“If The Good Lord’s Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise”


This is a story that almost didn’t happen.  Sometimes having even the best of intentions isn’t sufficient…not enough to get the job done.  My grandmother used to say something like…”If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise”…all things in life are a possibility.  And on Friday, April 29th, 10:00a.m at Remus Robinson Academy, I was lookin’ for a willin’ Lord and a creek that was slow to rise!

The Detroit Public School System has been all over the news lately with a lot of attention focused on some school closings and teacher layoffs.  It is a very difficult and complex time.  The emotional and mental state of everyone…from the students to the principals to the janitors…there is a high degree of uncertainty in the air.  Questions are asked and the answer is the same for all of them…“Keep On Pushing!”  There could only be one answer.  This is not the time for the weak or faint hearted.  Motivation has to be found…it needs to be re-ignited so that plans, promises, commitments, wishes and prayers of so many can be fulfilled.

I had been in contact with Principal Sharon Lee and it was easy to sense the stress that she was going through.  Though not on the immediate closing list, there were several unsettling issues that remained to be addressed.  Morale was, as anybody would expect, kind of low.  Not to say that people were just going through the motions, people just needed time to react…absorb…bounce back!  And that’s what they got.  They got the best thing that could have happened for them, the school and the garden project…SPRING BREAK!

On the day after Easter, students returned to class and teachers returned to work.  The weather projection for the week didn’t look promising initially, but as the week progressed there were small but positive signs that the weather on Friday just might turn out okay or be just good enough.  I had a brief conversation with Principal Lee, mid-week and a conversation with Beverly Outland, Co-op Services Credit Union, providing her with an update on the groundbreaking.  Yes, it was still going to happen, but to be honest I didn’t know what to expect.  I was hopeful but something just didn’t feel quite right…and it wasn’t the weather.

So Friday morning my sister (who is responsible for most of the photography you find on my blog) and I packed up some gear and headed off to the school.  When we got there I had my personal “WOW” moment when I saw, for the first time, the sign that Co-op Services Credit Union made for the garden.  You know the satisfaction you get when you get that first forkfull of strawberry cheesecake, the last tug on the straw of a cold black cherry phosphate or your first banana split of the summer…well that’s how I felt when I saw the sign. SWEET!

Another pleasurable moment of this day was the turnout of significant others related to the program.  The ultimate “significant other” that showed up for the day’s ceremony was Lisa Fawcett, the Marketing Director of Co-op Services Credit Union. 

Lisa Fawcett, Marketing Director, Co-op Services Credit Union (l), Beverly Outland, Product Development Coordinator, Co-op Services Credit Union (r)

Lisa’s presence clearly underscored the strong commitment that the credit union has made to the school and the community that surrounds it.  She had an “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world” look of joy and pride as she witnessed and heard the appreciative banter of the kids, the teachers and a small group of parents (“more significant others”) that showed up for the event.  It was like now she, too, was a member of the Remus Robinson Academy family.  Welcome to the village!

Lisa Fawcett (l), Principal Sharon Lee, Remus Robinson Academy (r)

As we watched the kids march out of the school, I thought I heard one of the teacher’s aides say “If the good Lord is willin” and I thought again about my grandmother and her use of the phrase.  Here we were on a chilly and damp morning that still held a threat of rain, out on the former baseball field that was now going to be a garden…a new field of dreams if you will.  In spite of the week’s rainy weather, Kristopher Hoemke, the teacher that is managing the program, had gotten out and turned over a considerable patch of land, with the assistance of the father of a leader of the LSCO (Local School Community Organization) a certain Ms. Taylor.  Hmmmmmm…“was the Lord willin?”

"It's A Start!"

As the kids surrounded the initial plot, I noticed that each kid was armed and ready to work in the garden.  They all looked so cute wearing gloves, caps and holding hand tools.  Kindergartners and up, wearing big smiles on their faces, each without a clue as to how much work there really was to be done.  I am glad that through a little hard work, they will ultimately know, understand and appreciate the knowledge and the character building that this empty plot will give them as it transforms into a bountiful garden.  Good things do come out of hard work.



So now comes Principal Lee.  Marching from the school to the plot, she has time to shake the hand of every parent out there while at the same time making sure that no kid acts out and embarrasses the school.  She stands at the garden site and looks over the rows of kids like Generals Patton or MacArthur surveying their troops.  She is proud…very, very proud! 

