My Metromode nonprofit series story about Champions for Change

Sometimes, issues like systemic racism can feel so deeply rooted and overwhelming that it’s hard to know where to even begin chipping away at it.

But that’s when we must remind ourselves that all journeys begin with a single step.

One step taken by Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW) – a Washtenaw County-based nonprofit support organization – involved a push to diversify the boards of local nonprofits. (Of the county’s more than 2,400 hundred nonprofit organizations, fewer than 30 are led by a person of color.)
After nearly a decade of NEW’s matching and recruitment efforts, more than 200 people of color were serving on local nonprofits’ boards; but what appeared like progress on a broad scale seemed to have little substantive impact within each organization.

So a second, more recent step involved the development of NEW’s Champions for Change program, which initially aimed to cultivate and support leaders of color within the nonprofit sector.

“But once we started having meetings with stakeholders, we started to understand that if we’re really going to attempt achieving systemic change, we have to be more open and offer the program to leadership across our county,” said NEW’s relationship manager Will Jones III.

“There’s still a heavy emphasis on nonprofits, and working with leaders of color, but we’re also working with white leaders. Given the current power dynamics that are in play, if you’re not including white leaders in the conversation, you’re not going to be moving the needle forward at all.” READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode nonprofit series story about shifts in the financial landscape during the pandemic

How has the pandemic been affecting Michigan’s nonprofits, financially speaking?

Well, perhaps not surprisingly, the answer’s complicated.

“The funding landscape for this year has been as diverse as the nonprofit sector itself,” said Donna Murray-Brown, President and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

This is to say, the kind of fiscal year you’re having as a nonprofit largely depends on both the services you offer and the nature of your funding distribution.

“For organizations that were able to make a strong case to their donors that they are addressing the health, social and economic challenges of COVID-19, philanthropy has continued to be very strong,” said Steve Ragan, Executive Vice President at Hope Network, a Michigan nonprofit that provides services to people with disabilities. “In fact, it has often been earned revenue, not philanthropy, that has been hit hardest. This is especially true for hospitals, universities, arts & culture nonprofits.”

This is because, of course, these organizations haven’t been able to offer the same level of care, in-person instruction, and cultural programming that usually provides a sizable part of their revenue.

“For those that depend on fees generated from in-person engagement, … the funding landscape has been devastating,” said Murray-Brown. “ … Some had relief from the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), yet the funds have been expended, and they are feeling the stress because they need more resources.” READ THE REST HERE

My Good Housekeeping story about today’s period-positivity-embracing tweens

Earlier this year, just days shy of my daughter’s 12th birthday, I was changing her bed’s sheets when she said, in an offhand but discreet way, “Just so you know, I started my period. But it’s fine. I’m taking care of it. I’m just letting you know, because you asked me to tell you.”

Putting on my best poker face, I offered a quick hug and kiss and told her to let me know if she had any questions or needed anything — but I secretly marveled at how she’d seemingly taken this transition in stride, when my own first period experience, in the 1980s, had been shrouded in fear, confusion and shame. (You know. The kind that makes a frantic fifth grader wad up half a dozen tissues into her underpants.) 

Then, a few months after my daughter’s low-key pronouncement, two 11-year-old Girl Scouts arrived at our door and asked my husband for a donation to their Bronze Award project. They were assembling first period kits — packed with a variety of pads and tampons, starter Diva Cups (donated by the company, after the girls pled their case via Zoom) and junior-sized period underwear — for every fifth grade girl in the school district. READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about Farmington Civic Theater’s 80 years survival

You probably didn’t know, but one of the crown jewels of Farmington’s downtown district, the Civic Theater, quietly turned 80 on September 20th.

That seems like a pretty big milestone to go unnoticed. But because movie theaters in Michigan are still closed due to the pandemic – until October 9, as per the Governor’s recently announced executive order – Farmington’s beloved, city-owned art deco cinema has been limited to selling its chief concession, popcorn, three times a week (Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday from 5:30 to 8 p.m.) and giving out the occasional dog treat.

“It’s nice to see people’s faces again – well, half their faces, anyway,” says Civic Theater manager Scott Freeman. ” … A lot of people tell us they can’t wait for us to reopen. But they’ll come and get popcorn, and some people take it home, while some just walk around town and eat it. That will change as the weather changes, I’m sure.” READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about new nonprofit leaders facing the COVID pandemic

There’s almost always a sharp learning curve when you assume the top leadership role at a nonprofit organization.

But when you happen to take the reins shortly before a pandemic stops the world, you inevitably face a kind of double transition into entirely new worlds.

We spoke with two local nonprofit leaders who took the reins just as the pandemic hit. Here are their stories.

CHRISTIAN GREER, MICHIGAN SCIENCE CENTER

Christian Greer left St. Louis to become President and CEO of the Michigan Science Center in July 2019, intrigued by both the innovation happening in Detroit and MSC’s unique facility.

