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The City of Oak Park has evolved tremendously since City Manager, Erik Tungate, took office in 2012. “The City government operation has been fully modernized, and there is a new spirit among our residents and business owners. There is also a greater awareness for the role our community plays in the greater Metropolitan Detroit area,” Tungate explained. Much of this is due to his view that “You can’t cut your way out of a bad situation. You have to grow your way out,” a quote referenced in last year’s State of the City Address. Tungate is a proponent of sustainable growth.

Tungate explained, “For a city that is almost entirely built-out like Oak Park here in the inner ring suburbs of a major city like Detroit, there are only so many ways you can find new sources of revenue and maintain vibrancy. In local government, we have to make sure we are as fiscally responsible with our taxpayer’s hard-earned tax dollars as possible while staying focused on investing in quality of life amenities, attracting new development, and seeking strategic partnerships in our region in addition to finding cost savings. There is no question a proactive approach like this has proven to be more successful than simply cutting city expenditures and expecting the market to come to us.”

The theme of Oak Park’s 2017 State of the City Address was “Bridging the Past, Present and Future.” Tungate offered some insight. “At the address, we unveiled our bridge overpass project on the overpass at I-696 and Coolidge. We wanted to tie in all of the things we’ve been doing with that, since it is an infrastructure that most people in the State of Michigan will know us by once it’s installed.” He said over the course of the next year and looking even further ahead, “I want the City of Oak Park to be able to maintain its fiscally sound financial practices, and I would like to see us moving in the direction of even more walkability.”

Tungate is hopeful that the 2018 State of the City Address will bring even more exciting news. “We may be able to unveil some great new projects during our 2018 State of the City Address. In any event, when these projects are ready for prime time, we will be releasing information to promote the positive impact they will have on our growing community. I can safely say we are actively pursuing multiple mixed-use developments. In fact, this is one of our prime goals for 2018.”

As far as other goals for the city, “We are pursuing new housing developments through our economic development arm as well as investing in our infrastructure to build the kind of quality of life amenities that attract new residents from other areas. While it may seem counter-intuitive given how communities have dealt with attracting new development and residents in the past, we strongly believe that our investments will pay off versus the traditional mindset of giving tax incentives only,” Tungate explained. “This is a fairly new approach for Oak Park and there is no doubt we’ve seen this approach work in communities like Detroit, Ferndale, and Birmingham, who have invested heavily in creating one-of-a-kind places where people want to live and work.”

Tungate said his favorite thing about Oak Park, in general, is its residents and business owners. “I’ve worked in many other communities throughout my career and there is no question we have one of the most supportive groups of residents and business owners anywhere. Whether it’s Public Safety or economic development, they are always there for us and ready to provide a helping hand. It’s amazing to witness each and every instance. When you combine that with the amazing and talented team we have at the City, it is something truly special.”

Tungate said residents should know, “We are ready to lead and are not waiting for things to happen to us. Rather, we are shaping the future for ourselves and making things happen. Our city government is setting new standards and aggressively pursuing excellence in every way.”

Story by Mary Meldrum
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Marian McLellan, Mayor of the City of Oak Park since 2011, is part of an enthusiastic municipal team that is focused on creating a vibrant and progressive future for Oak Park.

Two big strides that the City made that contributed to the progress, according to Mayor McClellan, have been establishing an Economic Development Department and jump-starting the City’s communications department. New infrastructure projects, business development, affordable housing options, clear and upbeat City messaging and exciting activities have all strengthened the quality of life that Oak Park offers. And all of this is turning heads.

The housing market is robust and gaining momentum, with market trends showing a 23 per cent increase in median home sales over last year. The commercial real estate market is following this trend. With many properties available at a good value, businesses are shopping the selection.

“Our population is going up and we have multi-family housing moving in. Oak Park is still the last good bargain for wonderfully built homes,” says McClellan. “We see more and more young people deciding to make Oak Park their home. I see retail getting renovated. And, as we finish the renovation on the Nine Mile Redesign project, we’ll attract more and that will bring people from other cities in.”

One other piece of big news that will give Oak Park an economic boost: after 60 dry years, licensed Oak Park restaurants can now sell beer, wine and mixed drinks. Under the Michigan Liquor Control Commission guidelines, a liquor license can be issued to one business for every 1,500 residents. This gives Oak Park the ability to issue approximately 20 licenses. Only two licenses have been issued out of the 20, with a third in consideration at the time of this writing. This will catch the attention of restaurant chains that previously would not consider Oak Park as a viable location for their business. Liquor licenses uncap potential in Oak Park and will bring in more jobs, tax dollars, more traffic and revenue from residents inside and outside the City.

Mayor Marian McClellan says, “This allows family restaurants to serve beer, wine and mixed drinks with meals, and shows promise in attracting the type of commerce that can spur economic development within our city while serving the citizens who would love to patronize businesses close to home.”

