Culture

By Malissa Martin

WITH CHRISTMAS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, it’s heartbreaking to know that not every child will be a part of the celebration. However, for the past three years Fern-dale Youth Assistance (FYA, located inside Ferndale High School) has been changing that with their Annual Adopt-a-family Christmas program. Caseworker Tasha Hanson and office manager Melinda Hicks coordinate the program, which already has five families in need this year.

“Families come to us. They’re struggling financially. They can’t even get food on the table for the day, let alone think about Christmas,” Hanson said. So FYA pitches in to help by connecting them with volunteers who have agreed to “adopt” a family for the Holiday season. Once families are selected, the children fill out a wish list form provided by the FYA. Only kids receive wish lists; however, sometimes Hicks and Hanson will also purchase a small, thoughtful gift for the parents.

When a family agrees to adopt a family in need, they are given the wish list to use as a guide. “We ask if they need a jacket, boots, gloves. We want to make sure they’re dressed for winter, and then they give us their wish list and sizes. We usually get all of them socks and underwear.” Hicks said.

Hicks enlists local families and individuals to adopt families in need for Christmas. Groups can also volunteer. A local running group has adopted a family every year since the program began. The Police Department, the Courts, and City Hall have also adopted a family.

To help purchase items for the program, the FYA has included a budget of $4,000 to use for Christmas, and as an emergency fund. Last year the program provided Christmas for 38 kids and Hicks is expecting 45-to-50 kids this year.

THE CHRISTMAS PROGRAM IS JUST ONE OF THE MANY WAYS the FYA is striving to serve youth and their families. The FYA has two facets: The casework side and also the community organizational side. Hicks is the go-to person for all the planning and programming at FYA. The Oakland County Circuit Court funds Hanson’s salary as the caseworker. The school district provides the FYA space and also provides some funding as well. Finally, Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge provide monetary donations, as well as the community members.

Having their office located inside the high school makes it easier for Hicks to connect with the youth. “Community members – usually the school district, social workers, principals, assistant principals – make referrals of kids that are struggling. Then I meet with them on a short-term case basis and get them to where they need to be for counseling or groups or whatever they need. So, short-term casework services for kids who are struggling with things like death, dying, bullying, anxiety (and) depression,” Hanson said.

Being able to provide kids with toys on Christmas is a blessing, and it’s also Hanson and Hicks’ favorite part of the job. They’ve both lived in Ferndale for years, Hicks all of her life. Providing services for youth is their way of giving back and continuing the tradition of making Ferndale a great place to live.

To adopt a family this Christmas, contact Hicks at (248) 586-8700 or email melinda.hicks@ferndaleschools.org.

By Sarah E. Teller

FOR MORE THAN 100 YEARS NOW, THE CHURCH AT 1841 PINECREST DRIVE has been serving Ferndale’s spiritual needs, originally as the First Baptist Church and now the Renaissance Vineyard Church. There has certainly been a lot of change over that time.

In 1915, a Highland Park parish branched out to the Ferndale area looking to reach a new population of believers, according to RVC founding pastor Jim Poole. For the next twelve years, the church expanded and began meeting in several different locations across town. “The pastor at the time was also the Superintendent of Ferndale Schools,” Poole said. “They met for a while all along the 9 Mile corridor.”

In 1927, the current location was built, and First Baptist Church officially took root in the community. Pool explained, “Like lots of groups over the years, it has experienced ups and downs. There was growth in the area post World War II. So, the church expanded in the 1950s. Then people moved away, or the nature of their religious engagement changed some. It entered decline and was looking at the possibility of closing the doors.”

INSTEAD, HOWEVER, IN 2011, First Baptist Church merged with Royal Oak Vineyard Church, a parish that was started in 2001 by Poole, his wife, and another partner. Poole moved his congregation over and the name changed to Renaissance Vineyard Church.

“Many of our members were already living in Ferndale,” Poole said. “We drafted a proposal for the plan we had so both congregations could vote, and the majority were in favor.”

By merging the two into one, immediately there were more helping hands for many of the services the church offered to residents. “We have a heart for this city and its community, for serving others and fostering relationships.” Poole said.

