July 5th

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It’s Saturday, July 5th and for some reason I feel compelled to see the garden at the school. I usually take a (sometime) leisurely 2-mile walk with my pet, Joe Dawg, but feeling I guess a little fleet of foot and bored with the same old walking routine, I set out for Nolan Elementary-Middle School. Part of my walk is very familiar still as it is the path that I used to walk, morning and evening, on my way to accumulating 10 miles a day. Joe made this trip with me one time last year, so it was like his first time all over again. We stopped at nearly every telephone pole, flower bed, shrub and weed on the way there. Fortunately, no other dogs were out at the time we were walking, so there were no conflicts encouraged by Joe Dawg’s aggressiveness.

Arriving at the school, with the sun peeking over the tree tops, the garden kind of had the look of the opening scenes from the movie Camelot…it was so lush looking, so green, so rich and deeply hued. I was a good 50 yards away and like a movie camera my gaze fell on all of the beds in order from left to right. Even at that distance I could see activity in each bed. As I neared I could see a watermelon vine was trailing along the top of one bed. There was kale that we had already started to harvest. The strawberries were doing well, but unfortunately, we didn’t get every ground cherry that dropped from the stalk last year. The kids liked them, but I don’t think Ms. Bonnie (Bonnie Odom-Brown/B.E. Culturally Exposed) will be too happy to see them. The potato bed, which is the bed that most captures your attention from afar, is magnificent. It is full of leaves and flowers that let us know that there is a lot going on underground. A close visual second, right now, are the squash plants. They dominate the bed and are bearing fruit that are ready to be picked. In total we are growing a very wide variety of plants.

The Nolan Elementary-Middle School 2014 “Planting the Seeds” garden includes…
• Green Cabbage
• Red Cabbage
• Collard Greens
• Mustard Greens
• GRP Greens Mix
• Broccoli
• Dinosaur Kale
• Curly Kale
• Garlic (3 varieties)
• Onions (2 varieties)
• Potatoes (3 varieties…Red, White and Yellow)
• Sweet Potatoes
• Green Beans
• Yellow Wax Beans
• Sugar Snap Peas
• Watermelon
• Strawberries
• Eggplant
• Tomatoes (8 varieties)
• Romaine Lettuce
• Salad Bowl Lettuce
• GRP Lettuce Mix (Mesclun)
• Spinach
• Beets
• Radishes
• Carrots
• Ground Cherries
• Green Peppers
• Yellow Sweet Peppers
• Red Sweet Peppers
• Hot Banana Peppers
• Habenero` Peppers
• Jalapeno Peppers
• Rosemary
• Parsley
• Basil
• Sunflowers (2 varieties)
• Wildflower Mix
That’s a total of 40 vegetables (includes squash and zucchini) and flowering plants in 13 beds that students from the 3rd grade up to the 8th grade are managing. If everything grows as planned it will be a wonderful year. We do have to thank our friends at Keep Growing Detroit for the majority of the seeds and plants.

One thing that this year’s garden has had going for it has been the weather. It has been perfect since the month of May. We’ve had plenty of sunshine and just enough rain for everything to grow well. The moderate weather has been a boon to us as so far as we have had neither extreme heat nor continuous days of rain.

We have also had great support from our annual sponsors, Maura Ryan-Kaiser of Snelling Staffing Services and Mark Guimond from Michigan First Credit Union. Snelling employees are out there every week lending their assistance, doing whatever is needed. They are great role models for the kids.

So this is where we are as of the July 4th weekend. We are not growing corn (knee high by the fourth of July) but many of our sunflower plants are about 18 inches. Everything is green in our world and it’s fabulous!

Evening Pictures (I had to come back without the dawg)
Click on each picture to enlarge.

 

Camelot?

Camelot?

The closer we get, the better it will look!

The closer we get, the better it will look!