The economic profile of Oak Park has a great foundation with sidewalks on all the roads, LED street lights, a mature tree canopy, and three public school districts in the city–Ferndale, Berkley and Oak Park schools. Additionally, the housing stock is beautiful, solid mid-century modern brick homes that are in high demand.

“Oak Park has always maintained infrastructure,” Mayor McClellan describes. “We have the best city services in the area. Our Public Works employees take a lot of pride in what they do. There is a lot of good will in the city. Police officers do triple-duty in Oak Park; the same officer is police, fire and medical first-response.”

One noteworthy thing that separates Oak Park from many other communities in the area is their very stable diverse population. There is a lot of attention paid and energy put into supporting and promoting its valuable diversity. This is reflected in their events as well as the private Montessori and Jewish schools located in the city. There is also an accredited Rabbinical college where people all over the world come to study.

Economic development is on a breakneck pace and gaining steam. People are waking up to the City’s blooming potential, its great location and the value of the City’s real estate.

Mayor McClellan is excited when she envisions the city’s future: “I see new energy and excitement. There will be businesses right up to the sidewalk – not behind a parking lot. There will be many storefronts that are mixed-use construction with a place to eat, a place to live, a place to shop and a place to play,” envisions McClellan. “They will have two and three stories, all within walking and biking distance. There will be boulevards, green spaces and parks.”

Stories by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie Laframboise

Statement from the Superintendent
Dr. Daveda Colbert

The City of Oak Park is a great place to live, eat, and work. It also provides amazing learning opportunities for students of all ages. Oak Park schools truly provide a great educational experience for students with various abilities. The goal is for all students to reach their full potential. We are closing the opportunity gap. We are working daily to increase student achievement while providing exposure and opportunity that removes barriers that hinder success. Oak Park schools has a caring and committed workforce, as well as very dedicated employee partners. We also have a very supportive resident and business community.

As a resident of Oak Park since 2003 and the proud Superintendent since December 2010, Oak Park is the place I call home. Here are a few of our accomplishments throughout my tenure:

■ Increased enrollment from 3,100 to 5,100 students from December 2010
to December 2017.
■ Inherited a $8 million deficit in December 2010, and as of the June 2017 audit, the district has a $14 million surplus.
■ Passed Sinking Fund Renewal for 20 Years.
■ Award-winning marching band, drum line, and step team which includes students involved in these activities at elementary, middle, and high school levels.
■ Award-winning choral programs at each level with stand-out performances from Pepper Choir, Oak Park Voices of Inspiration, and Oak Park High School Choir.
■ Award-winning underwater robotics at all schools (elementary, middle, and high school).
■ “Three-Peat” State Championship Division I Girls Track & Field Team, also national champions.
■ State Championship Division I Boys Track & Field Team, also national champions.
■ Infused technology at all levels to establish 21st Century Learning Environments at elementary, middle, and high school level.
■ Partnership with St. Johns Providence Health Systems and opened a school-based health clinic in OPHS.
■ GSRP (Great Start Readiness Programs — Pre-School for four-year-olds) in all three elementary schools.
■ Two Alternative Learning Programs and One Virtual Program – Options for all students, which includes a career-based high school program, a second-chance program, and an online program to meet the needs of all students.
■ A number of Wade McCree Scholars and Gates Millennium Scholarship finalists and winners.
■ A number of students taking Advanced Placement classes at Oak Park High School and CASA (Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts).
■ Great partnership that works with the City of Oak Park (Mayor Marian McClellan, City Manager Erik Tungate, Oak Park Public Safety Director Steve Cooper, and many more elected officials and department heads).

Notable District Highlights
Oak Park Preparatory Academy Students Share Their Poetry

On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Oak Park Preparatory Academy (OPPA) released their fourth volume of poetry, entitled, “Words Ain’t No Walk in the Park.” The book was written entirely by OPPA students, and published by the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. InsideOut is Detroit’s largest literary arts non-profit and Oak Park Schools has had the honor of working with the non-profit for four consecutive years. Since 1995, InsideOut has helped more than 50,000 Detroit youth express themselves through the written word. The InsideOut Poetry Gala featured OPPA students reciting their work, and staff sharing some of their favorite selections from the book.

Elementary School Students Help to Feed the Hungry
Einstein Elementary and Key Elementary students recently participated in the “Change the World with Onigiri Project” under the guidance of world language teacher, Ms. Yukliko Fujiwara.

The program was coordinated by Table for Two (TFT), which originated in Japan. TFT is an international non-profit organization that aims to solve the program of unbalanced food distribution between the U.S. and development countries. Each year, TFT spearheads the World Food Day campaign with the goal to deliver one million meals to children in need. Oak Park elementary school students helped to feed children in Africa by making onigiri, a rice ball, which is considered a traditional, healthy snack in Japan. Photos of the onigiri made by students were posted to TFT’s website. For every photo posted, the sponsor companies donated five hot meals to a child in Africa.

