FiveCAP’s annual garden workshop to be held on June 2

FiveCAP will hold its annual garden workshop on Tuesday, June 2.

In Mason County, the workshop will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. at FiveCAP’s Johnson Road warehouse, in Scottville.

In Manistee County, the workshop will be held from 11 a.m. to noon at the FiveCAP office located at 265 First St., in Manistee.

In Lake County, the workshop will be held from 11 a.m. to noon at the FiveCAP office located at 2476 West 44th St., in Baldwin.

In Newaygo County, the workshop will be held from 11 a.m. to noon at the FiveCAP office located at 434 North Evergreen Drive, in White Cloud.

The workshop will be led by a master gardener, and each attendee will receive a variety of vegetable plants to start their own garden.

“Growing your own food is an incredibly empowering experience,” said FiveCAP Community Support Director Amy Jalocha. “One of the most important components of the services we provide to the community is teaching the tools for self sufficiency, and learning to garden is a basic skill that enables people to provide for their families in a very basic way.

“Many of our clients are enrolled in food assistance programs, or receive food stamps. Their need puts them at the mercy of outside forces. In the last several years, we’ve seen drastic cuts to food stamps. With other programs, people receive the food they are given either at food pantries or through the provisions provided through our Commodity Supplemental Food Program or The Emergency Food Assistance Program. By growing a garden, our clients are able to claim control over what food they put on the table. They plant their food, tend it all season, harvest it, and finally feed it to their family.”

Each attendee of the workshop will receive the following plants: green beans, tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, green peppers, yellow summer squash, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, cabbage and onions.

The master gardeners leading the workshops will provide advice about how to grow each of these plants, and provide tips on how to get the best harvest out of each. There will be time for questions, as well.

“The workshop is always helpful for new gardeners, as well as veterans who have been growing vegetables their whole lives,” Jalocha said. “The master gardeners have access to the most current research, so they are constantly teaching us new ways to get the most out of our gardens.”

The garden workshop will be followed by a food preservation workshop, which FiveCAP will hold in the fall. Being able to preserve the food families have grown all summer allows them to reap the benefits of their hard work well beyond the growing season.

For more information, or the sign up for the workshop, contact your local FiveCAP office:

Mason County: (231) 757-3785

Manistee County: (231) 723-8327

Lake County: (231) 745-4617

Newaygo County: (231) 689-6688

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A look at the 10 bills included in Proposal 1

Michigan voters will go to the polls next week to decide the fate of Proposal 1, the approval of which will result in the passage of 10 separate bills that will raise billions of dollars in new revenue.

The emotional selling points of the campaign for Proposal 1 play on people’s fear, asserting that dangerous roads could result in death and damages that can be avoided by simply passing this bill. Those who are against Proposal 1 sound the rallying cry against any and all tax increases, and point out that the bills are not limited to roads, but also include funding for schools and tax credits for low-income families. Politics being what they are, the truth lies somewhere in the middle when the bills are all deconstructed, and it’s important to know what you’re voting for.

One thing remains: The crumbling infrastructure of Michigan roads requires attention, and that requires funding. The Michigan Legislature had the chance to approve a straightforward package that would have raised revenue for the roads, but failed to do so. Proposal 1 is the result of that failure, in which the Legislature is passing the responsibility off onto the voters. If the bill fails, the Legislature will be forced to readdress the issue, and is likely to do so not through tax increases, but instead by cutting spending on existing programs, which have already seen drastic cuts in in recent years.

Now, to look at the package of bills that are included in the proposal:

If passed, a pair of bills will change what you’re paying for each time you put gas in your car. One will eliminate the sales tax Michiganders currently pay for gas, and the other will replace it with a percentage-based fuel tax that will be increased each year by 5 cents per gallon or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

All of the money raised through this fuel tax will go toward transportation, with 89 percent being used for roads and bridges, 9 percent being allocated to public transportation and 2 percent going toward improvement of waterways, snowmobile and off-road vehicle trails, with the reasoning that users are also contributing to the fuel tax every time they fill up their recreational vehicles.