Watermelon and Zuchinni

Watermelon and Zucchini

Beets, Tomatoes and Spinach

Beets, Tomatoes and Spinach

Spinach and Tomatoes

Spinach and Tomatoes

Ground Cherries and Strawberries

Ground Cherries and Strawberries

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Potatoes

Potatoes

Green and Red Cabbage

Green and Red Cabbage

Broccoli

Broccoli and Collard Greens

Big Lot at ground level

Big Lot at ground level

Potatoes...another look!

Potatoes…another look!

Squash

Squash

 

The Vegan Chronicles: June Axelrad

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pig

As you all know, regular or casual followers of this site, I am very concerned about health and diet issues(see list below) that I personally face and some that our society and cultures in general face. So today, after a serious, but fun conversation with my old friend, June Axlerad, we are going to dive in a little more on the subject of vegetarianism and the vegan lifestyle. June is “almost” a vegan and because she is so passionate about vegan-ism, I asked her if she would like to write today’s article. Being a vegan is no passing fancy for June. For as long as I can remember she has been a vegetarian (I think that’s what it was called 40 years ago) a fact that I must have overlooked even as I have had to change a lot of my eating habits. I bet she has some great tips for me as I try to include more vegetables in my meal plans. I now consume about 60 percent less meat than I use to eat. No, it’s probably not where I need to be but I am getting there. Several of my friends are starting to have meatless meal days and what started out as just one day a week has grown to a few, so there must be something going on other than fanaticism.

June is just as passionate about gardening and has taken an interest in supporting the gardening program, Project Sweet Tomato and its two schools, Nolan Elementary-Middle School and John R. King Performing Arts Academy.

This article is simply about motivation. What motivated June, and I am sure many others, to embrace a life program that goes way beyond individual sustenance. Vegan-ism is also about the environment. It’s about protecting and valuing what makes this world worth living in. I learned that from my conversation with June, so let’s read on!

June writes…

If you have ever considered giving up or cutting down on meat, or have belittled or mocked someone who does not partake of animals, this article may be for you. You may find some of it disturbing or offensive but I must speak what I know. Vegetarianism for me is not a restriction or a deprivation. It is so intrinsically a part of me that I have actually had nightmares about biting into meat.

I have not [except by accident or deceit] let animal flesh or any forms thereof, i.e. broth, pass my lips for 14 years. Prior to that I had numerous ’stints’ as a vegetarian. It was much harder to be vegetarian in my younger years, restaurants didn’t offer choices and there were few substitutes available. I can tell you that even as a child, I would see road kill and think “that is what I’m eating.” It was not a pleasant thought.

So why, might you ask, do I not eat meat? I might turn that around and ask “Why do you not eat your dogs and cats?” I do not see a distinction between pets and farm animals. They are all sentient beings, in other words they feel affection, they feel pain, and they feel fear. Pigs are more intelligent than dogs. They are loving and will roll on their backs to have their bellies rubbed. Chickens love to climb on your lap. I suggest reading The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery or The Pig Who Sang to the Moon”by Jeffrey Masson. For an almost unbearable description of what happens in slaughterhouses you might read a chapter in Skinny Bitch”, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin which describes not only the horror the animals endure, but how traumatized the workers become. There are anecdotes of workers purposely inflicting pain, and of terrorized pigs running to and nuzzling the slaughterers for comfort. I can most assuredly say that if you eat pig, you are eating terror in all its manifestations. Pigs know what is happening to them and release large amounts of cortisol in their terrified state. Essentially you are eating fear and the toxins associated with fear. Can you really justify such cruelty with “I have to have my bacon”? There are many bacon substitutes and if you allow yourself some compassion you will get used to them, and dare I say, start to like them.

Many people feel they are doing well by only eating chicken. I must respond by saying that chickens endure more cruelty in their short, painful lives than probably any other “food” animal. I highly recommend Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals” in which he depicts the horrors he uncovered via secret forays into chicken factories [by no means can they be called farms.] He also dedicates one of the pages of the book to delineating the actual living space of a chicken. These wretched creatures cannot spread their wings nor turn around. They never see sunlight. Their beaks are lopped off as chicks sans any pain killer so they do not peck at and damage the meat .Sometimes their claws grow around the mesh cages and their waste products drop on the poor creature below them Conditions are appallingly unsanitary. “Free-range” is a myth, unless you are buying from a private individual who actually lets their chickens roam, but again, the end result is slaughter. Again, this is what you are putting in your mouths. What I find most disturbing is the “specials” i.e. 12 chicken wings for $2.00. Six chickens suffering untold pain and horror all to garner a few cents profit?