21st Century Learning: Pepper, Key & Einstein Elementary Schools and Preparatory Academy
Pepper, Key and Einstein Elementary Students, as well as those at Oak Park Preparatory Academy will find their classrooms fully equipped with 21st Century learning tools when they return on Tuesday, August 29, 2018. Interactive projection screens called Promethean Boards, and laptop carts will be available. These tools are designed to keep students engaged while enhancing their technology skills and overall learning environments.

Alternative Education Center Students Gain Real World Experience
The Oak Park Alternative Education Center is open to students ages 15 to 21 who are seeking a high school diploma. Basic vocational skills are also offered to prepare students for a future career path. Enrollment is Monday- Friday from 8:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., and is offered throughout the entire school year. All academic courses are facilitated by certified teachers. Some recent student initiatives include:

Staff Lunch Project
Alternative Education Center Culinary Arts students launched a Staff Lunch project. The project is designed to help the students gather important information about starting their own business. Students go to each staff member and present a menu for the day. Each student rotates to the lead cook position weekly. The lead cook directs the flow of the kitchen and assigns the job responsibilities to others. After the meals are prepared, a select number of students deliver them to the staff. The goal is to teach students basic catering techniques.

Video/Music Production Students: Interactive Video Project
The Video/Music Production students teamed up with Everest Institute of Southfield to create an interactive video. Three students were selected to go to the campus with camera equipment. The final product will allow potential Everest students to take a virtual tour through the campus.

Building Trades Students Given Hands-On Training
Building Trades students are working on a project that allows them the opportunity to use the tools of each trade to find what he or she has a natural inclination towards pursuing. The joining of each component that brings the units together gives the students hands-on experience producing a functional product. The Building Trades students also visited the Detroit Electrical Industrial Center. The center provides a paid on-site apprenticeship program and classroom training. Student Khalil Brown, who was identified as qualified for the program, stated this is the most fun in school he has ever had.

Oak Park Schools, a school-of-choice district, has more than 5,000 students. Oak Park is a school-of-choice district. Students must be a resident of Oakland, Macomb, or Wayne Counties, between the grades of Pre-K-12, to attend.
• Einstein Elementary School (Pre-K-5) 14001 Northend St 248-336-7640
• Key Elementary School (Pre-K-5) 23400 Jerome Street 248-336-7610
• Pepper Elementary School (Pre-K-5) 24301 Church Street 248-336-7680
• Oak Park Preparatory Academy (6-8) 23261 Scotia Street 248-336-7620
• Oak Park Freshman Institute (9th Grade only) 22180 Parklawn St 248-336-7780
• Oak Park High School (10-12) 13701 Oak Park Blvd. 248-336-7740
• OP Alternative Education Center (Ages 15-21) 12901 Albany Street 248-291-6722

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Oak Park High School is a secondary learning environment nestled in the heart of the City of Oak Park. A community of educators proudly serves the diverse needs of the student body and functions as a professional
learning community with data teams as our nucleus,” said High School Principal Charity Jones.

Oak Park High has received its fair share of notable recognition and awards. In 2017, the high school was recognized as a model . Only approximately 200 schools nationwide and in Canada receive this honor. “PLCs are schools and districts in which educators recognize the key to improved learning for students is on-going, job-embedded learning for the adults who serve those students,” Jones explained. Educators focus on learning, build a collaborative culture, and create a results orientation.

“By functioning as a professional learning community, implementing the data team process, and focusing on continuous school improvements over the next few years we will have a data-driven culture that focuses on meeting students’ individual learning needs,” Jones said. “It is our goal to build positive relationships, to cultivate a healthy and safe learning environment where all faculty and staff are using data to inform decisions and exercise accountability across the board to ensure increased student achievement for all.”

As the high school evolves to meet the expectations of a professional learning community, faculty and staff will prepare fully connected, college, career, and global-ready graduates that will successfully pursue and attain their post-secondary aspirations. Graduates will be fully college and career-ready when their high school experience culminates.

“It is our unique school structure, college preparatory education, fine and performing arts, co-curricular and athletic opportunities that build community and lead our students on a pathway to excellence,” Jones added. “Our students also have the opportunity to pursue coursework at Oakland Schools Technical Campus and the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts. They participate in cooperative internships at William Beaumont Hospital, participate in work-based programs in the community, engage in career days, network with professionals in the Detroit Economic Club Academy and the Women of Tomorrow program. They also obtain technical training in robotics, engineering, health occupations, forensic science, theatre production, music, art, choir, band, Wayne State University C2 Pipeline, etc., to strengthen skills, cultivate talents, and engage in deep learning.”

In addition to relevant content material and extended learning opportunities, students will experience the rigor of curriculum aligned with the common core standards, advanced placement courses, honor classes, dual enrollment, test preparation for state and national examinations, and character education. “Our fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and develop academic and social skills to prepare them for college or a career,” Jones explained.
Oak Park High has a uniform set of values that educators abide by. These include:

– Building Relationships and Community
– Prioritizing Learning with High Expectations
– Taking Ownership and Being Accountable

“To accomplish our purpose, we focus on capturing kids’ hearts, while functioning as a PLC with data teams as our nucleus. We believe that consistency and intentional efforts to uphold the shared values will help us accomplish our purpose,” Jones said.