Of course, there were some roadblocks along the way. “In the beginning, we were running around 100 miles-per-hour to figure out the details and how to keep up,” he added. “It was pretty challenging. But the way I look at it, we could have nit-picked the process to death or we could just trust the plan. We had enough clarity to move through it.”

NOW, THERE ARE MANY MEMBERS who have been there for decades, and equally as many newcomers. Poole explained, “There is a pretty steady group who have been here anywhere from 20 to 50 years, but there were also a lot of new, young families. Our nursery is exploding.” He added, “Attendance-wise, there are about 100 adults and children and there are roughly 200 people who self-identify this as being their home church.”

At the 100-year celebration, Renaissance requested words of encouragement and blessings from Ferndale Schools, the Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Ferndale, as well as its community network groups and those who have oversight responsibilities. “They submitted letters and videos,” Poole said. “The Mayor tagged us in a Facebook post.”

They also had four members share their testimonies. “Janet (Carpenter) has been here 65 years. Her mom was the church secretary. She talked about her rich legacy of service work at the church, with the highlight being a mission trip I took her on to Ethiopia. It was great hearing her feedback and how she’s looking forward to the next chapter. Bob (Latta) has held almost every position at the church, except pastor. He started coming here when he was eight, and remembers as a 10-year-old boy, shoveling coal with his father after Saturday night’s dinner for service the following morning. He’s 88 now.”

Carpenter said, “I always felt like the church was my second family. I had my real family, and this was my spiritual family. I’ve gotten a lot of moral and spiritual support both within the church and outside of the church – it’s been a strong crutch.”

CARPENTER FEELS MERGING THE TWO CONGREGATIONS WAS A GREAT MOVE, saying, “We’ve been a mission-minded church from day one, and because of the similarities of the mission outreach, it was a good marriage.” Of the Ethiopia trip, she said, “I never thought I’d have the opportunity, and I was skeptical at first, then finally said I would do it. I’ve never regretted it. It was the best experience.”

Of the celebration service, Poole continued, “There were also two other testimonies from newer, younger members who have been blessed and impacted by the church. The rest of the service was a more celebratory version of the normal service.”

Renaissance offered a free lunch. “The luncheon consisted of all home-cooked meals with an international fair. People lingered to look at our photo books and old and new memorabilia. What stood out was that they stayed for hours, just hanging out, and you got a sense that they were mixing and meeting new people.”

Renaissance Vineyard Church is involved in numerous community outreach programs, but Poole said it’s the church’s presence in the community and how this resonates with others that truly matters.

“We want to exist for the community, for others – not just serving others and ourselves. This program is part of it but it’s more about presence and the way we go about doing these things,” he said.

As far as future plans, Poole added, “I am looking forward to the future while leaning on the legacy of the past. We’re looking to continue to find ways to serve more faithfully and we’ll be doing some fundraising for facility repairs and expanding our ministry and missions.”

By: Sara E. Teller

PLANS ARE BEING FINALIZED FOR FERNDALE’S NEW SKATEPARK, which the City is hoping to roll out in the Spring. Ferndale’s City Council, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Department of Public Works have been busy working out the logistics and soliciting feedback from area residents. So far, they’ve secured help from Detroit’s architectural firm Hamilton Anderson, the Community Skatepark Advisory Committee, and the Tony Hawk Foundation, and a few changes have been made along the way.

“At this time, the location of the skatepark has not been confirmed. Previous plans of a pre-fabricated skatepark was set within Wilson Park. Based on the community feedback we received, we are now building a concrete skatepark,” said LeReina Wheeler, Parks and Recreation Director. “At the Parks and Recreation Department, we have been doing our due diligence, investigating and researching all potential viable locations for the skatepark. Data to assist with selecting the best location is being collected from skatepark designers, architectural personnel, skatepark professionals, City departments, and resident surveys.”

A design meeting was held on August 29th at B. Nektar Meadery, 1511 Jarvis, Ferndale. “There were attendees from both the skateboarding and non-skateboarding community [there],” said Wheeler.

“With the support of our architectural firm Hamilton Anderson, we presented examples of community skateparks within our region and asked for feedback on what elements were desirable, and which elements would not work in our community. The discussion and feedback provided an overview of what we would like to include in our Request for Proposal for a skatepark designer.”