I could mention the health benefits which are numerous, and the environmental benefits, also of great extent. Perhaps that is for another day. I will end with a short story about the anger vegetarians seem to invoke just by choosing not to encounter meat. I was with my daughter and her friend at a deli. My daughter had not yet made the decision to forgo eating animals. I watched as the young woman used the same knife and gloves to make the sandwiches. I was hungry and could have ordered a veggie selection but decided I didn’t feel up to explaining why I didn’t want her to use the gloves which had just handled meat, nor the knife which had just sliced through flesh. I finally decided to venture forth and ask that clean gloves and a clean knife be used. She yelled loudly to her coworker “She’s being fussy!” I wonder if I would have evoked the same reaction had I said I kept Kosher, was Muslim, or had allergies. So if you are not inspired to give up eating animals, please think twice before telling your vegetarian friends to “just pick off” the pepperoni on a pizza.

Peace,

June Axelrad

For anybody that thinks that June is being a little extreme when she describes what goes on at our slaughterhouses or the chicken farms, I suggest that you go online to the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) website archives and check out some of the documentaries they have aired about our food preparation system. It is absolutely shocking and disturbing seeing what they do to the animals we eat and the environmental problems they create and do not take responsibility for. Watching those films have had an effect on my diet and I am definitely more selective about what I eat, where it comes from and how it is prepared. Not just from the cruelty to animals aspect but from what they put into or onto the food we are supposed to eat. That is why my garden is so important to me. Probably just as important as it was to our forefathers that farmed this land decades ago. Grow your own and you know what’s in it.

Thank you June for a nice, but too brief, look into the world of a vegan. I hope you write a few more articles for me and my readers, and perhaps share a few recipes with us too. I think it would be a blast to learn more about being a vegan and stripping away the fear of a very positive lifestyle program.

Food, Health & Nutrition Articles:

Going Rogue…With A Raw Food Diet! (6/15/12

A Chance To Try Something Different…Something New! (4/27/12)

Nutrition…Are You On The Right Track? (3/7/12)

Where Do Healthy Kids Eating Habits Begin? Why At Home Of Course! (3/7/12)

Happiness Is A Warm Gun…Yes It Is!!! (1/17/12)

Cravings……….What Do You Reach For? (9/15/11)

Am I Getting Enough? (7/29/11)

The Front In The War Against Cancer…The Home Garden (5/16/11)

The Benefits of Organic Food – Update March 29,2011 (3/29/11)

Are You Fighting For Your Children’s Future? (2/14/11)

 

 

Looking For Signs Of Hope…Finding It Everywhere!

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A couple of days ago I got a call from the people of the Garden Resource Program asking me if I was still going to come out and work at the community school garden being placed at Nolan Elementary/Middle School.  The first thing that came to my mind was, “Gee, when did I volunteer for that?”  That will teach me to stand and go to the bathroom when someone is talking!  Oh well, its kind of close and it was the junior high school that I attended when I was a kid, I’ll do it.  Besides, it will be nice to see how these things were done.  Whatever I learn from this experience I will be able to share with the people (teachers, administrators, students and sponsors) that are involved with Project Sweet Tomato.

The designated date and time was Saturday at 3:00p.m.  Of course, when I got up Saturday it was raining.  I looked at the calendar and noticed that this was the weekend of Detroit’s Downtown Hoedown and it almost always rains on Hoedown weekend.  “Well there goes that”, I thought as I decided to take care of other important but non-essential activities.  But as my luck would have it, the rain stopped and in spite of the gray skies overhead, I did not get a call saying that the days gardening activities were cancelled.  So at about 2:30 in the afternoon, I started to slowly walk to the school not quite sure what I had got myself into.

