principal at Ludington High School, is now an at-risk worker and spends a lot of time working at the resource center with his wife, Sue.

During the 2011-2012 school year, 345 students

How to help

had been identified as living in a homeless situation in the

Mark Boon said the Youth Resource Center is always looking for more boxes of Hamburger Helper and other boxed dinners, since the center goes through hundreds of them every year. Small gift cards to grocery stores to buy fresh produce are also appreciated. If you would like to make a donation, call the Boons at home at (231) 843 4116  to set up a time during the summer to drop off donations.

Ludington, Mason County Central, Mason County Eastern, Pentwater and Baldwin school districts.


Ludington Area Schools/Journey

Denise Jones said monetary donations are always useful for buying more goods for students or to help fund students who don’t qualify for homelessness under certain government agencies. Food, clothing, and gift cards or coupons to restaurants are also appreciated. MCE Alicia Miller, guidance counselor and McKinney-Vento liaison, said the school’s Teen Pantry is always looking for more canned goods to be donated.

even using donated funds to help students buy or rent clothes for prom or homecoming. Boon said local businesses have been great about providing discounts for rented formal wear for these occasions, too.

Helping youths who are homeless meet basic needs, stay in school


overty and homelessness are not in the forefront of every middle-class citizen’s mind. But it is not easy to ignore in the schools, especially for Denise Jones. At Mason County Central, Jones’ desk is surrounded by bags, boxes and plastic containers that line her desk and the walls of her office, all filled with donated goods, clothes and food for students living in homeless situations. Jones, who serves as Mason County Central’s homeless education liaison and coordinator, works with MCC’s students in need on a daily basis. “People sometimes have short attention spans,” she said. “They know there’s a problem, but everybody has their own issues and their own stories. So they might want to donate, but their own life takes over, and they kind of forget about it. It’s a conversation that we need to keep going.” For Jones, putting homeless students on the back burner isn’t an option. “My role as the McKinney-Vento liaison is to help the kids stay in school and to give the homeless students the same opportunity that a housed student has,” she said. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was passed by the Ronald Reagan Administration in 1987. Federal law provides funding for shelter programs and gives money to each school’s McKinneyVento program to use for students who meet the act’s definition of homelessness, which is “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence.” This can include sharing housing with another person or persons, living in motels, hotels, or campgrounds, awaiting foster care placement, or living in housing that is in substandard condition. The numbers are alarming. (See sidebar at far right.) More than

jeff kiessel| Daily News

Denise Jones serves as the homeless education liaison and coordinator for Mason County Central schools and works with students in need on a daily basis, including providing toiletries and basic necessities throughout the summer. half of Mason County students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and hundreds of students in the community are considered homeless. Jones said usually between 10 and 20 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch live in homeless situations. During the 2011-2012 school year, 345 students had been identified as living in a homeless situation in the Ludington, Mason County Central, Mason County Eastern, Pentwater and Baldwin school districts. Jones said this number was definitely lower than the real figure, since it is impossible for the McKinney-Vento liaisons and other staff to identify 100 percent of the homeless population, especially since most of the liaisons either serve as guidance counselors, principals, or superintendents on top of their duty as McKinneyVento liaison. Kids who are without a legal guardian present an especially tricky problem for Jones and other McKinney-Vento liaisons. “One of the things we have a lot of around here are what we call unaccompanied youth,” Jones says. “They’re kids that have left home or been kicked out of the house, so if they’re not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian they’re considered an unaccompanied youth.” Unaccompanied youth often don’t have access to legal documents and identification like their birth certificates or Social Security cards, which are necessary for medical attention, hotel vouchers, and other services they need. For this reason, Jones encourages all students she works with to obtain a school ID or other type of picture

identification to keep with them. Educators say one of the major problems that homelessness in the student population creates is the extreme difficulty many of these students face in attending school, studying and completing homework on a regular and consistent basis. “It’s so important to keep these kids in their school of origin if at all possible because everything in their life is changing, and they need something that’s going to be safe and steady and familiar and they need to go on with their routine as much as possible,” she said. Alicia Miller, who just finished her first year as the guidance counselor and McKinney-Vento liaison at Mason County Eastern, agreed. “You want the kids to stay in the school they’re in even though they’re having housing issues,” she said. “It kind of helps maintain a kind of stable educational environment for them and keeps things going in a positive way.”

