Special Feature by Mary Meldrum

WITH AN INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF BARS and restaurants and a heavier volume of foot traffic, Ferndale has become a destination city. And, like many destinations, there is a need for parking. While this seems like a good problem to have, change doesn’t come easy to any established city’s infrastructure, and this subject has created angst for many in Ferndale. The growing pains experienced in Ferndale are being felt by many communities in the Detroit area, and even nationwide.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a push to move out away from downtown areas, like Detroit. That movement has recently reversed, and there is a shift in lots of communities to embrace downtown density again. There is a struggle in community development to navigate, accept and accommodate that change in cities across America.

After a lengthy development phase and input from businesses and residents, the City of Ferndale finally approved plans for a mixed-use parking structure on West Troy near Allen at its October 23 Council meeting. Dubbed “The Dot” (‘Development On Troy’), the project features 397 much-needed off-street parking spaces. It will also house over 14,500 square feet of ground floor retail and commercial space, over 39,800 square feet of office space, and a stand-alone residential development capable of supporting 14 to 25 units.

With the approval in place, the city will now finalize engineering, put out bids for contractors, and start construction on the parking deck by April of 2018. Many are relieved to know there will be more parking coming soon. But, while the debates regarding most of the details of this project have been put to rest with this approval, there are still some unhappy business owners and residents who have questions and concerns regarding loading zones, crosswalks, environmental impacts, as well as who will – and more importantly who will not – benefit.

For one thing, there are questions about the City devoting 100 per cent of the $200 thousand dollars allotted for parking mitigation towards providing free valet service.

Assistant City Manager Joe Gacioch provided me with an update on the progress since the October approval of the DOT.

“Right now, the architects are going through the schematic design process,” he reports. “They are finalizing calculations for engineering elements.” He expects schematic designs to be completed within the next four weeks and, once the final design happens, they proceed to competitive bids for construction. The City will then review bids for construction and select a general contractor.

They are looking to break ground in the spring of 2018, concluding an 18-month approval process that included research and public engagement.

“For the long-term view, I think this project is efficient in terms of addressing adequate parking, walk-ability, and density in terms of the daytime and nighttime activity,” explains Gacioch. “Mixed-use helps address the daytime activity because we want to increase foot traffic with the office space. These are all goals that line up with the city’s plan. One of the great things about office space is that they leave at 5:00 P.M., and we have a vibrant downtown economy during the evening, so those spaces become available to accommodate the evening traffic.”

“For the short-term, we recognize there will be discomfort for downtown. We want to minimize the disruption. We have been working with the DDA and businesses to come up with strategies to provide temporary parking solutions.” Gacioch shares, “This inward movement to downtown density is very difficult, and we have to be sensitive to that.” He admits that “nothing is perfect,” but they are working to ease the burden of the construction as much as possible.

They will be testing valet services downtown. A free valet service will be provided downtown during the testing periods (Small Business Saturday weekend, November 24-26, and during the DDA Holiday Lights Festival, December 8-10). The City is also looking to rent a parking lot close to downtown to add more parking spaces during the construction period.

There are grave concerns having to do with the survival of some of the small downtown businesses. They will feel the pain, more than anyone else, of the expected 15-month long construction project which will, of course, put even more pressure on the existing limited parking. Will their customers endure the difficulties of circling for a space or parking further away? Or will they just go somewhere else?

Pat Doran, Professional Guitars
Professional Guitar shop owner, Patrick Doran has been a small business owner in the city since 1990.

“There wasn’t always a robust nightlife here,” Doran says. Where Doran and others really feel the pain right now is on days of a big football game or St. Patrick’s Day. The bars patrons take up all the parking, and that becomes a problem for businesses like Professional Guitars or the Candle Wick Shoppe where somebody just wants to come and buy a guitar string or a candle. If somebody just wants to pop into a shop to buy an item, they will be put off by the lack of parking. Pat points out that it is also unlikely that his customers will circle the block multiple times to find parking.

“I think everyone in Ferndale realizes something needs to be done about the parking,” Pat admits. Most understand the need for additional parking, but they don’t all understand the City’s drive to make it a mixed-use project rather than just throw up a barn for cars. “I think it is going to be more of a hardship for retail businesses to survive when they start the construction.” In addition, night life brings its own flavor of change. “My store is adjacent to an alley, and I can’t count the discarded liquor bottles and beer cans that were not there in 1990,” he reports. “The place next to me has had problems with alcohol and fights.”