Lisa Fawcett (l), Principal Sharon Lee (r)

Principal Sharon Lee (l), Beverly Outland (r)

Principal Lee must have gone to the “James Brown Communication Academy” because like the singer every gesture…arch of a brow…wiggle of a finger or wave of the hand had a meaning or a message for the throng standing there.  All eyes, young and old were on her and it was a joy to watch her radiate in the moment.  This was a church meeting and standing over the new garden sign like it was her altar, Principal Lee began a call and response routine with the kids.

Principal Lee facing the crowd!

She introduced Misses Outland and Fawcett to the kids.  There were cheers and applause.  She talked to them about the Rock Star Savers program that the credit union was executing on their behalf.  More cheers and a louder applause!  Once again she had the students thank them for the donation that the credit union made in support of the program.  And as she spoke you could see it in the eyes and in the smiles of each and every kid out there, and their parents too.  You could see that they felt important enough for someone to care about them.  On this day they believed that someone believed in them.  That someone that matters showed that they mattered too.  It was my turn to cheer and applaud!

Ribbon Cutting with Principal Lee, Student and Beverly Outlandfrom the left, Beverly Outland, Lisa Fawcett, Principal Sharon Lee and Kristopher Hoemke (Teacher/Remus Robinson Academy)

There are only a few times in ones life you don’t need a picture to hold and capture a moment forever.  I will remember this day for the rest of my life.  Friday, April 29, 2011 was the day that the “good Lord was willin’ and the creek surely did not rise!  Remus Robinson Academy will have their community garden.  Hallelujah and Amen to that!

Do you want to be part of all the fun?  Remus Robinson Academy could use a small group of dedicated volunteers to assist with the gardening program.  Contact the following:

The office of:

Principal Sharon Lee

(313) 866-5500



Kristopher Hoemke

(734) 717-5859



To learn more about the services and programs of Co-op Services Credit Union click here.  Let them know how you feel about this and the other community programs they have embraced.

Project Sweet Tomato, a Nine Below Zero program.  Contact Arthur Littsey at (313) 369-1710 or littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net


Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates…


Forrest Gump

“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Yes indeed, and it is because you don’t really know what to expect.  When I put out the call to businesses and friends to support the Project Sweet Tomato program, I had no real expectations as to who would step up and embark with me in an effort that could impact and influence the lives of our children by demonstrating how to have a healthy lifestyle in a fun, yet educational way.  A broad effort that included social outreaches and not just to the children/students, but to their families and their community, also.  Relevant, inspirational and motivational outreach to many was the intended outcome goal of the program but to witness it, as I have, has been a totally pleasurable experience.  An experience that I believe has been shared by my partners in the program, so far.  Many have embraced Project Sweet Tomato and a lot of people have shown their support for the program in unexpected but highly valued and much appreciated ways.  One such supporter is Maura Ryan-Kaiser.

One day, last summer, over a lovely dinner with Maura, her husband Jack and a friend, we had a fun conversation about Farmville one of the games on Facebook and a game that Maura had totally embraced.  I chided her for playing the game when to my surprise she told me about her container gardening efforts and the landscaping effort that was now their backyard.  I have to tell you that looking out over their yard with the colors so natural, rich and vibrant was like viewing a frame of an early Disney movie…like living in a Technicolor world.  Further testament to her love of actual gardening was that we had tomatoes from her container garden in the salad.  Not bad!!!

I don’t know if it was at that moment that I thought that the Kaiser’s would be interested in getting involved with Project Sweet Tomato, which at the time was still a concept.  One thing I did know was that if they were to get involved it would be in a most sincere and significant way.


The Kaiser Family

I was very happy when I got the call that the Kaiser’s and their family business, Snelling Staffing Services were joining the program.  We shared several emails discussing the finer points of the program and throughout the entire process it was clear that there was a vision, that, like my other sponsors went beyond giving a bunch of kids some seeds to plant in the ground.  Maura had shared the concept with her staff and she came to the table with a volunteer group of 13 strong, and that included her two sons.


In addition to the volunteers, she detailed other elements of her vision or more appropriately her mission now that she was engaged in the program.  She saw an opportunity to use her client base to create an ongoing series of career fairs.  Real world…in real time, frank discussions on what it will take to be employed in the present and the future.  Another element was establishing a mentoring program.  This would be something she would like to get her clients involved in also.  The plus side is that everybody that gets involved in the effort gains…it is a win at all levels.

