#LOVE Lansing Celebration Opening remarks



Thank you to everyone (nearly 400 of you!) neighbors who attended the LOVE Lansing Celebration last night.  Congratulations to all of the honorees and thank you for your work to build strong neighborhoods in Lansing.  By request, below are my opening remarks from the event:

In Lansing, we believe that “neighbor” is a verb.  To neighbor is to build the social infrastructure of our community.  It is to do what needs doing.  While it may be to have the meetings and hash out the bylaws and organizational policies of your neighborhood group.  It is most importantly cleaning the park, organizing the potluck, arranging the garage sale, cleaning up the litter, planting the flowers in the snow like we did last weekend, mowing or shoveling for those who cannot, and keeping a watchful eye out for each other’s safety.  It is taking the extra moment in the driveway to talk with one another before heading inside, it is the cup of coffee at each other’s kitchen table.  When we move the lawn chairs from the back deck to the front porch and talk with those around us, we are neighboring and are building our critical social and civic infrastructure. 


And moving from the block level to the city level, we are citizens, another great verb.  Residents simply live in a place.  To Citizen is to take responsibility for and ownership of a place.  Citizens see something needing done and don’t think “who can I call to complain about this?”  They think, “how can I get some neighbors together to change and improve this”?  To Citizen is to commit, to engage, and to be responsible for the well-being of a place.  In this work it is not the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, rather, it is the “organized and collaborative find the resources to get things done.”


When we connect with each other, when we neighbor, when we citizen, we are engaging in public health, crime prevention, and economic development.  When we start with building a social infrastructure, we can then build everything else. 


Tonight we recognize and thank those of you who embody these principles and take action to neighbor and to citizen in Lansing. 







Hey Honey this is what I do: Citizen-Centered Health Promotion

Live Well Lauderhill

“Going Places” Photo Credit: Kevon Bachelor

My primary audience for this post is my husband (17 years next month!) because he unfortunately has to answer this question for others all the time, “what does your wife do, again?”.  He’s actually not convinced I work at all because I just hang out with people I really enjoy, learn about their hopes, dreams & challenges, help them tell stories about their community’s goals, go on a bunch of walking tours, learn, learn, learn, present ideas to policy makers, host a community dance party or two, present about it at some conference, write a few grants, then take a nap.  It’s all pretty messy, super fun, and keeps the lights on around here.

So honey, as I start up another project in Broward County, FL with amazing colleagues at the Urban Health Solutions/Urban Health Partnership, Broward Regional Health Planning Council, Healthy Community Zone project thought I’d write about why someone hires me and what we’re trying to accomplish together.

I work with leaders to build healthy communities through policy, system, and environmental change. (the previous sentence is an example of “grant vomit”).  I like to explain environment as a fast running river.  If you jump into the fast running river you can swim against the current and go upstream.  It will be difficult and you will have to be committed and have the skills and strength to persevere.  It’s not impossible, but very tough.

Most people won’t swim against the river, or they will for only a short time.  This is the experience of an individual living in a community.  If their community supports health it may have safe places to walk or bike to errands, work, and school.  It may have anti-tobacco policies in place.  It may have access to affordable healthy foods and provide healthy meals at schools. It may have limited advertising for unhealthy products.  Individuals can still choose sedentary behavior, unhealthy foods, tobacco usage, and other negative health behaviors, but they will be less convenient than the healthy choice.

Changing the direction of that fast moving river to support healthy behaviors is what policy, system, and environmental change is all about.  We say, our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy and affordable choice.  Notice, it’s not about taking away choices.  It’s changing the current so that as we go with the flow we are moving towards healthier behaviors and communities.  It’s what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation calls building a Culture of Health.

I don’t make this stuff up.  Take a look at Citizen-Centered Health Promotion:  Building Collaborations to Facilitate Healthy Living published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and available on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website.  Citizen-centered means looking at how an individual’s choices are impacted by all of the environments she/he interacts with.  Our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and larger communities all impact what choices individuals have.  People exist in environments. Communities across the country are recognizing that they have to build a network of these environments to support individual health.

That’s what I do, help people build that network.  Here’s my job description below, found on page S44 of the article:

 A third party is often necessary to convene potential partners, solve logistic challenges, and pool resources to facilitate collaboration. For the majority of success stories involving effective community partnerships, third parties supported by philanthropies or public funding—a community organization or research institution—were key to “connecting the dots.” To make such collaborations scalable and sustainable over time in ordinary settings, where grant support and research investigators are lacking, an infrastructure for third-party support must be available to help communities undertake citizen-centered redesign. Each community must have access to an entity for on-the-ground assistance in building partnerships and designing solutions to help citizens sustain healthy behaviors.”