The estimated revenue from this change is $1.3 billion. The funds would be distributed as follows: 39 percent for state highways, 39 percent to county roads and 22 percent to city streets.

One of the bills sets it up so that the bulk of revenue from the fuel tax would go to pay road debt for the first two years. Supporters of this portion reason that it is worth the interest saved to pay these bonds down quickly. This bill also includes points that would support small and disadvantaged businesses to help make them more competitive for state contracts, warranty and reporting requirements to hold contractors accountable for their work, funding for repairs where roads cross railroad tracks.

Another revenue-generating bill will raise registration fees across the board, as well as instituting a surcharge for electric vehicles.

New reporting and tracking requirements will be imposed by another of the bills in an attempt to encourage preventative maintenance on roads. This was included in hopes that the cost of repairs will be reduced in the long run by keeping roads maintained.

Also included in the package is a bill that allows township boards to require road commissions to call for competitive bids on projects that are at least 50 percent funded by the township. It also includes language that allows two or more townships to require bidding together when funding is coming from both, and allows road commissions to bid on the projects.

Two other bills will raise the sales tax and the use tax, making up one of the other main components of the package. The elimination of the sales tax on fuel would drastically reduce the revenue for the School Aid Fund, so the loss would be made up by increasing the sales and use taxes from their current 6 percent to 7 percent.

Another school-related bill included in the package would require schools to post information on their website about expense reimbursement policies, spending and policies about supplies, materials and equipment. This bill also allocates funding for school districts based on the number of children eligible for free breakfast or lunch.

The final bill in the package would restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20 percent of the federal credit. Low-income families across the state took a hit in 2011 when the credit was reduced from 20 percent to 6 percent. The restoration of the credit is meant to offset the tax increase and registration hike, which will disproportionately affect low-income residents.

The language of the bill, as it will appear on the ballot, doesn’t provide much detail, especially considering the fate of 10 different bills will be decided by the vote. There is no way to be certain that by including warranties and encouraging preventative maintenance, the bills will have their desired effect. We can be certain, however, that the roads need attention, and the current state budget doesn’t include $1.3 billion to provide the necessary repairs.

We hope voters will go to the polls on May 5 armed with as much knowledge as can be gleaned, and make an informed decision based on what they believe is best for the future of the State of Michigan.

Sign-up available for FiveCAP’s free tax preparation services

FiveCAP, Inc. is now accepting names from residents interested in free tax preparation services. Specific appointment times will not be available until February, but signing up for the list will ensure a call from one of the Community Support Workers to set up a time as soon as appointments are available.

“We’re waiting for the IRS to release the forms we need to be able to do income tax returns,” said FiveCAP Community Support Director Holly Haywood. “As soon as we get them, we will begin booking appointments.”

Each year, FiveCAP offers free tax preparation services to residents of its four-county service area that includes Mason, Manistee, Lake and Newaygo counties. In 2013, FiveCAP prepared tax returns for 1,543 individuals from 1,023 households. A total of $851,041 was returned to these residents.

“We want to remind people to have their taxes done even if they don’t have earned income because they may still be eligible for credits,” Haywood added. “Even though many individuals aren’t required to file a return, they may qualify to get money back and every little bit certainly helps.”

Residents should be prepared to provide the following documents at the time of their tax preparation appointment:

  • Any W-2 and/or 1099 forms
  • Year-end statement for those who receive Social Security benefits
  • Year-end and quarterly statements for those who receive SSI benefits
  • Family Independence statements from the Department of Human Services
  • Child support statements
  • Unemployment benefit statements
  • Any other statements for income received in 2013
  • Heating costs from Nov. 1, 2012 to Oct. 30, 2013
  • Property tax statements (both summer and winter) with State Equalized Value
  • Birthdays and Social Security numbers for themselves and any dependents

To put your name on the list for tax preparation services, call FiveCAP at (231) 757-3785.