Prasad Venogopal, Ferndale Resident
Prasad Venogopal is one of many parents whose children attend the Mejishi Martial Arts Studio on Nine Mile, a business that backs up to Troy Street and is very close to the planned structure.

Venugopal and other parents drop their children off on Troy Street, and many of those kids cross that busy street to get to Mejishi’s. “Children as young as four and five are crossing, and I have personally seen numerous instances where cars have not stopped for the crosswalk and children have come close to being run over,” explains Venugopal. “With that kind of traffic and the dozens of kids who attend Mejishi, I am concerned about what impact the parking deck is going to have on this situation. I haven’t seen the architectural drawings, but if the crosswalk is not part of it, I think crossing the street will be more dangerous.”

Like others, Venugopal is not a fan of the mixed-use aspect of the parking deck. “I think if they need more parking, they should put in more parking. That’s all it should have been. That is how the conversation began,” he opines.

Chris Best, The Rust Belt
“This is very necessary. We are overdue for a parking solution in downtown Ferndale,” declares Chris Best, co-owner of the Rust Belt. Referring to the economic boom that the city has been experiencing, “There are no signs of slowing down as far as development; new businesses, lofts, condos and it is all adding density for businesses, which is great.”

Indeed, Ferndale has become a bustling town with several new businesses, more people and, as Chris adds, “Unfortunately, that is the path for most downtowns, in order to grow. You need people to patronize the downtown; you need density and walkable downtowns, which are very coveted by quality retailers.”

Density creates a rich diversity. Parking is a problem because the mass transit system in the area is anemic. “While it will be a disruption during the building time – which is a big bummer – it is very much needed as part of the evolution of downtown Ferndale.”

Martha Sempliner, Owner Library Bookstore
A landlord and business owner in Ferndale for over 30 years, Martha Sempliner has been following the progress of the city’s parking solution.

“I think this is going to be detrimental to every business. If they close the street for 15 months, where are the workers going to park? Where are the people who use the businesses going to park?”

With regard to the city providing valet or bus service to move shoppers, she doesn’t believe patrons will wait for that. In this day of instant access and convenience, she thinks shoppers just won’t come and will choose to go someplace else.

Referring to all the other more convenient choices available to customers, “Why would they wait to take a bus across the street?”

“What everyone here needs is parking. They don’t need the rest of that. We don’t need apartments or businesses,” She insists.

With clientele that routinely travels from areas like Detroit, downriver, and Ann Arbor, Martha is wary that the construction of the parking deck will disrupt their visits to her store.

As a landlord, the parking lot she owns already experiences people parking there who are not her customers. With regard to illegal parking in her lot, she says, “This project is going to exacerbate the problem we already have.”

Story By : Sara E. Teller

DURING A MEETING HELD NOVEMBER 3RD TO consider a proposal to develop a regional mass transit system, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation’s (SMART) Board of Directors
approved a budget amendment designed to fund the new initiative, which includes stops along Michigan
Avenue, Woodward Avenue and Gratiot Avenue.

The service would specifically connect downtown Detroit with Metro Airport, Pontiac, Troy and Chesterfield Twp. Washtenew County has been excluded from the plan thus far, and details regarding specific stops along the route have yet to be determined. Some of the current destinations will be eliminated, but only those that cross new points along the grid.

“One of SMART’s most important objectives is to provide reliable transportation to get people to work,” said the company’s Marketing and Communications Director, Beth Gibbons. “By improving service throughout the region’s major corridors our ability to connect jobs with workers is enhanced, which could serve to attract businesses across the spectrum to locate or expand in South-East Michigan.” One of these prospects, a valuable consideration for the new transit system, is Amazon. The well-known marketplace has been scouting a location for its second headquarters, and SMART’s proposal may help to entice it and other big names to establish in the Detroit area.

Amazon has been undergoing a competitive site selection process, asking leaders of population-dense areas to submit their cities as headquarter candidates. In choosing the location, Amazon has specified a preference for metropolitan areas with more than one million people, a stable and business-friendly environment, urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent, and communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.