I build the coalition and help the coalition build the plan.  I basically do three things for communities in this role:

Translation–I am a generalist and I know enough about most sectors that impact the individual to translate among different groups (schools, transportation, housing, business/private sector, higher education, community based organizations, food systems, public health, etc.)  In the article above it’s called “connecting the dots“.

Boil-Down–I believe in using simple language and strive for clarity.  I muddle through “grant-vomit”, business jargon, academic yammering and all other forms of scrambled communication.  I refuse to use the word “stakeholders” (which is just a personal preference, I’m sure you’ve got your pet peeves in this category as well.)  Communities just want to be happier and healthier.  It’s complicated but requires simplicity.

Draw the Picture–Everything is about painting the picture.  We need to see it, experience it, touch it, taste it, smell it, and process it.  Yes, we need the 20 (or 200!) page document that backs up our work, but we need a picture of where we’re going and what it will look like.  That comes from pulling people together, learning, and drawing the picture…and that is what I do.

Move It Media Logo


A park in the center of the city: Sycamore Park #WalkingWednesday


Despite being only 2 miles from the center of downtown Lansing, this WalkingWednesday through Sycamore Park felt like a trip up north.  The neighborhood is filled with old growth trees, piney woods, and open green space.  It’s within easy walking and biking distance from many other beautiful parks, like Fenner Nature Center, Sycamore Golf Course, and Potter Park Zoo.  Hop on the River Trail and you can quickly access Ingham County Parks, downtown, and MSU.

It’s bordered on the north and the east by water (lots of it right now as the Red Cedar River and Sycamore Creek are very high due to heavy rain).

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

River High Water

Looking east along the Red Cedar








The green space assets of the neighborhood are stunning and on this beautiful June evening, the beauty of the area was on full display.  This area is known for its bird wildlife and is home to a heron rookery and a bald eagle’s nest.  Learn more in this Nature Discovery article.

Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association president Paul Wozniak provided a walking map (my first neighborhood to hand out maps for #WalkingWednesday!) Find our more about the Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association on Facebook.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood has many long term residents.  Our tour was a mix of newer and longer term neighbors. Top reasons I heard for choosing Sycamore Park (in no order) were:

  • Proximity to downtown and MSU & convenience to everything
  • Access to the River Trail without crossing any major streets
  • Neighborhood friendliness

Houses are a mix of 1920s – 1940s single family homes with interesting architecture and tons of charm.

Mt. Hope Elementary

Mt. Hope Elementary School

Mt. Hope 4-6 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) School sits on the neighborhood’s southern border.  The school playground, basketball courts, and green space add to the recreational opportunities & beauty of the neighborhood.  School leaders and the PTA partner with the neighborhood organization on many events.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs.  Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs. Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Bordered by both Pennsylvania Ave and Mt. Hope, commercial corridors have an impact on the neighborhood.  Neighbors are happy with the increased commercial activity at the Mt. Hope/Penn intersection with the addition of Central Pharmacy Vacancies still exist on the south side of Mt. Hope and neighbors are hoping for new tenants in those spaces.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.


Long time local businesses such as Smith Floral continue to provide commercial activity in the area

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral







We waved to many neighbors enjoying the beautiful weather on their front porch and took a peek into the Little Free Library:

A little house of books

A little house of books








We headed back to the park for a summer time treat and were all really impressed with the watermelon slicer!

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer












Thank you for your hospitality and the chance to meet many neighbors and see your beautiful homes. Enjoy the summer in your park in the city!

This #WalkingWednesday was the first attended by our AmeriCorps VISTA members in our Cities of Service Love Your Block program.  Learn more about their work and see their blog post about the Sycamore Park tour at Lansing Love Your Block



#Walking Wednesday Greater Lansing Food Bank Resource Center


This week’s Walking Wednesday took us to the Garden Resource Center with Julie Lehman, Garden Program Coordinator of the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

The Garden Project is one of its programs and the Resource Center is its hub.  When we visited on Wednesday it was full of neighbors picking up seeds, gardening information, starter plants, and food.  There were volunteers everywhere running the operation and working in the gardens.



2401 Marcus St. Lansing, MI 48912

2401 Marcus St. Lansing, MI 48912

The facility is tucked into the south end of Foster Park Foster Park map(C on the map below–A is the Foster Community Center).




From the Resource Center you can see the traffic on both 127 to the East and 496 to the South, yet you are surrounded by green space and large community garden/urban farm projects.

Community gardens and home gardeners can register with the garden program and find a community of growers and support for their efforts.







Just southwest of the Resource Center is the UrbandaleFarm.    Urbandale

Amazing the difference a sign makes!