Attendees were able to have a little hands-on fun at the meeting’s conclusion. “At the end of the meeting Brad Dahlhofer of B. Nektar extended an invitation to the participants to check out and skate his mini-ramp. Several skateboarders took the opportunity to show off on the mini-pipe,” Wheeler said. She confirmed the parties are still searching for a contractor to take on the design of the project.

“We are currently developing the RFP (Request For Proposal) for design-build. It should be published by late October or early November,” she said, adding, “With the support of Hamilton Anderson, we have been working on gathering preliminary information on what elements our community members want incorporated in the skatepark. Concept designs will be developed after we hire a skatepark design firm and confirm the final location of the skatepark. Additional community design meetings will be held to assist with the development of the final concept design.”

A separate meeting was hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department on September 5th, as well. The Department presented information to the Ferndale PARC Board regarding the viability of potential site locations. The meeting was open to the public and resulted in the recommendation of the top three potential site locations, ranked in order of most preferred: 1) Wilson Park, 2) Martin Rd Park, and 3) Geary Park.

“The recommendation was unanimously supported by the PARC Board,” Wheeler said. “Once the skatepark designer is hired, the Parks and Recreation Department will get input from the designer and make a final skatepark location recommendation to City Council for approval.”

She added, “The City is excited to bring this new amenity to our residents. We want our skatepark to be one of a kind and cater to all levels and abilities. Our residents have waited long enough and deserve the best when it comes to new amenities in our parks.”

More information on skatepark grants available from the Tony Hawk Foundation can be found at www.tonyhawkfoundation.org. Information regarding Ferndale’s new skatepark project, upcoming meetings, and project status can be found on the City of Ferndale’s website, www.cityofferndale.org.

I NEED A FAVOR FROM ALL THE SENIORS IN FERNDALE. It’s not big, but, it is important.

Why do I need this favor? I’m hearing that seniors feel a little left out with respect to the cultural and educational aspects of Ferndale, and that you want to learn things, be entertained, and socialize with your peers.

You’ve said that you don’t want to do the bars or in general hang out with young, noisy people consuming adult drinks. I get it, I don’t either anymore. We need to get more information from you, as to what you want, what time of the day, and where.

I understand that you want classes geared to seniors. But what subject matter? Do you want a series? Or maybe just one-time lectures? Do you want to learn something and, if so, what? Nutrition, scam-prevention, knitting, drawing, health, art appreciation, history of Detroit?

The reason for this pathway of thinking is that our senior group is not growing. Together with the apparent needs of seniors not in our group, this makes me wonder if we could do more to answer the needs of those who aren’t members.

After all, we are all in the same boat. We all have already lived full lives. Now is the time to have a little fun.

Learn a new skill, learn how to know what a painting is telling us, find out about the streets of Detroit from the past. The possibilities are endless.

Some of these things you can get now at the Kulick Center, and by attending senior meetings. We have a knitting group with a capable teacher. At our meetings, we routinely have speakers from the DIA, Detroit Historical, scam experts, nutrition experts. We also have fun stuff like card parties, tea parties, pot luck lunches. We travel to cider mills, unique restaurants, museums, shopping trips, even the Detroit River walk!

All that said, a person has to know about these things to take advantage of them. I was astounded to talk to a man yesterday who had no idea that the senior group even existed. This leads to the question of where do you folks get your information on what is happening in Ferndale? We publicize on Facebook, as well as with flyers at the Center. Clearly, this isn’t enough if people are unaware of it.

Our Senior Group meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 11:00 A.M. at the Kulick Center. Ask at the front desk for a copy of the newsletter, and you can read about our upcoming events.

SO, HERE IS THE FAVOR: Please call me. My number is at the end of this column. Tell me how you get information on happenings. Tell me what classes or lectures you would at-tend. Tell me if it’s day or night classes or lectures. We can’t help if we don’t know.

Or just attend a meeting to see what we are all about. We promise we won’t grab you and sell you into slavery. At least not at the first meeting.