Project Sweet Tomato


Snelling Staffing Services


Business Partners/Clients


Public School


Relevant Business Outreach + Positive Community Engagement



It was during the first week of April that I got the call from the Detroit Public School Foundation/Detroit Regional Chamber representative, Brooke Franklin of Business Corps, to discuss a school for Snelling Staffing Services.  We discussed two schools and due to the nature of the resources that Snelling intended to provide it was determined that the complex of schools known as Cody High would be the ideal partner for Snelling in the Project Sweet Tomato program.  Cody is made up of five schools that address different education disciplines and their names reflect their individual and independent curriculums.

 Cody - Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody

For Project Sweet Tomato, Snelling Staffing Services has been partnered with Detroit Institute of Technology.  The principal of DIT is Ms. Mary Kovari.  There are two teachers that have been assigned to work with us, and they are Ms. Forchatta Scott and Ms. C. Ramona Gligor.  We held our first meeting on Friday, April 29th, where we were introduced to another Cody/DIT sponsor, East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC, www.emeac.org), which was represented by Ms. Lizzy Baskerville.  EMEAC has a project that they call the “Greener Schools Program.”  The school has a lot of projects and goals it wants to accomplish over the next few years and Snelling uniquely provides the ways and means for some of them to be achieved

Arthur Littsey (l.), Maura Ryan-Kaiser (c.), Mary Kovari (r.)


Facing camera...Lizzy Baskerville (l.), Ramona Gligor (c.), Forchatta Scott (r.)

So when I look at this box of chocolates that I call Project Sweet Tomato, I can’t help but wonder with great anticipation what flavor will I get the next time?  What combination of business and school will I get that will produce another sweet outcome?

Inspired?  Want to get on the bandwagon?  Want to know how you can help?  Contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or email at littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.

To learn more about the Detroit Public Schools Volunteer Business Corps/B.O.L.D. (Business/Organizations Optimizing Learning in Detroit) partnership between the Detroit Public Schools, Detroit Regional Chamber and the Skillman Foundation        click here



Last Tuesday afternoon I witnessed an act that begs the question…“is it better to give or to receive?”

This question-leading act took place in the office of the principal of Detroit’s Remus Robinson Academy, Ms. Sharon Lee.  Beverly Outland, the Product Development Coordinator from Co-op Services Credit Union had just presented Principal Lee with a check for $1000.00 for her school garden, which is part of the urban garden program called Project Sweet Tomato.  In addition to the donation to the school, Ms. Outland was paying the administration fee for The Garden Resource Program and making an additional donation to the Greening of Detroit in the name of the school.  The look on the faces of these two ladies, one giving and the other receiving, was something special to behold.  If I didn’t already know who was doing what I would not have been able to tell.




Beverly Outland (l.), Principal Sharon Lee (r.)




Ms. Outland is an alumnus of the Detroit Public School System.  She went to Marshall Elementary, Nolan Junior High and Pershing High School.  She has a deep attachment to the neighborhood she grew up in and the city of Detroit and has spent much of her professional career finding ways to give back to the city and its communities.  She feels that she is extremely fortunate to be working for an organization that not only shares her beliefs but also promotes and supports her efforts and those of her fellow employees to make relevant contributions to society.  She gives…she receives!


What Co-op Services Credit Union understands is that you can’t fake your way into the hearts and minds of a community.  People know when a so-called “act of kindness” is nothing more than a publicity stunt.  A business writes a check and feels that their job is done…you never hear from or see them again.  That is until the next time they need a photo-op.  They know that communities, if they are going to survive and then thrive, are looking for a commitment.  They are looking for the type of commitment that reflects the depth of character, benevolent personality and sincere compassion of the company and that it, the commitment, will be there… everyday from sunrise to sunset.  To gain the respect of these people and ultimately their support in return you have to walk the walk while talking the talk.  In a variety of ways, Co-op Services Credit Union demonstrates that it is up to the task and by giving they ultimately will receive!