The Knights in Shining Armor – Oak Park High Athletics
The Oak Park High School Knights are co-champions of the Oakland Activities Football Association White Division, along with Farmington Harrison and Birmingham Groves. They are also 2017 MHSAA District Champions. Coach Greg Carter and the athletic staff led the students to victory.

Oak Park High School’s Boys and Girls Track Teams are defending Division I State Champions and demonstrated that on May 11, 2017, at the OAA Gold Championship held at Oak Park High. The girls track team were finalists in the Division I State Championship. Four Oak Park High School All American Track Student Athletes signed letters of intent on college signing day: Cameron Cooper; Louisiana State University. Tamea McKelvy; University of Texas. Bryce Pickett; University of Michigan. Carlita Taylor; Columbia University.

Marching Band Making Its Mark
Oak Park Schools Marching Legion was the big winner at Flint Hamady High School’s “Battle of the Bands” competition on September 23, 2017, claiming victory over marching bands from six schools in the State of Michigan. The Marching Legion swept all six major categories, winning first place trophies in Overall Auxiliary, Overall Drum Major, Overall Drumline, Overall Music, Class A Band, and Overall Grand Champions. “The band’s motto is ‘Enthusiasm is the Key.’ When we are performing, we must always be enthusiastic about it. We believe that by embracing our motto we are able to offer performances everyone can enjoy and appreciate wholeheartedly,” said Mr. Virgil Goodwine, Band Director of the Marching Legion.

Notable Staff Achievement
Ms. Kathryn Locano, Oak Park High’s ELA Curriculum Coordinator; Young, Optimistic, and United student organization (Y.O.U.) sponsor; and teacher leader, was presented with the prestigious ‘Power of One’ Award at the Tri-Community Coalition’s 19th annual Leadership Breakfast held on December 8, 2017.

The non-profit Coalition’s mission is to prevent substance abuse in the surrounding cities. Locano was recognized for her commitment to excellence in education, for being an impactful, caring and servant leader, and a long-time sponsor of Y.O.U. Y.O.U. is a student-led club that discusses and addresses issues students face in the school, including mental health difficulties, drugs, bullying, and distracted driving, among others.

Mayor Marian McClellan Visits Oak Park High
Oak Park High School students recently engaged in STEM-based fun during C2 Pipeline’s Lights on After-school Event. Wayne State University’s C2 Pipeline is an afterschool program that is funded through the Michigan Department of Education to be a 21st Century Community Learning Center.

C2 Pipeline has been shown to boost students’ grades in math and English a quarter higher by the end of the school year. All high school students are eligible to participate in the program. C2 Pipeline’s Lights on Afterschool Event takes place annually, and offers a way for students to showcase to the Oak Park community how the program truly enriches their learning. Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan participated to show her support of the students.

Ascension St. John Providence Provides In-School Student Care
Ascension St. John Providence has partnered with Oak Park School District to improve access to healthcare for the students and Oak Park community at large. The school-based health center services students ages 5-21 years irrespective of insurance coverage. The health center is staffed with Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner Tammie S. Williams, Registered Medical Assistant Krystal Williams, and Licensed Mental Health Counselor Darryl Allen.

Students receive a multitude of health services, including yearly physical exams, sports physicals, vaccines, acute care visits, minor sports injury care, vision and hearing screens and screening for sexually transmitted infections. Also available are programs for health promotion and risk reduction, and mental health counseling including substance abuse and behavior therapy for individuals and groups. Written parental consent is needed for all students under the age of 18. The center hours are 7:30 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Walk-ins are accepted but appointments are preferred.

Story by Sara E. Teller

The Berkley School District includes all of Berkley, Huntington Woods and a portion of Oak Park. The District schools inside of Oak Park city limits are Norup International School, a K-8 school, and Berkley Building Blocks childcare centers (Avery and Tyndall). “Children in the Berkley School District boundaries attend neighborhood schools.

Norup serves students who live in Oak Park, and some Schools of Choice students, for elementary school,” explained Berkley Schools Communications Director Jessica Stilger. She added, “Its middle school, which includes grades 6 through 8, combines Oak Park residents with those from Huntington Woods. This school is very diverse in its student body socio-economically, racially, and religiously. The school is a current International Baccalaureate school.”

Norup is known for reaching all learners, and the District has a goal overall to create pathways for students to achieve their personal best, whatever that looks like for each student.

“In elementary school, students excel at their own level using Cultures of Thinking and Reading and Writing Workshop models to enhance their literacy skills to improve comprehension in all subjects,” Stilger said. “Students are exposed to weekly art, vocal music, technology, physical education. And in 5th grade students have the option to participate in instrumental music, and attend camp with all other 5th-graders in the District.”