Call me.
Jeannie Davis, 248 541 5888

By Ingrid Sjostrand

DECIDING TO BEGIN A CAREER AS AN ARTIST CAN BE A DAUNTING TASK and it can be even harder to know where to start, especially as a young person or someone not afforded the opportunities of arts programs in school.

Knowing things like how to get your work into art fairs and exhibits and how to make money off your art are essential to success in the art world, which is why Vickie Elmer and her three co-founders created the Mint Artists Guild, a 501c3 nonprofit group dedicated to helping metro Detroit young artists succeed.

Established in early 2015, Mint has two main programs aimed at artists ages 14 to 21. The first, “Learn and Earn,” is a mentorship program for students already making art, who receive coaching from Mint and the opportunity to participate in two or more art shows including Ferndale’s Funky Art Fair. There is no cost to students to apply or participate in the program.

“It’s for youth that are pretty self-directed and want to create a body of work,” Elmer says. “They make their work at home and in school and we provide workshops, some mentoring and coaching and give an opportunity to sell their work.”

The second initiative Mint runs is the “Summer Arts Program” where students are paid to work approximately 20 hours a week at Mint’s Palmer Park studio creating art to be sold to clients, donated to nonprofits and used at art fairs. The main medium for the Summer Arts Program is painting and all artists create a self-portrait as one of their first projects. They have expanded into mosaics and linoleum cut prints and hope to grow their mediums more in the future.

Both programs require the young artists to apply and provide a portfolio of their work. The Summer Arts Program also requires an interview.

“We treat it like they are young professionals and if you’re a young professional artist you have to submit your work, you have to put in a statement about yourself – tell people why you would be good to be a part of it,” Elmer says.

ONE OF THE BIGGEST PROJECTS THE SUMMER ARTS PROGRAM WORKS ON is the Paint Detroit Generosity Initiative, where the youth choose a nonprofit, create a concept and image based on its mission and donate the art to the nonprofit. There will be an exhibit displaying this year’s works at the Boll Family YMCA through the end of October.

“Part of my vision is to help the young artists launch their careers, but we want to be doing cool and generous things in the community too,” Elmer says. “It’s about finding how you put the two together.”

Some ways that Mint is working to do this is through building public art installations, adding corporate clients and hosting more events. On November 3rd, they will host the Mint Masterpieces Gala at the home of art collectors Linda and David Whitaker. Tickets start at $100 and pieces will be sold and auctioned from a variety of well-respected national and local artists, as well as a few pieces from Mint artists and alumni. Proceeds will help provide supplies and funding for Mint Artists Guild.

In the three years since its founding, Mint has seen a lot of success from its artists and alumni. They’ve mentored 525 young artists, donated over 30 pieces to Paint Detroit with Generosity nonprofits, and their artists have raised over $7000 from their work.

ONE MAJOR SUCCESS STORY is jewelry artist Trinity Brown, who joined the Learn and Earn program two years ago at age 13. She has now created the Curved Teen Art Show – an all-day exhibit featuring the work of 25 young artists –and is on the board of directors for Mint.

“She is super entrepreneurial – like, I can’t believe how entrepreneurial,” Elmer says.

“This is a girl who’s not even 16 yet, can’t even drive yet, and meanwhile she still makes her jewelry and has put on her own art show.”

Other smaller successes include watching a student’s confidence grow through exploring art and seeing artists finding their true passion.

“I love the idea that in ten years we are going to have so many more success stories and so many more self-portraits,” Elmer says.

The Mint Artists Guild functions mainly through the help of volunteers. Currently they have 45 volunteers who help at workshops, art openings, and art fairs. Those interested can apply through volunteermatch.org.

By Sara Teller

MEGH HOLLOWELL IS LIVING PROOF THAT SUCCESS IS BORN OUT OF STRUGGLE. In April of this year, she received a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree with a concentration in Nonprofit Management. “I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector for over ten years and had been trying to climb the ladder,” she says of her decision to go to graduate school, although a job title far from defines her. While proud of her achievement, she adds, “I don’t worry so much anymore about climbing the professional ladder. I go at my own pace and hope that I evoke change along the way.” After all, it’s the fact that she’s persevered through life’s ebbs and flows that really matters.