Wherever the marketplace decides to set up shop, the site is projected to create as many as 50 thousand new full-time positions for residents, with an average annual compensation exceeding $100 thousand dollars per employee. “Amazon has not released any feedback for submitted proposals that would provide any concrete information on the likelihood of selecting Detroit for the HQ2,” said Beth. Of SMART’s plan, she said, “We have received a variety of responses from the public regarding the proposed service changes. SMART has reviewed the comments, and made adjustments to better meet the needs of our riders.” Additional meetings to solicit feedback are scheduled.

Riders are especially looking forward to being able to connect to the Internetwhile in route. “Wi-Fi service will be available to rediers…on the new express starting January 1st” of this coming year, Beth explained. “SMART is planning to add additional amenities to a number of the stop locations along these corridors.” She added, “SMART’s current fares will still apply to the new service, at $2 dollars one way.”

Regional transit service will begin on January 1, 2018, with a projected annual cost of $14 million, which will fund all expenses related to operating the new system. “This includes wages and benefits for additional drivers, maintenance and IT staff, fuel and maintenance on the buses, and all other operational costs associated with the service running on the road,” Beth explained, adding, “When SMART successfully increased our millage from 0.59 to 1.0 mils in 2014, we committed to balancing our budget, signing new union contracts, and replacing our entire fixed route fleet of buses. Now that those objectives have been accomplished, we have a small amount of funding to reinvest sustainably in improving service. Using the funding to leverage additional federal and state grant funding, we are able to fund about $14 million in continuing, additional service into the future.”

Robert Cramer, Deputy General Manager and EEO/DBE Compliance Officer of SMART, said, “The design of the new service carefully balances the desire to limit the number of stops with the need to connect to as many mobility options as possible. More specifically, the stop locations are selected to connect to other SMART and DDOT routes, park and ride locations, the airport, the QLine, the People Mover, Amtrak Train Stations in Pontiac, Dearborn and Detroit, MOGO Bike Share downtown and Dearborn’s Bike Share along Michigan Avenue. Using only the very limited number of stops on these three routes, you can directly connect to over 92 per cent of all SMART and DDOT routes. The seven-day frequent nature of these routes and this emphasis on connectivity improves a person’s ability to get around the region significantly.” Dan Dirks, Director of Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) believes SMART’s plan will complement its current services. “This complements DDOT service, which is a benefit to DDOT customers and city residents,” he said.

Public hearings began on November 15th for anyone who wants to attend. Comments regarding the new initiative are also being accepted through November 20th at the SMART Administrative Offices, via phone at (313) 223-2100 or email at

A message from the station organizers.

THANK YOU, FERNDALE! If you’re a Ferndale resident, a Ferndale Friends supporter, a Rust Belt Market patron or you’re just giving this article a quick look, you’re part of making our dream come true. Ferndale Radio has live programming on the air, and you made it happen.

We’ve been over the moon since we turned the mics on for the first time on Black Friday. A dedicated group of volunteers has been happily filling our live schedule, and we’re delivering music that’s rarely — if ever —heard anywhere else on the FM dial.

We appreciate everyone who has stopped by the station to give us a thumbs up or a word of encouragement. We are thankful for all of you who follow us on social media and spread the word to your friends and family. And we are forever grateful for those who donated to us when this was nothing more than a crazy idea. Your faith in us was inspiring.

The best part about all this is it’s only going to get better. We plan to broadcast hyperlocal news, high school sporting events and talk shows just as soon as we get our sea legs, and we hope to have a variety of specialty programming and a livestream up and running sometime in 2018.

We love this community, and we know that Ferndale is the best possible place to put a station like ours. Thanks for being part of this journey with us and believing in us. We truly could not have done it without you. We hope to make you proud.
Michelle Mirowski, Dave Phillips, Jeremy Olstyn, Keith Fraley, Dave Kim, Paul Schmalenberg

photos © Bernie Laframboise
photo © David McNair

Story By Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie Laframboise

KIMBERLY MARRONE ENJOYS HER ROLE as Oak Park’s Community & Economic Development Director, a position she’s held for over three years now. “I am committed to improving the economic outlook for the city by providing information to promote Oak Park as an appealing place to live, conduct business, and to visit,” she said.