When they reach middle school, Stilger said “students can explore robotics, foreign languages, journalism, and various music options, just to name a few. In addition, many students complete high school credits while attending Norup, and 8th-grade students complete a year-long, in-depth community research project. Middle school students can participate in an extensive list of athletics and clubs like swimming, football, cross country, basketball, skiing, tennis, track and field, book club, student newspaper and more.”

THERE ARE ALSO EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT CENTERS designed to cater to families in Berkley as well as surrounding neighborhoods, including those in Oak Park. “Berkley Building Blocks serves students six-weeks-old through age five. The two centers collectively have infant, toddler and preschool classrooms that run both school-year and year-round schedules. The center houses state and federally funded preschool classrooms, including Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) and Head Start. Enrollment for Building Blocks is not limited to Berkley School District boundaries. In Fall 2018, the two buildings will combine into one childcare center at Avery, after extensive work completes over the summer due to a 2015 Bond passage,” Stilger said.

Over 300 students in total enroll in the various Berkley Building Blocks programs each year. “Our centers are known for being high-quality, accredited care centers, dedicated to nurturing, growing and loving each student,” Stilger explained. “Building Blocks forms strong family connections, encourages family involvement, hosts three parent/teacher conference sessions each year with all age levels and brings in-house field trips in many times each year to bring the outside world in.”

Last year, a Norup student robotics team placed first in the state for their pothole-fixing robot. The students went on to participate in the World competition and placed 4th. A Building Blocks staff member also presented at a national early childhood conference this past Fall.

The biggest charitable initiative Berkley schools are involved in is the Caring & Sharing program run by the Berkley Area PTSA Council. This program is in its 37th year, and each school, including Norup, Avery and Tyndall, work together to collect breakfast foods, canned goods, peanut butter and jelly and any monetary donations. Food and money collection starts in November and wraps in December with hundreds of district families receiving food for the holiday season.

“Berkley School District schools are always giving back to the community,” said Stilger.

Story by Sara E. Teller

Ferndale Public Schools is made up of portions of four communities – Ferndale, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, and Royal Oak Township,” explains Bill Good, Director of Communications and Pupil Services. “For many Oak Park residents, Ferndale Schools is actually their home district – many Oak Park residents don’t realize this.” As a ‘Schools of Choice’ district, Ferndale also welcomes students from Oak Park who are not assigned but wish to attend.

Ferndale Schools offers an intimate, interconnected environment for its educators, students, and families. “Ferndale offers a hometown, small school atmosphere that gives parents, students, and teachers, and community an opportunity to really get to know one another,” Good said. “The district is large enough to provide a wide range of curricular and extra-curricular offerings, but small enough to maximize student participation and maintain a community feel.”

Ferndale Schools has created a curriculum and school culture centered around each child’s age, developmental milestones, and specific needs. “It is a focused approach on the whole child that facilitates growth academically, emotionally, socially, and physically,” Good explains, adding, “Collaboration between children, teachers, parents, and community members creates a community of learners and a purposeful learning environment.”

The District uses social and emotional learning (SEL), the process through which both children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions; set and achieve positive goals; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain positive relationships; and make responsible decisions. This concept that is rooted in the schools’ ‘whole-child’ philosophy has been recognized at both the state and national levels, and has been adapted by other districts.

Good poses the question, “What do we mean when we say educating the whole child? We recognize that learning is about more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. We are dedicated to educating and nurturing the entire child, so each student grows into a purposeful, lifelong learner. Our talented educators have developed a guiding framework that is integrated into the classroom every day which teaches social and emotional development skills and the benefits are clear – academic achievement increases, students feel more confident, and teachers have more time to teach.”

FERNDALE IS ALSO KNOWN FOR ITS HIGH SCHOOL IMPI ROBOTICS TEAM, which has qualified for the national championships the past two years. The Impi Warriors recently took it upon themselves to help spread STEM education across the globe, fundraising for the development of a new robotics team in Ghana. The FHS Football Team also made the playoffs for the second straight year in a row.

High school senior Jacob Keener recently received notoriety as one of just a handful of students nationwide who achieved a perfect score on both the ACT and SAT test, and senior Matt Ballard and Junior Donovan Pitts-Reed qualified for the state championship wrestling meet. Student athletes Jacob Keener and John Stellard were selected from a pool of more than 4,200 nominees to be among 16 finalists awarded the Michigan High School Athletic Association Scholar Athlete (MHSAA) award. Students continue to excel at sports, academics, and extra-curriculars each school year.

The District also has some innovative plans in the making to promote educational growth. “With the explosive growth in technology the days of the traditional ‘library’ or ‘media center’ are past,” Good explains. “Last year, Ferndale Schools began our transition away from the old model and transformed half of the FHS Media Center into ‘The Nest’.” The Nest is a flexible learning space that teachers can reserve for small group projects and instruction. The tables and chairs in The Nest are all on wheels and can be moved and reconfigured to fit the needs of the teacher or groups of students. The Nest is also home to a mobile smart board which allows students or teachers to plug in their devices and share their display. The project was funded by a generous donation of ‘The Profit’ Marcus Lemonis and NBC/Universal who visited Ferndale Schools last year.