Back-to-school jitters being eased at Manistee Head Start centers

Transitioning from toddler to preschooler can be a difficult process for little ones, many of whom are away from their homes and their parents for the first time. The teachers at both Manistee County FiveCAP Head Start centers face this issue each September, and know just what to do.

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Miss Nancy sits with Quinn Cross while he works on a drawing.

“We have rituals every day and we’re very consistent with everything we do,” said Manistee Child Development Center Director Patti Mantych. “In the morning, the kids are greeted by Miss Nancy (Zatarga) when they walk in the door and as they come into the classroom, I greet them. If they are upset, I will console them, but even if they’re not I will take their hand or pick them up and lead them into the classroom. Then, we use the pictorial schedule so they can see what will happen during the day.”

The Head Start themes for the month of September include My School, All About Me and All About My Family, easing the children into the classroom routine by allowing them to talk about something they are very familiar with – themselves.

“Our group is really adjusting to the school day quite quickly,” Mantych said. “Sometimes it’s harder to adjust to separation from their families, but these kids are enjoying the preschool atmosphere.”

At Northern Manistee Child Development Center, the beginning of the school year is off to a good start.

“The kids are doing really well learning the rules and routines of the day,” NMCDC Director Jessica DeRosia said. “We’ve had really smooth transitions this year. The kids that were here last year are helping the new kids out, so that’s really neat to see.”

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This young scientist examines some fake bugs with a magnifying glass.

While the children at MCDC seem to be initially impressed with each other and learning new things, their peers in the northern part of the county are most excited about the school bus.

“We do pedestrian and passenger safety training with all the kids, even the ones who don’t ride the bus to school,” DeRosia said. “So we got on and went over the rules of the bus and took them on a short bus ride. The bus is definitely their favorite part of school right now.”

The children’s greatest challenge when school starts is “getting used to having everything so structured,” Derosia said. But the structure is also what ultimately eases the transition.

“Initially, everything is so different for them,” Mantych said. “Playing, coming in and meeting new friends, having a teacher, riding a bus – it’s all very new and exciting. Once they start doing it every day and get into the routine, they are able to look forward to these things.”

For more photos, visit our Facebook page.

FiveCAP holds annual food preservation workshop

FiveCAP, Inc. recently held its annual food preservation workshop, during which attendees received canning and freezing supplies. In Mason, Lake and Newaygo counties, the workshop was led by Michigan State University Extension Educator Lisa Treiber who shared the most current information on how to safely preserving food.

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Michigan State University Extension Educator Lisa Treiber leads the food preservation workshop in Newaygo County. She also led the workshops in Mason and Lake counties.

“The presentation was good,” said Dawn Summers, FiveCAP Community Support Worker for Lake County. “She stressed the importance of getting an updated recipe book. With old recipes, she said they are finding that process times and ingredients have changed because different stuff is growing that wasn’t a risk before.

“Some people thing the old recipes that they’ve used since they started canning with their grandmothers are still OK, but she warned people that they’re not always safe.”

Treiber provided a handout that included websites where current recipes for safely preserving food can be accessed as well as articles on the basics of pressure canning, the basics of water bath canning and instructions on how to blanch and freeze foods.

She also provided each attendee with a Canning Bingo card, so they could play as the discussion progressed. Each square of the card featured a topic such as “canning myths,” “botulism,” “low acid” and “high acid.” As she discussed each topic, the attendees were able to mark the corresponding box until someone got five in a row.

Treiber cautioned attendees against using older recipes as new dangers are cropping up all the time. Bacteria that didn’t exist 50 or 60 years ago when grandma wrote down her recipe are posing real risks to people now.

She said everyone should be using most current edition of the Ball Blue Book came out in 2009, but if they can’t afford to get a copy, there are a lot of recipes available online. For those without Internet at home, FiveCAP has kiosks available at its county offices where theses websites can be accessed and information can be printed out.

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Manistee Community Kitchen Horticulturist Britt Uecker led the food preservation workshop in Manistee County.

In Manistee County, the presentation was made by Manistee Community Kitchen Horticulturist Britt Uecker.