Making the Journey starts with the first step


n the wall behind Journey High School Principal Jamie Bandstra’s desk, a classic quote is painted on the wall. It reads, “The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Journey has been intentionally capitalized to emphasize the school’s name. At Journey, Bandstra and his teachers try to keep improving how to help students at the alternative education high school take that first step.

Journey High School operates on a project-based learning system that helps students who, for whatever reason, didn’t respond to or succeed in a traditional learning environment, all while addressing the individual learning needs of each student. Often times, these issues are not simply behavioral, as many believe. “We’ve seen a huge trend that there’s a lot of it Jamie that is connected to Bandstra socioeconomic situations,” Bandstra said. “We have a number of students living in situational or generational poverty, and we use a lot of Ruby Payne’s ideas (from “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”) in addressing and understanding our students.” “Teachers started reading that five years ago, and since we’ve read that we’ve become more and more committed to addressing those needs that we see in students, because really what research shows is that for students who grow up in those kind of home situations, the way that they think and the way that their brains operate can make it difficult to learn in a formal setting.” According to Bandstra, who is also the boys varsity basketball coach at Ludington High School, about 25 percent of Journey’s 115 students qualify as living in a homeless situation as defined by McKinney-Vento. Because homelessness is almost inevitable for kids who leave home during high school, Bandstra does his best to encourage students to seek other options aside from setting out on their own.

“They really don’t have the resources to survive independently,” Bandstra said. “I talk to a lot of students who are struggling in that home situation and I really challenge them and say ‘Hey, if you can work this out at home, do it, because you have to realize you don’t have the resources to be independent right now.’” However, for students in need who have no other options, Journey still makes plenty of accommodations. Journey has a full kitchen as well as a washer and dryer. The school also has an account available to provide funds to students, with many of the donations coming from Mason County Reformed Church, as well as other local organizations and donors. Bandstra said these donations end up totaling between $1,000 and $1,500 every year. The Yada Yada Resale Store offers coupons for free clothing to Journey and also allows students to volunteer at the store in exchange for these coupons.

Sometimes the stories are so sad they make you cry


or MCC’s Jones, working with homelessness and the students affected by it doesn’t stop when she walks out of her office. Within the walls of her own home, her phone rings from time to time. Students originally reluctant to call or embarrassed to come into her office will eventually give in and call. Once a student called saying he was sleeping on the football field, under the lights where he thought it would be warmer. “Sometimes it’s very difficult,” Jones says. “In fact, the first month I had the job, I got sick, I cried, and then I learned how to handle it. It doesn’t mean I don’t cry every now and then, but you learn how to handle it a little bit better.” She recalls one of the more heartbreaking stories of her career. “I’ve had girls sit in my office, and I know what they’re trading for a roof over their head. I had one girl in tears tell me, ‘Ms. Denise, you don’t want to know what

I did.’ And I know what she did.” Her voice trails off. “So, that’s one of those situations where…those hurt,” she said. “You can’t protect everybody from everything.” Though this might be true, Jones isn’t deterred. “They need a safe place and a safe person who they can come to who has their best interest at heart, and I am their advocate.” For Miller at MCE, transitioning from being a guidance counselor at Buena Vista to becoming the McKinney-Vento liaison added extra concern for the well being of students struggling to find housing. “When you have an added job of taking care of people who are in crisis, who don’t have a place to stay or who don’t have a meal tomorrow, you’re a little more in tune to it but also stressed because you want to help them and you want to find the answers,” she said.

Making it personal and going the extra mile for students


t both Journey and Ludington, teachers and staff are making similar connections with students. From buying kids new clothes for graduation to sponsoring trips with the French club, teachers provide more for their students than just curriculum. Boon said when he puts out a request or notice for something over the staff email listserv, someone will usually have it taken care of or donated within a day or two. “Our staff would do anything for kids,” he said. “That’s one of the most important things you’ll find in a school — for kids to know that they have adults who care, and we definitely have that here.” For teachers and workers who deal with poverty and homelessness every day, they enjoy seeing the community show its support. “Sometimes I will come in in the morning and I can’t get into my office because I have bags of stuff sitting there and I have no idea who’s dropped it off,” Jones said. “The community has been wonderful,” she said. “A lot of what

MCC schools summer meals program schedule Free meals are available through July 19 at the following locations:   MCC Upper Elementary 505 W. Maple St., Scottville    8:30 a.m. – 9:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.    Victory Early Childhood 4171 N. Stiles Rd.    7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.    11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.    Pere Marquette School 1115 S. Madison St., Ludington    11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.    Emanuel Lutheran Church 501 E. Danaher St., Ludington    11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.    Mason County Eastern School 18 S. Main St., Custer    8:15 a.m. – 8:45 a.m.    11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

you see in this office has been donated by the community.” Bandstra echoed Jones’ experience, citing the original outsourcing of the resource center. “We had people calling constantly and dropping stuff off, which was a great problem to have,” Bandstra said. “We’d have piles of clothes by our front door and we still get people that will bring stuff to students on occasion.”