In looking back on her life, Hollowell recalls, “I dropped out of high school my junior year to work full time. I had left my dysfunctional relationship with my mother and started a journey I called, ‘Who am I without my mother?’ I moved around a lot – playing music, writing poetry, womanizing, and living in complete manic highs and lows.”

She eventually decided to enroll at a local community college. “It wasn’t until an instructor told me I should apply to undergrad that I ever felt I would get an education,” she says. “I applied to the one college she recommended and finished my undergrad in two years, receiving a BA in Journalism and English.”

But she didn’t stop there. “I decided to go to grad school in 2009 after I did some campaign work in Arizona,” she explains. “Working towards my MPA degree meant that I could accomplish something. That I could fit in a normal world; a box. I had been living life so hard outside of the box I just wanted to fit in.”

And, she did it at her own pace. “After nine years in-and-out of school, I’ve come to realize that I received my education through my experiences, not a textbook or lectures,” Hollowell says. “I’m grateful I was able to start and finish something.”

HOLLOWELL EXPERIENCED FOUR TRAUMATIC LOSSES in less than two years while struggling to complete her degree – the passing of her grandfather, nana, and mom, and her beloved dog. She said, “Graduating with my MPA degree was very much for my grandpa, my nana, and my mom. I felt I needed to honor them by taking the last few steps towards completion.”

She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013 shortly after her first marriage had just ended. “I remember feeling like I had failed at life. I couldn’t function – at work or at home. I was stuck inside myself. And I just wanted it to end,” she says. Now, she adds, “Medication has helped manage my psychosis and mood disorder. But I’m still in survival mode. I’m learning how I can be in the now and move from surviving to thriving.”

Hollowell’s mom took her own life. “As I sorted through her things, it became clear to me how hard she tried to live. To love and be loved. She wanted to find the joy of living. I fight for my own life every day. I fight it in honor of my mom, because I know she lived for me,” she says.

Hollowell has since remarried, and calls Naomi “the love of my life,” adding, “She has been my greatest support system these last three years.” The couple lives in Hazel Park, although Hollowell has strong ties to Ferndale, she explains, “I lived and worked in downtown Ferndale for many years previously and loved being part of the LGBTQ community.”

She works for a nonprofit as a development associate, where she loves serving underrepresented communities. “It’s really important to me to serve communities that helped shape who I try to be. A kind, compassionate, truthful person,” she says.

Of how she views life, Hollowell says, “I do see beauty in the world. Sometimes unbearable, unspeakable beauty. Looking from the outside in, it might be natural to assume that the difficult things I’ve experienced would blind me to what’s amazing in my life. That is simply not the case.”

By Sara E. Teller

THE MISSION OF HAZEL PARK’S COMMUNITY COALITION is “to reduce youth substance abuse and support a healthy environment … in Hazel Park.” The team is dedicated to “reducing the abuse of illegal drugs, alcohol, and pills among not only our teen population but our community as a whole.”

In order to carry out this mission, the group works under the State-funded umbrella organization, Alliance Coalitions for Healthy Communities, and hosts a variety of campaigns, rainings, and after-school events, while publishing a wealth of literature designed to spread awareness.

“My hope is to create an impact, and start a wave that will wash over the entire Hazel Park community,” said Jared Gajos, the group’s Executive Director. “The Coalition was first thought of in October 2016 and was set in stone in March 2017. So we’ve really only been around for a little more than a year and already we’re seeing some positive effects.”

THE COMMUNITY COALITION initially sent out an assessment to determine what the biggest substance abuse issues are in Hazel Park. The group surveyed high schoolers and community members, and determined the primary focus need-ed to be on marijuana and alcohol. From there, the Coalition encouraged individuals to come forward and offer ideas for curtailing these issues. At the same time, they began to offer information not only geared toward the issue itself, but ancillary sub-stance abuse issues as well.

“We wanted to put out information on all of the effects. For instance, let’s say you have kids, under-go back surgery, and are given a bottle of Vicodin. You take a few and put the rest up in your cup-board. Are you checking that they’re all still there? Counting the pills? Who’s to say your loved ones aren’t selling them? If you see a student with a plastic bottle filled with clear liquid, do you assume it’s water? Don’t take things for granted. Open up lines of communication.”