“She came in and did a presentation on the different preservation methods – water bath, pressure canning and freezing,” said Julie Ingeson, FiveCAP Community Support Worker for Manistee County. “The attendees responded pretty well. They asked a lot of questions about what kinds of food can be canned and how to do it properly. She discussed proper techniques for canning because otherwise bacteria can contaminate the food.”

Each attendee received six canning jars, 10 gallon freezer bags and 20 quart freezer bags to get them started with food preservation.

“Our annual food preservation workshop is part of an ongoing effort to provide our clients with tools that will help them achieve self-sufficiency,” said FiveCAP Community Support Director Holly Haywood. “Living in poverty and being very low-income can be extremely stressful. Many aspects of daily are out of their control, including the amount of money they have to spend on food each month. By bringing in experts to teach them how to garden in the spring and preserve what they’ve grown in the fall, we are showing people that they can have control over what they put on the table without having to depend on assistance programs, many of which are constantly being cut.”

Come back tomorrow for some tips from Lisa Treiber on quick ways to preserve food!

FiveCAP distributing food to seniors, families Wednesday, Aug. 21

With aging comes a myriad of health issues, driving senior citizens more and more often to the doctor and the pharmacy. Medical care and prescription drugs are expensive, often forcing seniors to choose between health care and other necessities.

Many times, a senior’s food budget is the first to take the hit. But, proper treatment of many of the things that ail seniors – diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arthritis – includes adhering to a healthy and balanced diet.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said FiveCAP Community Support Director Holly Haywood. “When seniors make sacrifices at the grocery store in order to pay for their prescriptions, their health suffers because they end up not eating enough nutritious foods.”

FiveCAP’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) works to relieve this disparity in seniors’ diets by providing monthly food boxes that include many of the nutrients found to be lacking in the diets of low-income senior citizens.

“The USDA designed the program to supplement the diets of this targeted population,” Haywood said. “So each box has fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins in it. All of it is non-perishable, too, so it can be saved and used when times are particularly tight.”

Income-eligible senior citizens must be within 130 percent of poverty to qualify for the program. For a single-person household, this equates to $14,937 annually and increases by $$5,226 for each additional person living in the home.

CSFP also includes the Mothers, Infants and Children (MIC) program for families with children younger than 6 that don’t qualify for WIC (Women, Infants and Children). The CSFP food boxes are available to families whose income falls within 185 percent of poverty, which is $28,693 for a two-person household and increases by $7,437 for each additional family member.

For more information on the program, contact FiveCAP at (231) 757-3785.

FiveCAP’s 9th annual Golf for Warmth fundraiser

Getting out on the course on a nice day, with blue skies overhead and perfectly manicured greens below is a favorite pastime in northern Michigan. But for several area business leaders, it was also a means to contribute to their community.

FiveCAP, Inc. held its ninth annual Golf for Warmth event on Friday, Aug. 2 at Manistee National Golf & Resort in Manistee. The event raised funds for the agency’s Walk for Warmth fund, which provides a safety net for people who need heat assistance but don’t otherwise qualify for state or federal programs.

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The team from Lake-Osceola State Bank was made up of Naomi Davis, Diane Cook, Deborah Smith-Olson and Jane Allison.

Lake-Osceola State Bank CEO Deborah Smith-Olson has participated in the event each year and said it’s a “double bonus” to be able to have fun while helping local residents.

“I think we just enjoy giving back to the community that we serve and the area that we serve,” she added. “That’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re invested heavily and give some of our good fortune back to the people who really need it.”

Custom Sheet Metal owners Chris and Amy Loftis are also longtime supporters of FiveCAP’s programs, citing similar reasons.

“We just enjoy giving back to the community,” Chris Loftis said. “The community has always given a lot to us and we enjoy helping people that need help. We enjoy the fact that we can come out and support our local people and it stays local – that’s one of the biggest reasons.”

Assisting in the communities where their customers and employees live is an important aspect of the couple’s support of FiveCAP’s programs.