Principal Lee sharing the check with a classroom of kindergartners



As mentioned in an earlier blog, Co-op Services Credit Union, in addition toproviding support by sponsoring Project Sweet Tomato, intends to do the following for Remus Robinson Academy…


  • Introduce its Rock Star Savers program to the students of the school.  This program gives students the chance to open an account with the credit union with a $5.00 deposit that they will match with an additional $5.00.  Co-op Services Credit Union believes that it is very important to usher in the philosophy and discipline of proper money management at an early stage, giving these children lessons that they can carry forward for the rest of their lives.


  • Conduct financial literacy programs.  The purpose of these programs will be to break down the barriers to understanding banking that limit some teens, young adults and their parents in these fiscally difficult times.  It is their lack of understanding that keeps them in the cycle of bad financial decisions and non-productive lifestyles.  With the assistance and enthusiastic encouragement that is given sincerely by Co-op Services Credit Union these people will have a chance to change the paths that they are now on…moving from a world of futility to one that is filled with optimism and opportunity that they can truly embrace.


Can you imagine all of this happening just from the planting of one seed?  Co-op Services Credit Union, Principal Lee and the students of Remus Robinson Academy can!  So can you tell me what is better…giving or receiving?


To learn more about Project Sweet Tomato and other cause-related marketing programs contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net or (313) 369-1710.

Participation Is Mandatory


March 3, 2011 was the official launch of Project Sweet Tomato.  It was the day where, Beverly Outland/Co-op Services Credit Union and Principal Sharon Lee/Remus Robinson Academy, the two people most directly responsible for the ultimate success of the program, came together to discuss the plan for the community garden effort.  Before we actually sat down to go over the project, Ms. Outland and I had an opportunity to experience the dynamic that exists between Principal Lee and her students.  I don’t think that it would be an exaggeration to say that what we saw was totally unexpected.  Principal Lee enjoys a relationship with her students that I would like to believe is not unique in the Detroit school system.  Her passion…her compassion…her commitment to these kids is almost too hard to define or describe.  I couldn’t help but reflect to the time that I was in school and you either hated or feared (or both) your principal.  There was never the level of outreach that we observed on this day.  Our meeting was scheduled for 3:00 p.m., and as school was letting out for the day, we were privileged to see Principal Lee in action.  Principal Lee knew every student by his/her name, she has over 450, and their parents too!  Each student has a story and her involvement with all of them, individually and collectively, transcends what I previously thought was the standard relationship between administrator and student.  It would be very easy to accept what we read or hear about the dismal state of Detroit’s school program.  But having witnessed Principal Lee in action, one should have the feeling that as long as there are professionals like her, heading our schools, our children are safe, morally secure and in a position to learn.

Before our meeting actually started we were able to see that Principal Lee’s passion for the community garden effort, we were there to discuss, was not limited to just herself.  We were taken to a classroom filled with kindergartners, where she asked, by a show of hands which students were excited and happy to participate in the gardening project.  The eager to please youngsters, with their teacher beaming, reacted unanimously to the request and then in a spontaneous gesture one-by-one and then two-by-two, surrounded the principal, clutching her and expressing their love for her.  Things like this can’t be manufactured or forced, especially not by kids.  One can’t help but be affected by such genuine displays of love and respect.  

Once we sat down, we listened as Principal Lee related how important the community garden program was not only to the school but to the community as well.  She has a plan that will get every child…at every grade level involved.  Her plan calls for a school assembly to announce the program to her students.  Participation, in her words, is mandatory.  They have already taken steps to add it to the curriculum via an online program called Discovery Education.  She also intends to get the Local School Community Organization (LSCO), formerly called the PTA, involved as she feels that garden will need to be embraced by the surrounding neighborhood.  “The entire community needs this and will benefit from the program…not just the immediate student families”.   In her eyes, the school is the anchor in the community and through programs such as this, positive values and attributes can be reinforced or taught and that they will become the cornerstone of a potentially rewarding and successful lifestyle.  Participation is mandatory!

Co-op Services Credit Union, the project’s sponsor, has also gone beyond the basic script of the program by providing the following elements…

  • Making a donation to the school and to the Greening of Detroit organization, which will be used to buy necessary tools and additional supplies for the program.
  • Coordinate a “Financial Literacy/Member Recruitment Day” for the school and for the parents/residents living adjacent to the school
  • Execute their “RockStar” program, where any student can open an account for $5.00 and the credit union will match the amount.  This program has been recognized as a successful way to introduce children to the benefits of banking…saving and managing their money.  Remus Robinson Academy will be the first Detroit school in the program. 