For an illustration of school assignments by area, please visit FerndaleSchools.org and click on the district map. Residents interested in joining Ferndale Schools through the Schools of Choice program can apply from March 13 to August 3 by calling 248-586-8686.

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Taking a meditation class, learning to use a 3D printer, and sewing on a button aren’t things you would typically think of doing in a library. But, as the needs of a community grow, so do the available resources. Oak Park Library is a perfect example of this transformation.

No longer known just for stacks of books, the Library has evolved in the 60 years since its opening in 1958, and Director Brandon Bowman has been crucial in navigating the transition since his start in 2014.

“Basically, libraries in the 21st Century are becoming community hubs. It’s not just print materials anymore,” he says. “They are still going to be a place for the books, but we are kind of reinventing ourselves to become something better. It’s technology, programs and community meeting centers – libraries are encompassing all these things.”

One of the best examples of the changing landscape of Oak Park Library is their programming. A variety of programs are available to teach new skills, highlight a business or even just discuss an interesting topic. Programs are free at the Library, although there are some charges for services.

“The neat one I really like is our program, which is basically teaching things that don’t necessarily get taught in school but are very valuable skills to have. Like, cooking without a stove and not a lot of money; Sewing on a button and hemming your pants. These are some of those classes,” Bowman says.

Other programs include learning basic computer skills, joining book club activities, attending movie nights and visiting with guest speakers. On March 21 an Oak Park Public Safety Officer conducted a presentation on crime scene investigations. “It’s having this community knowledge and passing on knowledge, not in a book but in person,” Bowman says.

Aside from new programming, libraries have always been a place of resources. As technology becomes more and more of an essential part of everyday life, the Library works to ensure they always have technology available to patrons. “When people don’t have access to the Internet or the fast speeds of access that we have, they come up here and use our computers. We just added ten new computers last year to meet that need, so that’s huge for us,” Bowman explains.

It’s not even necessary to come to the Library to get access to their offerings anymore. Through digital loaning programs like OverDrive and Zinio, members can view online books, audiobooks and magazines to their phones, tablets and computers. The Library is even making efforts to bring its resources out to homebound members of the community and to students in school settings. They’ve started a book club in collaboration with Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Berkley public libraries.

“We are not confined to our building anymore, we’re going out,” Bowman says. “With our new operating system coming in May, we are going to be able to use tablets to do mobile checkouts so we can take a cart full of books out on the road. Getting out in the community and being more visible is something people don’t realize the Library is going to be doing, even within the next six months.”

With all the new offerings and developing changes you might think that the Oak Park Library has a large team on hand or that they use a ton of tax dollars for their growth. In reality the majority of their effort is accomplished with a small but dedicated staff, grant applications and the Friends of the Oak Park Library (see next page), a nonprofit organization that offers funds through volunteer efforts.

“We are ironically one of the bigger libraries in the area – Huntington Woods, Berkley and Ferndale are all smaller communities than us, so we actually have the largest library – but we have the least amount of staff and the smallest budget,” Bowman says. “What we do offer is a lot of innovation, and our staff is phenomenal.”

Some of the grants the Oak Park Library has received include the LSTA grant through the Library of Michigan, which they used to purchase 10 iPads. They also received the Ezra Jack Keats grant; and the Detroit Book and Author Society Grant.

“Another grant we just got was the Harwood Institute grant. We took a three-day seminar provided by the Library of Michigan that taught us to go out and ask the questions, obtain input and better meet the needs of our community,” Bowman says. “That’s what we want to do over the next couple years; we want to fine-tune our model of getting the input back to us, and fine-tune our communication out to the community.”

Their efforts seem to be paying off with circulation and usage numbers showing an increase over last year. In 2017, 103,592 items were circulated, almost six per cent higher than 2016; 23,000 reference questions were answered; and 3,000 visitors attended programs. Bowman hopes to see these numbers continue to grow and has no plans of slowing down efforts to improve the Oak Park Library.

“Consistently, our statistics are going up. I think that’s because more and more people are becoming aware of what we do. I would love to see those continue to get higher and get more people involved,” he says.

The Library’s 60th Birthday Anniversary that is coming in June presents a wonderful opportunity. “We want to use the birthday party as the catalyst to say, ‘We’ve come to this point and now we’re going to kick it into high speed.’ And go and do all these things – adding more online stuff, more program offerings,” Bowman says. “Look at how we can meet the needs of our community better.”

According to Bowman, the most important thing the Library can do is make sure it’s a valuable resource for the community and that they are indeed meeting the needs of Oak Park. He says he can’t think of a better community to put the work in for.