“I work together with all stakeholders, including businesses, property owners, residents and neighboring communities to provide necessary staffing and resources to achieve continuous growth toward a thriving and sustainable community.

Marrone has also been charged with working with Oak Park’s Planning Commission to achieve continual improvement of the city’s zoning ordinance and site plan approvals, and updating the master plan. “We recently updated our city master plan this year, which had not been updated since 1996,” she explained. “Economic development can result in a stronger tax base, and I am focused on the implementation of key items recognized in the Strategic Economic Development Plan to increase the vitality of the city through the planning and implementation of initiatives.”

One of Oak Park’s goals is to ensure information is distributed to the community in a timely manner. “In my role I ensure that the city communications to residents and businesses are continuous, accurate, and timely. Our community engagement department is responsible for the city calendar, city magazine, event promotions, social media, website, and all videography.”

Marrone came from Imlay City, where she was the Downtown Development Authority Executive Director for over three years. “My prior position as a DDA Director was similar to the one I hold now, but with less responsibility and at a smaller scale. In my career, I have usually held positions related to sales, and this is true in my role here at Oak Park. The only difference is that the product now is the city.”

She added of her prior position, “As DDA Director I had to wear many hats. I was in charge of economic development, event-planning, communications, the website, working with businesses, applying for grants, and creating a business-friendly atmosphere. I created many strong relationships with businesses and the residents of Imlay City, and leaving there was difficult. I still keep in touch with many people in the community, though.”

Marrone said she found her niche in city development after leaving the workforce briefly. “I sort of stumbled upon it when I re-entered the workforce, after taking a few years off to raise my children,” she explained. “I initially began working for Imlay City as the Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, and within one-and-a-half, years, when the DDA Director position became available, they offered it to me. I graduated from Oakland University with a degree in marketing, and I created all the marketing materials for Imlay City when I worked there.”

She said Oak Park has many exciting plans in the works, especially the Nine Mile Redesign. “We are currently finalizing our plans for the Nine Mile Redesign. Streets and street networks provide a template for a rich combination of housing, shopping, and transportation choice. Nine Mile Road is the principal roadway through the center of Oak Park. Right now, it serves mostly motor vehicles, and neither creates an attractive environment for pedestrians to walk or take transit nor a safe environment for cycling or other modes of transportation. Together, this reduces the economic development potential along Nine Mile Road and makes Nine Mile Road an unattractive route for anyone not using a car.

“Streets and street networks should support a robust mix of culture and commerce. Street networks should integrate all modes of transportation. Aligning the goals set forth by the residents of Oak Park in the Strategic Economic Development Plan, and the Center For New Urbanism Nine Mile Redesign Plan, this project can play a catalytic role by better connecting people to the types of places they increasingly seek and providing them with choices for how to get to them.”

Kimberly noted her position can be challenging. “Balancing the needs and wants of a diverse group of residents and business owners” is one of the major challenges she faces. “In my role, change is a key component, which most people are adverse to. We try to communicate as effectively as possible and engage all stakeholders while planning any projects within the city.”

Of Oak Park, Kimberly says, “I love the diversity and working with all the residents and business owners. It is a great community with a great location, near many highways and within close proximity to downtown Detroit.” She enjoys spending time in Ferndale as well. “I love the vibrancy of Ferndale, and this is something I want to bring to the city of Oak Park. The Nine Mile Road Redesign project is one thing that will help us attain that in Oak Park.”

By: Jill Lorie Hurst

HEATHER HOPKINS’ COOL LITTLE SHOP, 3 WINKS, is a terrific addition to the rapidly growing retail neighborhood on 9 Mile just east of Woodward. I was delighted to have an excuse to visit the store and chat with the owner. She is proud and excited to share her new venture. Opening a store like this is something she’s wanted to do for a long time. When Heather’s mom died a year ago, she started to reevaluate and think about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. A Western Michigan University graduate, with a degree in interior design and a background in business and marketing, she’s worked in retail for over 20 years. She enjoyed her most recent job at Harold Wholesale, but decided it was time to take a risk.