“It had everything I would have wanted – an IMAX theater, great science exhibits, hands-on programs, and it was right next to other museums, right in the heart of the city,” said Greer, who noted that MSC had been without a CEO for a year when he arrived. “The challenge was the organization was in a little bit of chaos, understaffed and underfunded, so there wasn’t a lot to work with. But that can be both attractive and scary – attractive because you know you could go to a place and make a difference. … And if you’re a mission-driven person, that’s how you know you’re exactly where you should be.” READ THE REST HERE

My Michigan Alumnus profile of The Broadway Collective founder Robert Hartwell

While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most actors into a hiatus, 10-year Broadway veteran Robert Hartwell, ’09, has never been busier. Four years ago, Hartwell — who has appeared in five Broadway shows, including “Hello, Dolly!” and “Motown the Musical” — launched The Broadway Collective. The musical theater, youth education program boasts a 97% success rate for getting students into top musical theater college programs. Although he already offered some online instruction, he shifted all his in-person classes to Zoom and a private Facebook group in March. Since then, the number of students taking part in his program has nearly tripled.

Recently, Hartwell shared with Michigan Alumnus the lessons he learned from his childhood and time at U-M that have helped him on stage and off. READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about how Michigan nonprofits staffers are handling pandemic stress

As many nonprofit workers can tell you, when your job is all about helping people in distress – regardless of whether it’s of the physical, mental, or financial variety – you sometimes forget to take care of yourself.

“It’s weird for us,” said Judy Gardner, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Washtenaw County. “As a support organization, we’re not used to thinking about our own mental health. We’re always more focused on the folks we serve.”

Yet the mental health toll on the nonprofit sector’s front line workers in Michigan has been significant.

“I call it the superhero complex,” said Sharonda Simmons, Ozone House’s director of education and outreach in Ann Arbor. “I appreciate all the love and support people have shown for front line workers, and the signs and the applause are nice. But on some level, this also puts them at a distance and takes away from the fact that these are still just human beings … who get exhausted like everyone else.”

Part of Simmons’ concern for her colleagues stems from the fact that they’re “used to doing this work in a more personal capacity,” Simmons said. “Doing it virtually is not the same, and that takes a big toll on morale. We’re used to getting in to work and interacting and engaging with people, and we can’t do that right now.” READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about what you can do outdoors in downtown Farmington

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 2.03.49 PMWhat was once merely a perk of living in Farmington – that is, an inviting, walkable downtown – has become, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lifeline for both residents and businesses.

For after quarantining at home for months, most locals are itching to get out of the house while the summer sun shines, and several hungry local businesses have aimed to extend their reach outdoors, since this remains the safest option for everyone.

So what kind of things can you do outside now in downtown Farmington?

Well, on Saturdays, you could visit the town’s award-winning Farmington Farmers Market. And if you’re taking a stroll around town during August, you may get to see some public art in-progress, since local artists Mary Lou Stropoli and Mac Harthun have each designed a mural (for Sunflour Bakehaus and The Vines Flower and Garden shop, respectively) that will be going up soon.

But you can also, at any time, claim a seat on a local restaurant’s patio. Sidecar Slider Bar owner Scot Pelc, for one, is likely to greet you with a big smile – behind a mask, from a safe distance. READ THE REST HERE

My Ann Arbor Observer review of painter Sarah Adlerstein’s online exhibit, ‘Not for Sale: My Private Collection’

Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 9.35.14 PMFew things are more seductive than hearing a stranger’s secrets, and looking at something beautiful that you can never possess.

Both temptations play a role in Sara Adlerstein’s new online art exhibit, “Not for Sale: My Private Collection.” A response to WSG Gallery’s recent (May 26th) brick-and-mortar closure, it showcases an often-stunning array of the abstract painter’s most personally meaningful pieces, with comments that explain their context and inspiration.

The result is a bracingly intimate experience. Arranged chronologically and spanning nearly forty years, “Not For Sale” begins with Adlerstein’s early life as a scientist in Chile. Studying aquatic ecology in college (she’s now a research scientist at U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability), Adlerstein spent hours staring at microalgae through a microscope lens. These “silent worlds” gave shape to her artistic vision. READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about Michigan nonprofits adapting to the new normal

Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 9.53.16 PMAt the start of Michigan’s COVID-19 shutdown in March, a lot of work came to an abrupt stop.

But organizations that support the state’s nonprofit sector actually got busier – albeit from home.

“For us, our work increased,” said Kelley Kuhn, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for the Michigan Nonprofit Association. “We had to look at ways to help organizations navigate through this time of uncertainty, and help them stay informed about new opportunities.”

That pivot included regular, check-in phone calls, policy updates, and a four-part, expert-led webinar about Paycheck Protection Program loans.

“We’re trying to make sure nonprofits know what these programs are, since many of them offer capital that nonprofits haven’t traditionally had access to,” said Kuhn.

That’s not to say these shifts came easily, given the collaborative nature of nonprofit support organizations. READ THE REST HERE