“The nice thing is FiveCAP serves all of the areas we cover,” Amy Loftis added, “so we have employees that live in all the different communities that we service and it’s just huge that we’re able to give back. We’re in a position to be able to give back, at home. It’s just a great feeling.”

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Custom Sheet Metal was represented by Chris and Amy Loftis and Dustin and Matthew Simmons.

In addition to golfing, by the end of the day, the Loftis table was filled with goods from the live auction. Dozens of area businesses contributed a wide variety of items for the auction, ranging from oil changes to home décor.

“We enjoy the auction,” Chris Loftis said. “We take these products back to our people, we have a drawing at our office for our meetings that we have, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Lake-Osceola State Band and Custom Sheet Metal teams were joined by groups from Big “K” Construction, Straight Fence, BDO Seidman and Family Health Care as well as several individuals.

Each participant received a certificate for an additional 18-hole round of golf valid on either of Manistee National’s courses, practice range balls and a sleeve of Titleist NXT balls.

The team from Big “K” Construction turned in the first place performance, winning an overnight stay package from Little River Casino Resort. Since no one achieved a hole in one on 9, the 2013 Dodge Dart was returned to Watson’s Chrysler.

The Walk for Warmth fund allows FiveCAP to ensure that families in need can keep warm during the winter. All the funds raised from Golf for Warmth and Walk for Warmth are used the heat homes in FiveCAP’s four-county service.

For more information on the program, contact FiveCAP at (231) 757-3785.

FiveCAP kiosks provide access to DHS website

Sometimes the bureaucracy surrounding getting help can frustrate those most in need.

With state budget cuts, workers being asked to do more with less and the need constantly increasing with the declining economy, the Michigan Department of Human Services offices often become overburdened.

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Kiosks are available at the FiveCAP county offices that residents can use to access the DHS website.

In an effort to assist in fulfilling these demands, FiveCAP, Inc. has placed kiosks to access DHS online in its local office where residents in need can apply for services such as food stamps, emergency assistance and unemployment benefits as well as receive help with the process.

“Having the kiosk at FiveCAP allows people to apply for services without the weight and burden on the DHS office,” said FiveCAP Executive Director Mary Trucks.

From the kiosk, those in need of help can set up a username and password for the state website using their social security number. The process is easy, with the site prompting each necessary action and security measures in place to protect user’s private information.

After the application process is complete, the applicant will receive a letter from the DHS office in Lansing, giving them a phone number to call and a date and time for an interview with a state employee.

Once they are enrolled in assistance programs, people are also able to use the FiveCAP kiosks to check on the status of their assistance and access information for the previous two to three months.

There are several additional benefits FiveCAP community service workers have discovered since the kiosks were put in place. Not only can first-time applications be filled out, people receiving benefits are able to see if they qualify for other assistance.

“The state emergency relief part of the site is most helpful, because it will show applicants what else they might qualify for and provide proof of income for other assistance,” said FiveCAP Community Support Services worker Lori Murphy.

Resident users are also able to access their quarterly statements, online banking and unemployment payment history and print these statements. Additionally, all correspondence sent from the state is available online and FiveCAP staff members are on hand to explain some of the information, which can sometimes be difficult to understand.

Idlewild Homecoming event kicks off next chapter in resort community

On Saturday, Aug. 3, FiveCAP encourages everyone to attend an event to join those who remember the historic community of Idlewild as it was in its heyday and those who are enamored by its history – will take place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the John Meeks Park in Idlewild. The Idlewild Homecoming will be a free event featuring music, food, poetry, book signings, and jewelry crafters and will give visitors and residents a chance to meet and greet and create a whole new set of remembrances.

Remembering is often a personal experience, recalling happenings of times gone by. But when enough people share the same memories, they accumulate significance and become history.

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The success of the dedication and grand opening of John Meeks Park, held as part of the centennial celebrations last year, helped inspire the inaugural Idlewild Homecoming event, which is being held on Saturday, Aug. 3.