“It took me over 20 years to be okay with failing if it doesn’t work out.” she smiles. “No matter what happens, I’ve already learned so much. If there’s a next time, I’ll be smarter.” She also has the full support of her husband Jesse, a guitar technician at the Guitar Center in Farmington Hills, who also designs and builds guitars. The couple, who’ve been married for a little over two years, lives in Hazel Park, “right around the corner” from the store. “I couldn’t do this without Jesse.” says Heather. Their dog Austin has a stake in the business too and if you visit their website, you’ll find “Austin’s Pick of the Month.”

Heather has gifts geared toward dog and cat lovers of course, but what is amazing as you look around is she truly has something for everyone. “Gifts,” as opposed to “presents”; presents are something someone needs or has requested, while a gift is something I think you’ll enjoy based on things I know about you, shared the business owner.

There are cards, soaps, candles, scarves, holiday ornaments. Practical things with a frivolous twist, like the “Glammer Hammer,” an emergency escape hammer for the car. Cake mugs with recipes on the cup. A fun, rainy, Saturday treat for the kids. Need a last-minute gift? There are gift baskets in the $55-60 range, and cute secret-Santa give-ables for about $20. Michigan crafts are represented, and she also displays products that benefit a number of nonprofits.

Heather speaks of each product with knowledge and enthusiasm. She shares a particular favorite, strands of beautiful, handmade fabric birds: “Birds of Joy and Happiness.” No two are the same but they are said to bring joy, good luck and prosperity to their owner. Heather: “I love the message, and supporting a local artist.”

I see things at 3Winks I’ve never seen in another gift shop. “Growing up, I never wanted to be like everybody else.” She brings a unique eye and a big heart to her little store. “I enjoy helping people find the perfect gift. To think outside the box. Hopefully a store like this encourages thoughtfulness.”

203 East 9 Mile Rd, Ferndale
Tues.-Sat. 11-8, Sun. 12-5

By Jennifer Goeddeke

SINCE OPENING IN 1985, THE OM CAFÉ has developed a pioneering status in the local realm of vegetarianism. Located north of 9 Mile on Woodward in the heart of Ferndale, The Om has a welcoming and cozy interior, including a range of beautiful artwork on the walls from local artist, Sumi Lee. Colleen Smiley was the original owner of The Om for over 20 years, and she helped forge a path ahead for those who favor a meat-free diet. While the meatless market is widely accepted as a healthy lifestyle in modern times, public perception was not always so favorable. The emphasis at The Om has been consistently on meatless cuisine, with menu options focusing on homegrown and organic fruits & vegetables, plus GMO-free/pesticide-free grains (macrobiotic and gluten-free menu options included). The Om formerly served fish, but these days the only non-vegan foods served are cheese (with certain dishes), and eggs are available on the brunch menu at least for the near future.

Since 2014, Om Café has been under the co-ownership of two Ferndale residents: Bill Blondy and Jessica Norwood. Both Blondy and Norwood were long-time customers and devoted fans of The Om. Norwood is currently handling the majority of the café operations, along with her husband, Matthew Helsel, and a team of 12 other staff. Norwood was introduced to The Om Café at age three, through her mom, and worked her way up over the past five years, from waitressing to management, then into ownership. She fondly describes The Om as, “a child of mine since I was little…I used to empty my piggy bank for a nori roll! This is absolutely my dream job. I can’t imagine being away from this space and this environment.”

Norwood’s main goal with the menu, as she explained, is to: “Stay fresh to the times while still respecting the tradition of everything The Om stands for. I am basically creating a niche within a niche, by focusing on ‘vegan comfort foods’! On a daily basis, I am asking myself, ‘what are people excited about eating?’”

Being the head chef comes with considerable responsibility to her customers. “There are so many different forms of vegan cuisine, and being a chef is generally an egocentric profession. But I continuously learn and grow. Food is life. It’s a gift to enjoy. Every member of staff here plays a pivotal role.”

Customers gravitate to The Om Café for a variety of reasons. Some are influenced by advice from a doctor, to eat less meat in order to lose weight for example. Others may be drawn to try vegetarian or vegan cuisine due to a girlfriend or boyfriend eating that way.  Many times, a macrobiotic diet is suggested for those fighting different types of cancer.

Norwood has an abundant passion for The Om, where she believes that even her personal attitude and energy level will be conveyed through the food she cooks, “I feel like I am home when I am here! I met my husband here, was proposed to here, and have had friends’ and family birthdays here. It can be humbling to think that my positive or negative energy translates into the quality of food that I serve.”