There was some hesitation from the community to come forward at first. “In the beginning, students weren’t sure if they should get involved,” Gajos explained. “But we kept pushing the fact that we’re not a police force. We’re here to offer information, a helping hand. Eventually, more and more parents and students felt comfortable getting involved.”

The organization has been able to offer a variety of fun events. “Recently, we decided to begin hosting an alternative spring break, winter break, and mid-winter break,” Gajos said. “We partnered with Hazel Park’s ice arena and offered dollar-skate days. This got people out of the house and offered them an affordable activity.”

Gajos, who graduated from Hazel Park High School in 2013, now has an office inside the school, making him easily accessible to students hoping to open up about their concerns. He attended Michigan State University, graduating in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and minors in French and international peace and justice.

“When I graduated, I got an offer to interview for the Coalition position and decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did,” he said. “I’m not a licensed counselor but I can offer information and resources to those interested.” He is also employed at the City offices, assisting with social media and outreach, and promotes Community Coalition events through the city pages.

IN THE COMING MONTHS, the organization is hoping to address the issue of vaping as well,garnering support from local and statewide govern-mental offices. This is a topic that will continue to be on the table in coming meetings. “We meet up with all of the groups in the area once a month to talk about what’s working and what’s not and offer recommendations. It’s all about starting a dialogue and helping the community in any way we can.”

Volunteers hoping to get involved in Hazel Park’s Community Coalition events can email Gajos at jared.gajos@hazelparkschools.org. “As specific as the organization’s goals are, be open to the possibility that this may be something you should get involved with. Whether you’re struggling with ad-diction, in recovery, have a family member in recovery, or have never been exposed to this but are curious about it, check us out. Start a conversation and help break down barriers.”

By Sara E. Teller

THE PROMISE ZONE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM IS A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION founded in 2010, with scholarships first being awarded to the class of 2012. It is one of ten original “Promise Zones” created through legislation signed by Governor Granholm in 2009.

More than 60 percent of jobs in Michigan and throughout the country are projected to require a post-secondary credential by 2025, yet only 15 percent of Hazel Park adults currently hold a degree or certificate. “With this in mind, the Hazel Park Promise Zone Scholarship Program was created to eliminate finances as a barrier to higher education for Hazel Park students, to increase educational attainment in the community, and to incentivize families to move into or continue residing in the school district,” said Hazel Park’s Promise Zone Executive Director Kayla Roney Smith.

“The program guarantees a tuition-free path to an associate’s degree for students who reside in the school district, which is made up of the city of Hazel Park and a portion of the city of Ferndale, and who attend Hazel Park Schools from 5th grade through graduation.”

Students who complete the application process are eligible to get full tuition and fees paid for at Oakland Community College (OCC). The scholarship covers 62 credits within four years following high school. Students must reside in the school district at the time of graduation in order to qualify, and to receive the maximum scholarship they must have attended Hazel Park Schools from fifth grade (or earlier) through their graduation year.

Students who enter the District after fifth grade are also eligible for partial scholarships, and a student who chooses to attend a Michigan institution other than OCC may be able to utilize it there as well.

“​Students are encouraged to apply during their senior year of high school through a brief electronic application,” Roney Smith explains. “This application is released to students during ‘College Month,’ which is celebrated in October. In the spring, they are asked to sign a hard copy form acknowledging they understand the requirements and benefits of the program.” Students must also complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and any additional financial aid application steps required by the colleges they plan to attend. “While there is not a strict application deadline, we ask that they complete these steps prior to their last day of school in order to ensure quick processing,” she said.

THE PROGRAM IS NON-COMPETITIVE, meaning as long as students meet the requirements and
complete an application, they are eligible. The only exception is if they receive a Pell Grant larger than the amount of the Promise Zone scholarship. If that’s the case, students are able to use their scholarships during the semesters they do not receive Pell Grant funding.

The scholarship may be used at any college, university, or approved vocational program located in the state of Michigan. If students receive a federal Pell Grant that does not exceed the Promise Zone amount, the amount of the grant received is subtracted from their total Promise Zone scholarship for that semester.