“I cannot say enough good things about Oak Park!” he exclaims “There has never been a community where I’ve gone in and been so welcome as I have when I came here. I think all the staff agree: We go above and beyond because we feel the people deserve that. They are such good people and the community is such a nice place that we want to give, and make this the place they envision.”

And, he wants to make it clear that the things people request don’t have to fit in the normal definition of what a traditional library has been. If it will better the community they are willing to work to make it happen.

“We are currently out in Oak Park, asking what community members aspire for the city. They are invited to tell us anything and we will tailor our mission to what they are asking for. It is a more open-ended question,” Bowman says. “With the community that we have, we need to have a good, strong library. We can draw a lot of people to Oak Park by using the Library as that showcase by saying this is what we can do and we are taking these steps to get there.”

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Most people admit that they wouldn’t get very far in life without the support of their friends, and the Oak Park Public Library is no exception.

The Friends of the Library, since 1992, is a non-profit organization that has helped back programming, raise funds and make improvements to the Oak Park Library since the 1950s, all at no cost to taxpayers. “We could not do any of the things we do without the Friends,” says Brandon Bowman, director of the Oak Park Library. “Ninety-nine per cent of our funding comes from the Friends organization, they are our main fund raiser.”

Everything from providing prizes and books for the summer reading program to running fundraisers and book fairs fall under the realm of support the Friends offer. Typically, Bowman provides them with a list each June of ten initiatives or programs he wants to implement that year, and the organization chooses which they will fund or give supplies for.

“They help us fund some of the initiatives that the Library staff come up with. The ”Raspberry Pis” (tiny computers used for teaching) are a good example – they just went out and bought those for us. I go to the Friends and say ‘I’d like to buy five Raspberry Pis to start teaching scratch gaming coding in the Library, can you help me out?’ and they provide us with those things,” he says.

Today, the Friends of the Library have over 200 members and are always looking for more support. Individuals can join for a membership fee of $10 that goes directly toward supporting the Library, and you don’t have to be an Oak Park resident to join.

Surprisingly, the Friends have been by the Library’s side since before they had a physical building. In the early 1950s, the Oak Park Library was run out of a bookmobile, and the Friends raised over $24,000 by requesting supplies, furniture and funds door-to-door in Oak Park neighborhoods. As a result, the Library opened the doors to their building at 14300 Oak Park Blvd in 1958, and are still located there. The Friends continue to help with renovations too, supporting remodels in 1968 and 2011.

“Right now, they are trying to find community sponsors for the wishing well – the Ferndale Library has a wishing well and we are trying to do the same thing here – which would allow us to get some more passive funding for things,” Bowman says. “They are going around asking local businesses if they are willing to put money toward that.”

Members meet the second Monday of each month. In February at the Oak Park Winterfest, the Friends of the Library held a membership drive and are still looking for more volunteers for a 60th birthday of the Oak Park Library event in June.

“I know they need tons of volunteers for the birthday party, so we are trying to get people for that. And of course, they are always looking for help coming up with new innovative ways to do fundraising to help the Library out,” Bowman says. “The more people we can get involved with Friends the better.”

Anyone interested in joining the Friends of the Library can fill out an application at the Oak Park Library, through the Library web site, or by emailing: friends.oakparklibrary@gmail.com
or visit oppl.org/friends

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie Laframboise

Forgotten Harvest was founded 27 years ago by Dr. Nancy Fishman, who knew firsthand what it felt like to go to bed hungry. “She had suffered the indignity of hunger herself and vowed to dedicate herself to relieving hunger in Metro Detroit,” explained Tim Hudson, the organization’s Chief Development Officer. “Nancy started Forgotten Harvest from the back of her own vehicle and began to rescue food from restaurants in the area.”

Fishman’s venture has since branched out substantially and, today, Forgotten Harvest employs over 70 people and has a fleet of 35 trucks that rescue food from grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, dairies, farmers, wholesale food distributors, and other Health Department-approved sources in and around its headquarters in Oak Park. In it’s 2016-2017 fiscal year alone, the effort’s Rescue Team has received over 45.8 million pounds of food by collecting surplus, prepared, and perishable items.

The food that is collected is redistributed to those in need, fulfilling Forgotten Harvest’s mission of relieving hunger in metro Detroit and preventing nutritious food waste. “We deliver that food free of charge to over 250 agencies in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties,” Hudson said. He added that those who need food can visit pantrynet.org directly, contact Forgotten Harvest at (248) 967-1500 or send the organization a message on any of its social media channels.

Forgotten Harvest offers volunteer opportunities at its headquarters in Oak Park, as well as at Forgotten Harvest Farms and is actively seeking participants. “Last year over 16,000 people volunteered at our Oak Park headquarters and at Forgotten Harvest Farms” Hudson said. “Interested parties can register to volunteer online. It’s easy. There are two sessions held six days a week. Morning and afternoon sessions are available.”