The Om Café has received several awards over the years. Most recently, the ‘Click on Detroit’ Channel 4 News award for ‘Best Vegetarian Cuisine, 2017.’ Norwood likes to give back to the community also; there is a donation box inside the café and the proceeds go to a local shelter. Recently, she hosted a “Nom Week,” where The Om joined forces with the nosh pit food truck, and together they raised money for Ferndale’s Catfe Cat Shelter.

Norwood is not just creating delicious vegan dishes, she is creating an overall vibe of enthusiasm and positivity, which is transferring to staff and customers alike. We look forward to seeing more of what she has in store for us soon!

23136 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248.548.1941
M/W/Th/Fri: 4-9pm.
Sat: 11a-3pm; 4-9pm.
Tues, Sun: Closed.

By Jennifer Goeddeke

NOW AT THEIR PERMANENT LOCATION IN OAK PARK (9 mile & Scotia), Knight Light Candle is certainly a mind-expanding store! With an abundance of light streaming in from the multiple high-set windows and an eclectic selection of items, Knight Light is a relaxing treat to browse around. The store is a family-run business, previously situated for two decades in Detroit (at Mt. Elliott & Gratiot). Customers come from all over to shop – including many from out-of-state locations and Canada.

Owner Ron Hammer started out in the candle business over 30 years ago, at a company called Skippy Candles. In 1990, he moved on to work at Goodwill Candles. Soon after, in 1992, he decided to open his own store and Knight Light Candle was born!

I recently met with Ron, Jon, Ben and Nancy Hammer for a guided tour and interview. It was immediately clear the Hammers love what they do. Immediately upon entering the building, customers are given individual attention. And Ron pointed out, “our customers always come back!”

As the name would suggest, the candle inventory is impressive. There are candles to represent almost any possible occasion, and to enable wishes or prayers to come true.

Some are even designed with humor in mind, such as the “Shut Your Mouth!” or “Obey Me!” candles. Certain candles have specific messages attached for customers to read; all candles sold can be individually blessed or ‘dressed’ with special oil. Other stores, and some churches, buy candles from Knight Light in a wholesale manner because of the high quality and variety available.

There is a diverse inventory of other unique and in-expensive items to choose from, including incense, pure oils, jewelry, crystals, beads, shells and more. The products sold cover a broad spectrum, from new age and metaphysical to various different cultures/religions.

The Hammers are always open to specific questions, and encourage customers to ask for advice. Knight Light Candle offers a great experience, and one well worth repeating!

10332 West 9 Mile, Oak Park MI 48237
Monday-Thursday 10:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.
Friday and Saturday 10:00 A.M. – 7:00 P.M.
Closed Sunday

By Ann Heler, Board of Directors

HELP WANTED: Physicians, Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners. We can use a little help. We like each session to have at least three practitioners. We ask that you volunteer with us once monthly. You can be retired but you need to have a current practicing license. Think about it……please.

Upcoming clinic sessions:
Saturday mornings 9:00 AM to Noon:
12/16/17, 1/6/18, 1/20/18, 2/3/18, and 2/27/18.
Thursday evenings 6:00 – 8:30 PM:
11/30/17, 12/7/17, 12/21/17, 1/11/18, 1/25/18, 2/8/18, and 2/22/18

Please call me at 248-677-2273, ext. 23 or e-mail our Head Nurse, Diane Dengate at or go to our website and pull down the Volunteers tab. I need to say a big thank you to the RNs that sent in the applications or e-mailed Diane. You are just wonderful…..thank you.

We have another very critical need for a Clinic Manager. This is a paid position – $22,000/year. Work load is 15 hours per week with some of that time by phone or e-mail. The person needs to be a Physician Assistant, Nurse Practitioner or RN with some administrative experience. Once again as above, call me at 248-677-2273 ext. 23 or e-mail Diane Dengate Head Nurse for more information.

By: Sara E. Teller

EARLIER THIS YEAR, THE MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF TALENT AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT created a new pilot program to help refugees successfully transition to American life. In May 2017, the Department stated in its official policy issuance: “The recent influx of immigrants (refugees and persons granted asylum, or ‘asylees’) and other persons granted legal authorization to work in the United States from distressed locations outside of North America creates a unique workforce challenge as many of the impacted individuals cannot document their prior educational and employment history. In addition, these individuals may face significant language and cultural barriers and difficulties finding adequate housing and transportation. Providing additional support and access to resources to this population via the workforce system is critical to ensuring their successful transition into Michigan’s workforce.”