Amazing the difference a sign makes!








If you’re interested in home gardening, urban gardening, food access, healthy living/eating, or just meeting people who are thinking about these things are creating them in your community, stop in at the Resource Center and learn more.  Of course, donate to the Greater Lansing Food Bank to continue their support of these programs and services as we work together to eliminate hunger in our community.  Thank you Julie for your hospitality and we look forward to seeing the bounty of these gardens all summer long!




#WalkingWednesday in the Baker Donora Neighborhood

1st Ward Councilmember Jody Washington and Betty Draher in front of Betty's home

1st Ward City Council Member Jody Washington and Betty Draher in front of Betty’s home

Spring has finally arrived in Lansing and I had the opportunity to have a wonderful Walking Wednesday tour of the Baker Donora neighborhood with head of the Neighborhood Watch Betty Draher.

Baker Donora is bordered by Pennsylvania Ave to the East, Cedar St. to the West, Mt. Hope to the South and 496 to the North. Betty Draher was raised in the neighborhood and returned to her childhood home where she works with neighbors to continually improve it.

Baker Donora is in Lansing’s First Ward and City Council Member Jody Washington joined us for our tour.

In the heart of the neighborhood is Caesar/Donora Park which is across from Betty’s house.  It is filled with tons of green space & playground equipment in excellent condition.  Betty said that Brett Kaschinske, Director of Lansing Parks & Recreation said it was a “Front Door Park” as the houses across the street all face the park, adding to its safety because of high visibility.  She notes that the park has been much safer since removing all picnic tables and benches, which tend to attract people to sleep in the park.

Casear/Donora park

Caesar/Donora park



Store owner John and Betty hug, joke, and I heard them say “you’re fired!” and “I want a raise!” to each other about 3 times each. Not sure who works for whom, but they definitely work well together.







We headed north from Betty’s house to their anchor commercial property McNamara’s Party Store on Baker.

138https://www.facebook.com/McnamaraPartyStore?pnref=story Owner John greeted us and was a wonderful host.  His store is a neighborhood gathering spot and he and Betty maintain an information hub within it for neighborhood notices.  Betty said she was concerned when a liquor store was coming into her neighborhood, but now has high praise and an obvious friendship with John.  She said she’s been very pleased with his business, community involvement, and facade improvements.


Neighborhood information at McNamara's Party Store

Neighborhood information at McNamara’s Party Store

We headed throughout the neighborhood to see some currently vacant lots, a community garden, some beautiful homes, and some in need of serious repair or demolition.  Several neighbors stopped by to say hello and everyone knew Betty, of course.

Corner lot green space.

Corner lot green space.

Betty pointed out a fun fact about the neighborhood & showed us the birthplace of Burt Reynolds at 1703 Donora St. Read about it at http://lansingonlinenews.com/news/lost-lansing-burt-reynolds-native-son-and-now-wikipedia-agrees/

Birthplace of Burt Reynolds

Birthplace of Burt Reynolds


Betty and neighbors are working hard to continually improve her neighborhood.  Baker street is a main thoroughfare and crossover between Pennsylvania and Cedar.  She would like to see some demolitions of blighted properties to improve this entryway to her neighborhood.

I love Betty’s philosophy for getting things done.  When asked about her approach to neighborhood leadership, Betty said, “I don’t meet, I do”.


#MiYMCA State Alliance of Michigan YMCAs Healthy Living March Newsletter


The March Healthy Living newsletter is out.  Please share with staff, participants, volunteers, and partners as we work together to build a healthier Michigan!


Check out some of the great work happening in Michigan YMCAs to build healthy communities through evidence based programs and partnership.

Please send me your content submissions for an upcoming edition.  I’d love to feature programs at your Y & innovative partnerships within the community.  I also invite you to be a guest columnist.  Tell your story!


#WalkingWednesday heads to REOTown

Looking north on Washington Ave.

Looking north on Washington Ave.

This week we headed to REO Town a neighborhood on a peninsula between the Red Cedar and Grand Rivers, south of 496 along Washington Ave. This re-emerging commercial and residential district is a hotbed of art, energy, and overall community building momentum. Our hosts were Ryan Wert, President of the REOTown Commercial Association and owner of Elm Street RecordingBrian McGrain, Chair of the Ingham County Commission and Associate Director/COO at CEDAM whose offices are located in REOTown.