Upon arriving at the school and meeting some of the students, teachers and leaders from the Garden Resource program, I was immediately given the assignment to go pick up some tree stumps at the house of a neighbor of one of the teachers.  I left with two other individuals to go get the stumps and to get there we had to go through an area of the city that has been hit pretty hard.  There were burnt out houses, abandoned homes, businesses boarded up…evidence of decay and the lack of any measure of effort to correct or improve the neighborhood.  I must admit I was more than a little embarrassed, since our driver was a “rose-colored cheek” intern from U of M and a resident of the city of Northville.  She had undoubtedly seen and heard about this aspect of Detroit (let’s thank Newt Gingrich for that), but nonetheless this is not the visual that I would want someone to take away from of our city.

As we proceeded to our destination, we came upon an event that actually caught me by surprise.  For here amongst all of this rot, decay and unsightly destruction someone dared to throw a party.  We couldn’t stop to see exactly what was going on, but there were balloons, music and a lot of merriment taking place.  It wasn’t like one could ignore the overall plight of the environment, but it was like a decision had been made not to let this beat you down…keep you down…that you should hold your head up…keep striving…don’t stop until you get ahead.  There was hope here…plain and simple.

“Look, Look

Look to the rainbow

Follow it over the hill

And the stream”

So when we finally got back to the school, I had a moment to reflect on what I had just seen and what I was about to witness.  I took a hard look at the kids that came out to work on the garden.  These kids didn’t get dropped off by their parents in some big and fancy car.  No, there was not a big spread of exotic delicacies from around the world.  No cases of imported water either. These were not the children of wealth and privilege.  Definitely not!  So why were they here?  If you were to believe not everything but most of what you have heard or read about the youth of Detroit, what I was seeing was either a mirage or perhaps the result of drinking tainted water.

What I saw on this day were hardworking kids that had been instilled with a little something called hope.  Because they had “hope” they were out there building the boxes for raised beds.  Because they had hope they were shoveling and pulling up sod.  Because they had hope they were hauling away the dirt…building a compost pile…setting up their rain barrel.  There was no crying about how tough it was…how hard the ground was…how heavy the load.  No crying about the work assignments or the distribution of duties and responsibilities.  That was not what they were here for.  Here we had a group of kids that represented the hope of better days ahead…for themselves, their school, their community and last but not least, the city of Detroit.

Ms. Bonnie Odom and students picking up transplants 5/19/11

They were here because somebody told them that if you plant a single seed something magical might happen.  They were here because they were told that as an individual working within a group that something significant could be accomplished.  They were here because as a team or as unit they were told that they could bring about change that would benefit not just themselves but also an entire community.  Hope would give them the richest rewards they would ever find.

“Look, Look

Look to the rainbow

Follow the fellow

Who follows a dream”

Everywhere I looked I saw hope!  Those that came without hope took some home with them.  Those that came with it walked away with a little more.  A little hope can go a long way…and we’re just getting started!

Nolan Elementary School is not currently part of Project Sweet Tomato.  It will be considered for the program in 2012.  If there ever was a school that should be part of the program, Nolan and its “Knights” definitely qualify.  If you have a business or work for a company that might want to sponsor the garden at Nolan or any other Detroit Public School, please contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.

To volunteer to assist the students at Nolan please contact Bonnie Odom at b.e.odom203@comcast.net

To learn more about the mechanics of Project Sweet Tomato please click here.

A special thanks to Ms. Michelle Schwendman, School Liasion and Ms. Bonnie Odom, Community Volunteer at Nolan Elementary School and the Greening of Detroit/Garden Resource Program for having me at their garden groundbreaking.

 

Look to the Rainbow, lyrics E. Y. Harburg

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

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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

sharon.lee@detroitk12.org

 

Kristopher Hoemke

(734) 717-5859

hoemkekris@aol.com

 

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…

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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

WIN!

 

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

Participation Is Mandatory

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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.