The Refugee Navigator Pilot Program was born, and over half a million dollars was allocated toward its development. The program is being offered at all eight Oakland County Michigan Works offices, including Ferndale’s. It is also available in Kent, Macomb and Wayne Counties. These four counties were chosen because they are currently experiencing the largest influx of new American citizens.

The May official policy issuance further states, “The intent of [the] pilot is to assist all work-authorized immigrants, with overcoming language barriers, lack of a documented educational and employment history, and other barriers to employment and their successful integration into Michigan’s economy.” Navigators (as the pilot offices are called) “shall operate with a degree of autonomy within the Michigan Works! One-Stop Service Centers within each of the four designated counties. They shall have specific training in dealing with the refugee population.”

“WE BEGAN SERVICES in June 2017,”explains Pamela Bellaver, Supervisor of the Ferndale Michigan Works location. “We feel this program is important in assisting work authorized immigrants and legal refugees in their transition.”

With such great diversity in Oakland County, the Ferndale Michigan Works office specifically received a wealth of community support in establishing the pilot program. “We have experienced an outpouring of support in our community for this program and look forward to assisting as many individuals as possible,” Pamela said.

So far, everything has gone off without a hitch, and the program is operating as anticipated. “We have not experienced any challenges to date as we continue to spread the word about this excellent program,” she adds proudly. The pilot offers a wide variety of services to its participants, assisting with everything from pre-employment information sharing to post-employment professional licensure services and career advancement training.

WHEN A NEW CITIZEN enters a MichiganWorks pilot office, its employees will first determine whether he or she is eligible to receive assistance from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) adult, dislocated worker, or youth programs. A one-stop delivery system assists with outreach, intake and orientation to the program’s information. “Work-authorized immigrants referred for navigator-facilitated career services will be pre-screened to ensure that they have legal authorization to work in the United States and that they possess documentation to support their status,” according to the official issuance.

Officials clarify that the program is only for legal, documented American citizens, stating, “It is not the intent of this program to serve undocumented immigrants or anyone who does not have legal authorization to work in the United States.”

Once citizenship is determined, the office will conduct an initial skills assessment designed to enable career counselors to garner a better picture of each participant’s specific needs. These assessments include literacy, numeracy, and English language proficiency testing, as well as aptitudes and abilities (including skills gaps) assessments, and determinations of supportive service requirements.

After the center has an idea of what will benefit a particular individual, a list of available job openings will be provided and he or she will undergo job searches and placement assistance, as well as career counseling as needed. Information regarding in-demand industries and occupations will be offered, as well as tips regarding needed skills to obtain vacant positions, industry earnings, opportunities for advancement, and workforce and labor market employment statistics.

If necessary, referrals to other programs will be offered, including additional workforce development programs the individual may be eligible for. Upon request, participants will receive assistance and referrals to various other services that will help in his or her transition, including language acquisition or English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, housing, health care and child care assistance, transportation options, opportunities to receive a high school diploma or professional licensure, public assistance, legal and financial services, and civil rights information. According to the policy, “Each navigator will be required to maintain a robust network of federal, state, local, philanthropic and faith-based organizations.”

Ferndale residents who know of any refugees or “asylees” who may benefit from pilot program can contact their local Michigan Works office at 248-545-0222.

STORY BY: Sara E. Teller
Photo By: Bernie LaFramboise

OAK PARK CITY MANAGER ERIK TUNGATE ALWAYS WANTED HIS CAREER to be about more than just titles and financial rewards. “Money has never been a motivating factor for me; people are,” he explains. “I wanted to have a career that focused on improving people’s lives. Human beings come first, and  consideration for their safety and general welfare is always my top priority. We – myself, my staff and our public safety officers – all share the same position.”

Originally from Southwestern Michigan near Kalamazoo, he relocated to Detroit in 1999. “At the time, I didn’t know anyone here,” he said. “But it was the best decision I ever made.” His areas of expertise include community and economic development at the state level with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and strong financial management as a Senior Financial Credit Analyst in the banking industry, as well as positions within local, county, and state levels of government. Prior to accepting the position of Oak Park City Manager in 2012, he held the same role in Hamtramck.

