by Lisa Benck, Communications & Training Associate
A couple of weeks ago, I set on an adventure to the Upper Peninsula. Though it was not my first visit to this very relaxed and beautiful part of the state, it was my first as a CEDAM employee. I was embarking on a vacation to the Porcupine Mountains, and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to visit our Northern members and learn more about their projects first hand. Of course, I did indulge in a delicious homemade pasty (with ketchup per U.P. etiquette), but more importantly, discovered first hand what some of the great organizations in the Upper Peninsula are up to.
My first visit was with Amy Hodgins with the Alger-Marquette Community Action Board (amcab). I met Amy during CEDAM’s CCDI Training: Real Estate Boot Camp earlier this year and was excited to see the projects that she described to me. Amcab is a 501(c)(3) organization in Marquette focusing on varying levels of community needs including those of early childhood, housing, outreach and employment throughout Alger and Marquette Counties. Amy showcased their beautiful affordable housing developments scattered in and around the City of Marquette. She described the constant push for affordable housing to include simple facade improvements that blend into communities and can be made homey. Accessibility to services and jobs is critical, which becomes more difficult if affordable housing is located far from city centers in rural counties. Amcab works to fill that need and bridge the gap to help create stronger social equity.
I then met Dennis West of Northern Initiatives, also located in Marquette. Northern Initiatives is a private nonprofit community development corporation that provides small rural businesses in Michigan and northeast Wisconsin with access to capital, information and markets. Northern Initiatives partners with Northern Michigan University (NMU) and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Centers and is a certified Community Development Financial Institution participating in the Opportunity Finance Network CDFI Assessment and Rating System (CARS). Some of the reasons entrepreneurs may consult with Northern Initiatives are to learn about website optimization and e-commerce capabilities, understand existing markets, general business applications and learn about software and marketing. Northern Initiatives works to create a unified marketing strategy to develop local communities in support of business sustainability and cultural identity. These strategies include promotional materials and a unified voice to highlight unique assets and treasures, while creating a message that speaks to conservation and increased social equity.
My final visit was to City of Hancock in the Keweenaw Peninsula, a short jaunt away from the northern most point in Michigan (excluding Isle Royale). Gail Ross is the Executive Director of the Hancock Housing Commission, an extension of Hancock’s organizing body. The Housing Commission currently supports affordable housing for low-income adults and seniors, as well as people with physical or developmental disabilities. Special care and amenities were implemented in the construction of the Quincy Haven Apartments to provide fair and comfortable housing for people are suited to live on their own, but where standard units may provide barriers and hardships. Gail fought tooth and nail for this project to materialize despite pushbacks and overcoming a serious personal illness. However, these units stand beautifully proud, full to capacity and even include a public bus route that helps transport people to give them access to the hospital, groceries and other activities.
During a tour of the apartments, a lady kindly let me inside to check out her diggs. She has a slight mental disability and lived in housing for nearly 19 years where she was dependent on the system. She was fully capable – and wanted – to live on her own, but didn’t have the resources or support system to accommodate it. When the Quincy Haven Apartments opened, she moved right in and hasn’t looked back. She now has a comfortable one bedroom apartment and buys her own essential goods, cooks for herself and is independent with staff readily available to help her if needed.
CEDAM is proud of all of the people throughout the State of Michigan who work to do positive things for their communities. More often than not, projects involve constant barriers and require compromise if even able to advance. When opportunities are taken and ideas develop into fruition, the results are unbelievable and can change a person’s life. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn more so candidly from people who opened up their worlds to me on a personal level. Whatever the project, the mission is universal: a safe, sustainable and healthy Michigan. I can’t wait to visit more members, hear more stories and reflect on the warriors we have in our state.