The draw of Idlewild is two-fold. On one hand, people return to the bucolic community in the midst of the Manistee National Forest because they remember the good times they’ve had. These Idlewilders gather together to rekindle old friendships and collectively celebrate the remarkable times they had.

For these people, swimming in the same lake as Louis Armstrong, sipping drinks while Della Reece crooned nearby and strolling down streets lauded by W. E. B. Du Bois was simply a part of summer. But collectively, spun together with tens of thousands of others, these memories represent an important piece of American history. And this history is generally what draws newcomers to Idlewild.

“A lot of regulars who are there have established friendships over the years and it’s the memories from those friendships, it’s the memories of past events and maybe it’s the memories of stars they saw perform there that keep them coming back,” said Dr. Ronald Stephens, an associate professor of African American studies at Ohio University and Idlewild historian. “The biggest hook for new people is the entertainment history, even though the history is much richer than that. People can’t believe some of the stars that performed in Idlewild.

“For other people, the property ownership is a big deal. There were black property owners and it was a black town. There are not many places where people can boast and brag about property ownership like that.”

For Idlewild resident John Meeks, one of the main organizers of the homecoming event, the community represented freedom from his first visit there as a “young buck” in the summer of 1954.

“I experienced things young people today can’t even envision,” said Meeks, who is in his 90s. “My grandkids don’t have a clue how things were and they’re not interested in it. They haven’t experienced it, they haven’t been exposed to a lot of textbooks that even talk about segregation. My experience in Idlewild was the only experience I’d had of freedom of movement.”

Meeks grew up in southern Illinois before relocating to Detroit in 1947. He tells tales of attending a segregated school, watching Tigers baseball in a segregated Briggs Stadium and moving out of “white only” train cars when they crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

“On the train from Chicago to New Orleans, you could sit anywhere,” he said. “And then when you got to Alexander County (Illinois), going south, the conductor would come through and put up signs that said ‘White Only’ and there would be one coach that would be ‘Colored Only’ and it would be completely segregated. Then, coming back north, they would take the signs down.”

But Idlewild was completely integrated. Despite being known as an African American resort community, Meeks said business owners depended on white patrons too. During a time when racism prevailed – even in the North – in Idlewild, everyone was welcome to enjoy the benefits the community provided.

For Meeks, it took some coaxing before he checked out what all the buzz was about. A friend had been trying to get him out to Idlewild for years before he finally succumbed to the peer pressure in the summer of 1954, and instantly became a devotee.

“It was such a beautiful world,” he said. “I was just shocked. I was amazed to see people wall-to-wall. At the time, Idlewild had an eight-member police department and they weren’t there to fight crime. The one thing they did was to make sure no one blocked traffic.”

He spent time in Idlewild every summer thereafter, bought property in the 1970s and finally became a permanent resident in the 1990s after he retired fully. This devotion inspired him to invest in the community, establishing businesses over the years and becoming a valiant community activist. The Idlewild Homecoming is the latest step in a long-term plan to revitalize the resort community.

“I witnessed the downfall of Idlewild,” Meeks said. “Nineteen-fifty-four was the peak year. That was the year Idlewild allegedly had approximately 25,000 people visiting. There were 25 motels because it was the hub of black entertainment at the time. … The most meaningful experience for me was to come to this small community of 500 to 600 people and watch some of the country’s best performers. This was Las Vegas-type entertainment with a full chorus line, backup band, everything. The excitement of the entertainment glued me to Idlewild.”

Meeks describes the Idlewild of the 1950s and 60s as a “party town” where people came to meet, greet and occasionally get engaged.

“Two of my best friends met their wives here,” he said.

The legacy of Idlewild remains in the memories of those who were there in its heyday. But Meeks and a devoted group of Idlewilders are working diligently to maintain that legacy for future generations. The Idlewild Homecoming is a way for people to gather, celebrating and sharing what came before while creating fresh memories that will eventually become history for future generations.