Tungate was attracted to Oak Park, because he sincerely believes “…the potential for dramatic improvement in this city is tremendous. Oak Park is a new frontier for economic development. On top of that we have the ability to provide superior public amenities in a culture of excellence. Oak Park was a diamond in the rough when I came here. I was shocked by the incredible opportunity that lies within this community.”

Shortly after his arrival in Oak Park, he made a few departmental additions. “We instituted a Human Resources Department and an economic development function back then,” he explains, adding, “You know, when cities are financially struggling, the natural reaction is to bunker down. Finding cost-efficiencies in every nook and cranny should always be a part of the operation, but I believe you also need to deploy a plan to grow the tax base. And you do this through building an economic development machine like the one we now have in Oak Park.”

Under Tungate’s leadership, FedEx Ground also decided to open a distribution center in Oak Park, the largest land deal in the city’s history. “There was so much vacant land where the old armory once stood. The shipping company was attracted to Oak Park’s easy access to freeways and proximity to major transportation thoroughfares,” Tungate said. “The city also has the ability to attract and meet the housing demand of new employees with its affordable housing stock. This one development alone increased jobs, spurred small business development (trucking contractors), and helped us grow our tax base.”

Although he believes Oak Park has already changed dramatically, there is one thing Tungate would like to see: The push for more mixed-use development. Tungate credits the hard work of Economic Development and Communications Director Kimberly Marrone whom he hired in 2014, for the growth the city has seen in this area over the last few years with the Jefferson Oaks redevelopment and Coolidge Place projects among others. He adds, “Millennials and seniors are being priced out of housing in other suburbs and in parts of the City of Detroit. Oak Park is still able to provide great, affordable housing opportunities. Oak Park has taken a front row seat in pushing for these kinds of developments.”

Not only is Tungate invested in Oak Park, but he holds high hopes for the Detroit region, “Having the cross-state familiarity that I do, and with the economic climate that we now face, it’s what motivates me and makes me want to get the entire state of Michigan running on all cylinders. There’s a formula we have to find to bring our unique interests together for the welfare of all of us. Unfortunately, right now there’s too much division.” Working with other communities on projects or to make change promotes the regionalism in the area and allows the entire region to prosper.

Tungate realizes the value in connecting with Oak Park’s other adjoining communities. Speaking specifically of the Nine Mile Redesign, which Tungate credits Ferndale for starting the trend, he says it offers an excellent opportunity to create an interconnectedness. “Working with our friends in Ferndale, who led the charge with their own redesign, we’ve been able to plan for wonderful public amenities in our own plan. We’re an inner ring suburb that borders Detroit, so we have unique population density. Creating pocket parks and providing bike trails with tremendous amenities is what Oak Park should be looking at doing.”

He says that rather than secluding the city from the other side of 8 Mile Rd., there has been a push to open it up. “Turning away from our southern border with Detroit would be a tremendous mistake. Let’s open the door to all of the possibilities a strong partnership with Detroit can provide.”

With this in mind, new restaurant owners are able to secure a liquor license in the once-dry city. This new economic development tool that enables new restaurants to secure a Class “C” liquor license for under $2,000 helped us to attract a new destination restaurant, “8MK.” “8MK” is a restaurant currently under development by the Union Joints Restaurant Group which also owns The Clarkston Union, Union General, Union Woodshop, Woodshop Shop, Vinsetta Garage, Fenton Fire Hall, Pumphouse and Honcho. “When the opportunity for 8MK came to us, we pounced on it for two reasons – we were able to preserve a historic building, and it helped open us up to 8 Mile Rd.” 8MK occupies space once held by the WWJ transmitter building and 8MK is a reference to the station’s original call letters.

Tungate is focused on maintaining the city’s diversity. “Oak Park is the eighth-most diverse city in Michigan, and it is a perfect example of a diverse community that gets along and works together. What I would like to see is us continuing to attract new residents who appreciate what we have to offer.

As for future endeavors, he notes, “We will be unveiling some very important development projects soon. As we continue to build the city’s pipeline, we’re attracting quality retailers and restaurants, both locally-owned and national retail chains.”