Summer lunch and assistance


n Tuesday, June 11, MCC Food Service Department employee Lisa Thompson was busy serving up sloppy Joes, applesauce, corn and chocolate milk on the second day of the MCC Summer Feeding Program at the Upper Elementary in Scottville. Thompson, who has worked the program for the past five years, said the Upper Elementary usually has around 70 people come in for breakfast and lunch every weekday. Like the school year’s free breakfast and lunch program, the MCC Summer Feeding Program is government sponsored.  However, the major difference is that during the summer, any student can come to one of the program’s various Scottville or Ludington locations for a free lunch — they don’t have to qualify for any benefit program. Boon does his best to tell as many students as he can about it. “I’ll even tell kids in driver’s training, ‘You know, there’s no restrictions on this,’ and we’ve stopped before to get a lunch, because there’s a lot of kids who don’t eat at home,” Boon said. Thompson said it’s good to see the kids come because it is a big help for kids whose parents work during the summer or who have no other option for lunch. “We like it if the kids come,” she said. “Usually once they start they’ll come all summer long.” In addition to the food available, Boon and Jones are around all summer as well. The Youth Resource Center is only a phone call away for those who come during the school year. “They know they’re free to

‘… we’ve stopped before to get a lunch, because there’s a lot of kids who don’t eat at home.’ give us a call, and we’ll find them stuff if they need it,” Boon said. Jones is in her office for students who need resources or just want to come in and plan for the future. “The main thing is we want the student to succeed,” Jones said. “These kids have to have an education to be successful in life.”

Almost 27 percent of Mason County’s children 17 years and younger were living in poverty in 2011, and 32.2 percent of kids up to 18 years old benefited from the state’s Food Assistance Program, according to data compiled from both the U.S. Census Bureau and Kids Count 2013 by Lynne Russell, executive director of the United Way of Mason County. Mason County’s overall poverty rate in 2011 — including people of all ages — was 18.1 percent. That’s more than 3 percentage points (or 20 percent) higher than the national average, which was 15 percent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an individual is living in poverty if his/her annual income is $11,945 or less, or $18,480 or less for a family of three with one dependent. The United Way of Mason County has taken notice of the problem of youths in poverty and homelessness. Russell said a major priority area for United Way of Mason County is for children and youths to achieve their full potential, and the agency tries to achieve this by funding groups and organizations with specific programming that benefits children and families. “United Way of Mason County believes that raising confident and successful children is critical to the overall health and well-being of our community,” Russell said. “They are our future. It’s more about putting our resources at the front end rather than having to pick up the pieces at the back end.”

More than half of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch Students qualifying for free/ reduced-price lunch, by district percentage. Mason County had an average rate of 57 percent of students qualifying for free-reduced-price lunch, which ranked 56th in the state out of 83 counties, according to Kids Count 2013.

To qualify for reduced-price lunch, a family of three must make an annual income below $36,131. For each individual family member, the figure goes up $7,437. For free lunch, that income figure is $25,389, going up $5,226 for each additional family member.

Baldwin Total enrollment: 553 Qualified for free lunch: 501 Qualified for reduced lunch: 19 Percent: 94% Mason County Eastern Total enrollment: 472 Qualified for free lunch: 287 Qualified for reduced lunch: 59 Percent: 73.3% Hart Total enrollment: 1,211 Qualified for free lunch: 779 Qualified for reduced lunch: 79 Percent: 70.9% Mason County Central Total enrollment: 1,420 Qualified for free lunch: 795 Qualified for reduced lunch: 113 Percent: 63.9% Pentwater Total enrollment: 285 Qualified for free lunch: 122 Qualified for reduced lunch: 37 Percent: 55.7% Manistee Total enrollment: 1,676 Qualified for free lunch: 694 Qualified for reduced lunch: 160 Percent: 51.1% Ludington Total enrollment: 2240 Qualified for free lunch: 989 Qualified for reduced lunch: 117 Percent: 49.3%

Bridging the Gap  

How our communities are coming together to help struggling individuals and families get ahead. A continuing series in the Ludington Daily Ne...

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