Ryan and his wife moved into REOTown 11 years ago and began creating with neighbors and friends the kind of community they wanted, inventing fun events and connecting people around art, food, & fun. REOTown just hosted a very successful Art & Craft Beer Fest and is preparing for their second annual Thrift Store Gala and Burlesque Extravaganza, on March 21. The name alone says alot, but check out these pictures from last year’s event! http://on.fb.me/1f0jPn2

Our tour began at CEDAM’s offices and headed south to the New Horizons Computer Learning Center and co:space Emilie Randolph showed us this beautiful facility with workspace available on a short or longer term membership basis along with a full slate of computer training courses.  The facility features a gigantic chalk mural depicting the history of REOTown and the automobile industry.


(L to R) Beverly Hynes, Manager of Fountain Place Apts., Larry Grudt of Capital Area Blues Society, Brian McGrain, Ryan Wert)

cospaceflyer cospacechalk

Conference space looking out onto Washington Ave.

Conference space looking out onto Washington Ave.

A great article for more information: http://bit.ly/1tpBckX

We crossed to the east side of Washington Ave. to visit the new Board of Water & Light Headquarters, which brought 180 employees to REOTown.  The former train depot has been beautifully restored and now serves as BWL meeting space and is available for community events.

Interior architecture of the restored train depot

Interior architecture of the restored train depot

A lot of Lansing in one picture:  the BWL depot, trains headed west, & the BWL smokestacks across the Grand River

A lot of Lansing in one picture: the BWL depot, trains headed west, & the BWL smokestacks across the Grand River

We headed north along Washington Ave. and found a full block of commercial activity from the REO Town Pub (more on that below), Cuttin Up Barber Shop which was doing a brisk midday business, and many more.  We stopped in to see Kathaleen Parker at her shop Soulful Earth Herbals where she offers handcrafted soap, body products, herbal preparations and apothecary and is celebrating ten years of business this year.  She also features some really cool dinosaur greeting cards created by her children–somehow I don’t have a photo to share, send me one Kathaleen and I’d love to feature it!

Kathalenn at Soulful Earth Herbals.  I wish I could upload the amazing smells from this store--stop in and see for yourself!

Kathaleen at Soulful Earth Herbals. I wish I could upload the amazing smells from this store–stop in and see for yourself!

Another new anchor tenant along Washington Ave. is Riverview Church Inside is worship and meeting space with a preservation of its past as a bowling alley.

A peak at both the sanctuary and the art gallery hallway

A peak at both the sanctuary and the art gallery hallway

The beautifully restored flooring with a hint of the past

The beautifully restored flooring with a hint of the past

The space hosts both church services and community functions.  Its exterior celebrates graffiti art, much of which was created with fellow REOTown organization REACH Art Studio

Riverview Church graffiti

graffiti 2We headed north to the Good Truckin’ Diner, where Zach Corbin and Nicholas Sinicropi had amazing tacos awaiting us.  In addition to great food, they had ideas to share about issues and opportunities for food truck operators in the City of Lansing.  As owners of both a bricks and mortar establishment and a mobile food truck they have good insight into the business and ways to increase access for food trucks in the City.  Great conversation with business owners who are working to make their neighborhood and Lansing a great place to eat!  They also had high praise for our Ingham County Health Department and their efficient processes and support.

Zach and Ryan talk REOTown & Food Truck culture over tacos.

Zach and Ryan talk REOTown & Food Truck culture over tacos.

With happy tummies we headed over to see some of the residential features along Washington Ave. with a stop into Fountain Place Apts. located along the Lansing River Trail.  Manager Beverly Hynes lives on-site at the apartments and clearly fosters a community among her residents, who are mainly young professionals and students with a few older adults and families.  She began an on-site gardening program where residents can cultivate an area of the greenspace and has a host of programs that connect neighbors to one another.  Stop in and meet Beverly and she’ll tell you all the reasons why Fountain Place and REOTown are a great place to live.

We finished up at REOTown Pub which is obviously the heart & soul of the neighborhood.  Owner Roxanne shared her career path of social worker, to restaurant owner to pub owner (which can at times resemble her work as a social worker!).  While not a full-service restaurant, every Wednesday you can enjoy steak night where Roxanne’s husband is grilling out back in his snowsuit (steak, potato, & salad for $10!). There I also met Paul Starr aka The Beer Hound, clearly a genius who has built a career out of celebrating Michigan’s craft beer culture. REOTown Pub is looking forward to celebrating Mardi Gras on March 17 with a crawfish boil out front.

REOTown Pub servin up their finest vintage--this is beer and spirits joint

REOTown Pub servin up their finest vintage–this is beer and spirits joint

REOTown is a community on the move and an example of how committed, creative residents and business owners can shape the future of Lansing.  Stop by and enjoy meeting the neighbors who are making Lansing a great place to live, work, play, & learn.

Next week’s #WalkingWednesday slot is still open–where should I head next?