Recent notable donations to the cause include 16,200 pounds of frozen poultry contributed by Miller Amish Country Poultry on behalf of The Kroger Co. of Michigan this past December. The Miller Poultry contribution included 300 40-pound cases of frozen bagged drumsticks, representing approximately 36,000 meal portions; 300 12-pound cases of fully cooked chicken sausage, representing approximately 10,800 meal portions; and 100 cases of ground chicken, representing approximately 1,800 meal portions. Little Caesars Pizza also donated $30,000 toward the cause during the holiday season.

Hudson said that operating in Oak Park is ideal because, “It is a central location for our trucks and was chosen due to access to all major freeways.” This allows volunteers to quickly and easily collect and redistribute items. He added, “One in six people face hunger or food insecurity in the Tri-County area,” which makes being positioned in Oak Park important for readily providing hunger-relief services to those in need.

Forgotten Harvest is a member of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that includes a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks which feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies. Feeding America works to educate the general public about hunger. The national office produces educational and research papers spotlighting this issue, and its public policy staff works with legislators to advocate for changes in public attitudes and laws geared toward hunger issues to aid in nationwide hunger elimination and prevention.

Forgotten Harvest is creative with the ways in which it raises contributions to support its efforts. Twenty-six years ago, comedian Tim Allen co-founded Forgotten Harvest Comedy Night, and the Detroit-area comedian will return this year to host the event at the Fox Theatre on April 20 at 8:30 P.M. The annual event benefits and gives the organization’s supporters a chance to showcase their achievements in the community. Past presenters have included Jay Leno and Martin Short, among other notable celebrities.

Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, 313Presents.com, and ForgottenHarvest.org.

By Oak Park resident, Peter Werbe

I never wanted to live in a suburb. I was born and raised in Detroit, attended its schools and, although I went away to college for a period, I finished my studies at Wayne State University. My wife and I happily moved into the area surrounding its campus with an appreciation of the student activism and exciting cultural scene of the time.

The suburbs always represented to me the worst about America. Culturally sterile, ticky-tacky houses, the artificiality of shopping malls, and – let’s be frank – where white people often moved so as not to live
close to minorities.

Each fall in the Detroit pubic schools I attended, the social studies department would sponsor a model United Nations, a miniature replica of the actual session occurring simultaneously at the UN headquarters in New York City. The flags of the many nations were flown, and students would be chosen to represent ambassadors from the world’s different countries, sometimes even donning the garb of their nation of origin.

Duly assembled, we would hold a pretend UN session where we worked on solving the world’s problems. I was always fascinated by the diversity of cultures even in this small representation of them.

By the 1980s, Detroit proper was hollowed out by de-industrialization driven by corporate search for cheap labor and white flight enabled by bank loans for massive suburban home construction and individual mortgages. Beginning in the 1950s, the government generously financed freeways to provide mobility to a new generation of segregated suburbs.

With its tax base eroded and good jobs having disappeared, Detroit’s remaining residents (mostly African Americans) who couldn’t afford to leave the city or were refused entry to suburbs like Dearborn, faced deteriorating urban conditions accompanied by a rise in crime.

After a third burglary at our house in a year, my wife and I decided that, since we had the white privilege of residential mobility, we had to move to a safe housing situation particularly since I often worked overnight shifts as a WRIF-FM radio DJ. The prospect of moving to the ‘burbs, as we called them, was extremely depressing as we viewed them as representing everything that was wrong with our country — particularly racism, but also consumerism, Ozzie and Harriet-style families, and the epitome of the car culture.

As it turned out, we never looked anywhere other than Oak Park, since we were unintentionally aided in narrowing our search by someone who reacted negatively when we mentioned the city to which we eventually moved. We were told that anywhere south of I-696 “was still Detroit.” We knew then where we were moving. Up until the 1950s, Oak Park was predominantly a white, Catholic enclave. But, with the post-World War II housing boom, builders filled in the city’s wetlands and constructed affordable homes. Our new next-door neighbors on the East Side of Oak Park, who had been residents of the city since the late 1940s, said that before the construction frenzy of the early 1950s, they could see the traffic on Greenfield two miles away across what was then designated as “swamps.”

Jewish families from Detroit’s Northwest Side began migrating to the new and sometimes uniquely designed homes, such as the Lustron prefab steel homes on Oneida. And then the echoes of my school day’s model UN began to emerge in Oak Park. African Americans followed the Jewish population, then Chaldeans, Asians, Russians and Muslims making the word, diverse, a thriving reality. And, thrown into the mix are those of us from a European heritage who appreciate a city that isn’t of homogenous ancestry.

Oak Park’s disparate ethnic groups maintain a distinct identity around their own cultural markers and, to some extent, neighborhoods, but we all come together around the city’s institutions—its government, public facilities, and festivals.

This diversity is a source of pride to most Oak Parkers. Living in a city with good leadership, low crime, and excellent city services is reason enough to want to be within our borders. But, what makes our city special is that we look and act like a world of harmony— something desperately needed in these times.