While the Promise Zone was created for the purpose of providing scholarships, it has evolved to provide other programming and services, as well,” said Roney Smith. “We provide a full-time college adviser at Hazel Park High School to pro-vide individualized and group assistance to students and families to assist them through the college preparation, exploration, application and financial aid processes. This adviser also assists students in accessing other, non-Promise Zone scholarships.”

Hazel Park administrators are also constantly working to create new partnerships and bring services and re-sources designed to assist students in preparing for the colleges. Roney Smith explained, “We worked with UAW Chrysler to create a two-year skilled trades training program, which operates each afternoon during the school year and recently graduated its first cohort of Hazel Park High School as well as Hazel Park Alternative High School students. We have also worked with the School District, the City, and business partners to offer paid summer internships and professional development training to high schoolers.”

By Ingrid Sjostrand

IT MIGHT BE HARD TO BELIEVE A CITY THE SIZE OF HAZEL PARK –ONLY 2.8 SQUARE MILES – HAS 12 PARKS WITHIN ITS LIMITS. Even more surprising is that among those parks are a BMX course, dog park, two community gardens, and an art park.

These 12 parks are maintained by a small recreation department led by Sareen Papakhian, Recreation Director and assistant planner. Papakhian describes their mission as “to enrich the lives of Hazel Park residents by providing quality park and recreation facilities, green spaces, programs, and services to the community.”

Their responsibilities expand far beyond just park maintenance, including everything from managing programming for seniors and children, coordinating many of the City’s annual events and renting community center space for activities and classes.

“We oversee senior programming, a congregate meal program for seniors, we provide senior event planning and a space for seniors to congregate in the evenings,” Papakhian says. “But, most importantly, we handle senior transportation and that’s in collaboration with SMART.”

“Beyond that, we also provide recreation and youth programming for residents and non-residents. That includes a summer camp program called Kids Camp and various sports leagues – our largest activity true to Hazel Park is baseball.”

The Recreation Department oversees eight annual events, and will be adding a ninth on August 4th with their Family Fun event in collaboration with Oakland County Parks. Other events include the Daddy Daughter Dance in February and Earth Day celebration and annual Spring Clean Up with the Department of Public Works in April.

“Our largest special event we held over Memorial Day weekend, the Hazel Park Memorial Festival,” Papakhian says. “Skerbeck Family Carnival from Escanaba comes down and helps us out with that. There’s also a refreshment tent taken care of by the Hazel Park Lions Club.”

Papakhian has been director of the Recreation department since 2014. She has her master’s degree in urban planning from Wayne State University, and also acts as assistant city planner aiding in economic development and coding enforcement.

IN HER FOUR YEARS WITH THE RECREATION DEPARTMENT, Papakhian has been working tirelessly to improve the quality of Hazel Park’s green areas through new initiatives like the tree planting program. “This was our first tree planting in over a decade, in partner-ship with ReLeaf Michigan. As a pilot program they gave us double the amount of trees, and we were able to plant 20; 16 in Scout Park and four in Karam Park, in and outside the dog park,” she says. “That was a big accomplishment for me because I love trees, and we are in dire need of increasing tree canopy within the parks and the city.”

In addition to the tree planting program, the Parks and Recreation Department has been replacing and re-purposing playground and park equipment.

“Our five-year plan would be to provide new park equipment for our parks in the city. Our parks are in dire need of new equipment, and what we’ve done for a few decades has been to maintain that equipment,” Papakhian says. “My number one goal as Director is to replace equipment as best we can through fundraising, reaching out to businesses in town which I’ve been able to do during my tenure.”

These fundraising efforts have resulted in $5,000 solicited for new baseball pitching machines, a playscape sourced for Scout Park at no cost to taxpayers, a partnership with the United States Tennis Association with a $25,000 grant for new tennis courts at Hazel Park High School and another playscape installed at Karam Park through the assistance of matching grants from playground company GameTime.

“Additionally, a family that provided many generations of civic betterment to Hazel Park donated a fitness park within Green Acres Park,” Papakhian adds. “From what I know that’s the first fitness park in a public park in the region. We also have a bike pump station there and planted a tree there in memoriam to that family.”