This is my first attempt to partner a business with a school in a community-based effort.  Co-op Services Credit Union has taken a major step in providing their voice to a movement that has far-reaching implications.  In the words of Principal Lee, Project Sweet Tomato, with the financial and enthusiastic assistance of Co-op Services Credit Union, will teach her student’s very important lessons.  “It is important for a child to see how you can start with nothing and turn it into something.  Just by planting a seed and tending to it the right way…learning by going through the process…will be a totally different and significant experience.”  No doubt, that in today’s “ready-made world based on instant gratification”, this will be a very different but rewarding experience that will last a lifetime.

If you would like to volunteer to participate in Remus Robinson Academy’s Project Sweet Tomato community garden effort or start a garden project of your own, please contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or via email littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.  Show your support for a small program that can do a world of good.

Detroit Reads Literacy Program


I was at a meeting recently, with a client that was there to address her experience getting involved with a certain aspect of an important urban program.  A much needed program that was set up to deal with a significant problem that affects everybody…citizens and businesses…in Detroit and the metropolitan Detroit area.  Adult literacy…that’s right adult literacy.

Many of us know that the literacy rate among young Detroiters is very poor and the end result for many of the illiterate is not a life of hope and fulfillment.  The good news is that in spite of the odds a good many of the affected or should I say the afflicted have not given up…they are trying to do something about it.  They have found that with the right tools they can get to whatever level they aspire to.  And for those that care to, they are finding several qualified resources that are here to help them overcome this obstacle and stake a claim on today for tomorrow.

Two of the groups that are playing a considerable role addressing/fighting illiteracy in Detroit are the Detroit Public Library and the Detroit Literacy Council.  The literacy council is made up of members of the community from various disciplines along with ranking members of the management of the library.  The program that they have jointly enacted is called “Detroit Reads”.

Detroit Reads, is a program with two goals…recruit potential tutors, train them and connect them with the second goal…recruited learners.  Fortunately, quite a few people have stepped forward, both tutors and learners.  Several businesses, from the media to tech centers, have added their support, also.  You see the problem is so great that it needs to be addressed on several levels and from different angles. 

One such business trying to bring about change is  Co-op Services Credit Union (CSCU) and the lady I was at the meeting with, in support of, Beverly Outland.  Beverly is a Product Development Coordinator, working in the marketing department.  Representing CSCU, she signed up to be a tutor and went through the 2 1/2 day training program.  Addressing the council, she was amazed by the diversity of the potential tutors and this effort of humanity.  The desire of these people to take on this problem that lacked an easy answer.  The need for a solution that offered to bridge the gap between tutor and learner.  And to bridge that gap. she realized  that it would take a special type of person to become a tutor and, as with all of the others, she needed a special type of person to be her learner.

Beverly’s story  (click on name)

The company that Bev works for, the previously mentioned CSCU, is strongly commited to serve the community.  Not only are they involved with Detroit Reads, they support several outreach programs in various communities throughout the metropolitan area.  What’s especially nice about this organization is that they create their own programs too, like Project 100. Like all credit unions, CSCU recognizes the importance of showing an active interest in the issues that are relevant to their members and the community.  They know that embedded in the word commitment are the words “long term” and that their constituents demand it.  A long term commitment is what this program requires.  It is dealing with a problem that took a generation or two to get where it is today and may take as long to correct.

So…we need your help.  We need mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters.  We need people that “can’t imagine what it would be like not being able to read.”  Highly motivated people that love to read.  We need to find the highly motivated person that wants to learn how to read.  We all know somebody that needs to be helped.  Find him or her and point them in the right direction.  Join the others that have been enlisted to fight this problem that by oversight has grown to ridiculous porportions affecting zip code after zip code…the lifestyles and futures of many. 

To learn more about Detroit Reads and other Detroit Public Library programs please go towww.detroitpubliclibrary.org.   The Detroit Literacy Council meets once a month, contact Y. Rice at yrice@detroitpubliclibrary.org  to schedule an appointment or appearance before the council.

Looking for a cause to get behind that will put your business…your brand in front of the right audience, contact Arthur Littsey / Nine Below Zero at littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net or (313) 369-1710.