While the Recreation Department is doing great work with what they have, they still see the struggles of a small staff and an even smaller budget. Papakhian is the only full-time employee, working with the assistance of just a part-time office employee, sports and camp supervisors, three drivers and three building attendants. There is also a Recreation Advisory board of six members that meet bi-monthly to review and approve projects.

“We try to do what we can with what we have. The main struggle is the cost of everything – that’s our number one detriment.” Papakhian says.

“Personally, I think we’ve done a great job of being resourceful. My staff is the hardest-working part-time staff I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m proud of what we do here.”

PAPAKHIAN SEES THE WORK ETHIC OF HER STAFF reflected in the residents of Hazel Park every day, and that volunteers who help with park clean up and community gardens are just as important to the success of the Recreation Department.

“Hazel Park is a city of fighters. I don’t know any other city that has done what Hazel Park can do with what we have. I’m proud to work for a city of fighters and proud to work with the residents of Hazel Park,” She says. “Anytime a resident wants to clean a park we would support that endeavor in any way we possibly can.”

By Ingrid Sjotrand

BEAUTIFYING PUBLIC SPACES IS OFTEN THOUGHT OF as the responsibility of the government, but when citizens pitch in it can make all the difference. The Neighborhood Enrichment Committee is the perfect example of this in the things they do for the City of Hazel Park.

Founded in 2004 in collaboration with former Mayor Jan Parisi, the group takes on projects to enhance the appearance and livelihood of Hazel Park. This includes building community gardens throughout the city, hosting fundraising dinners and donating to local organizations.

“Neighborhood Enrichment is about inspiring our citizens to make their little corner of the city the best it can be. We are part of the community. We are your neighbors and friends, and all of us are doing what we can, with what we have, where we are,” their mission statement (listed on their Face-book page) says.

Probably the most well-known contribution of Neighborhood Enrichment are their many “greenification” efforts. One of their first and biggest projects was adopting Kennedy Park on Merrill St., where they updated playground equipment, in-stalled benches and built a community garden consisting of 17 plots available for residents to grow their own produce. Since 2005, the group has continued to maintain and improve the park.

They have since created a planting team, called the Flower Power Committee, which is responsible for gardening and landscaping public areas. One doesn’t have to look far in Hazel Park to see the impact they’ve made, from making over the corner of John R. and 9 Mile roads by building a display and adding flowers and trees in front of City Hall, to recently collaborating with residents of American House to fill planters outside the Hazel Park Recreation Center. One mission of the Flower Power committee is bringing the hazelnut bush – Hazel Park’s namesake – back to the city. They’ve plant-ed some in Kennedy Park and celebrate St. Filbert’s Day on August 20th. The filbert is a variation of the hazelnut, and the celebration is derived from the Roman Catholic holiday celebrated in France and England. Typically, the City puts on a memorial race on the holiday.

NEIGHBORHOOD ENRICHMENT ALSO WORKS for the betterment of residents and future leaders of Hazel Park. The group has been funding and installing the “little free libraries” seen around the city, and in June of 2017, they donated two benches with the Hoover PTA to Hoover Elementary for their “Buddy Benches” program. Buddy Benches are a safe space on the playground where more introverted students can sit if they need a friend or playmate. The project hopes to encourage empathy among students.

Neighborhood Enrichment also hosts occasional garden tours of Hazel Park neighborhoods, decorates City Hall for Halloween and Christmas and created the Curb Appeal Awards, recognizing the best-looking homes in the area. In July, they coordinated a city-wide garage sale.

All the work Neighborhood Enrichment does to better Hazel Park is supplemented by donations and fundraising. Their largest fundraising event is an annual dinner held in May with raffles and prizes. Typically a spaghetti dinner, the past two years the organization has taken advantage of May 5th falling on a weekend and held a Cinco de Mayo-themed event. The 2018 event was co-catered by Country Boy restaurant and featured a taco bar with sides and desserts.

The group is always accepting donations and looking for new members interested in beautifying and bettering Hazel Park. Meetings are scheduled to be held the first Thursday of each month at the Hazel Park Recreation Center and event details.