“The homecoming is going to be a success, I think,” Stephens said. “A lot of people have been waiting for something like this to happen. It’s a great way to draw outsiders to Idlewild as well as people who live there, bringing them together to celebrate. This homecoming is definitely a step in the right direction.

“I once brought four students out for an event and we enjoyed the music, food and friendship. Those are the kind of memories people want to cherish and keep going.”

For more information on the event, visit www.iaacc.com.

Baldwin superintendent inspires FiveCAP Head Start parents

Stiles Simmons drew a crowd of Head Start and Early Head Start parents to their feet after sharing a story about a parent who had fostered success in her son.

He served as the guest speaker at FiveCAP, Inc.’s 36th annual Parent Volunteer Honors Banquet, which took place on June 7 at the Baymont Inn and Suites in Ludington. FiveCAP Head Start Executive Director Mary Trucks explained that Simmons had been chosen to speak because one of the parents on the policy council had been deeply inspired by something he had said.

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Baldwin Community Schools Superintendent Stiles Simmons served as guest speaker for FiveCAP’s 36th Annual Head Start/Early Head Start Parent Volunteer Honors Banquet. He is pictured with his wife Wendy Simmons (left) and FiveCAP Head Start Executive Director Mary Trucks (right).

“These words had really resonated with her,” Trucks continued, “and she said she had internalized them and that she thought often of them as a parent working with her own children. We are very, very fortunate tonight to have that young man as our speaker.”

Trucks introduced Simmons, who has served as superintendent of Baldwin Community Schools since August 2011. Simmons and his wife, Wendy, have three daughters ranging in age from kindergarten to seventh grade. Trucks pointed out that the family has all three children enrolled in Baldwin Community Schools.

“This is a superintendent who lives and preaches what we all want to aspire to as parents,” she added, “but also as a leader in the community.”

Simmons’ speech focused on the topic of parental involvement and he shared information he’d gathered while researching the subject. He cited a study he’d found that said that children whose parents are above average in their involvement are 30 percent more successful in school than their peers whose parents’ involvement is below average.

“But here’s something that I think you all might know and it’s pretty disappointing. … The most difficult task for any school is the task of increasing parental involvement,” Simmons said. “What’s disappointing about this fact is that increasing parental involvement is one of the most important things that any school can do. Parents make a difference.”

He listed several steps parents can take to become more involved in their child’s education including reading, having daily conversations with them about school, being in constant communication with their teachers, participating in school fundraisers and joining the local parent/teacher groups.

But it was the story he shared to illustrate his point that moved the crowd to stand and applaud. In preparation for his speech, Simmons said he had called a former Head Start parent who he knew had continued to be very involved in her son’s educational career.

“I wanted to better understand from her why she decided to enroll her son in Head Start and why she felt it was important to be involved in her son’s education,” he said. “So she started by telling me that she simply wanted her son to be successful – to be more successful than she was. Someone who, one day, would graduate from college, find a beautiful bride, settle down and raise a family.

“She talked about having a vision of her son being an adult. She often would see well-dressed, educated men and make a comment, ‘that’s what I want my son to become when he becomes an adult.’”

As the discussion continued, this woman told Simmons that she had read with her child every day and that they often took walks together, describing the things they saw along the way. She had weekly conversations with his teachers and enrolled him in clubs and organizations where he would have access to positive role models.

They also discussed the “trials and tribulations that she and her son faced,” Simmons said. Due to her husband’s gambling and substance abuse issues, her son’s first three years of education took place at four different schools and she eventually went through a divorce, got a job and went back to school all while raising four children.

“She talked about having received government assistance and having to lean on family when times got tough,” Simmons continued. “However, she told me that in spite of these unfortunate circumstances, she never gave up hope, she never lowered her expectations, she never let go of the vision she had for her son. She continued to be involved in her son’s education, insisting that he perform well in school, complete his homework and be respectful to others. She also continued to work with the school to not only advocate for her son, but to make the school a better place for all children.

“Now, I realize that to some, this story might seem pretty typical and for others, this story might seem rather unremarkable. Except for the fact that the parent in this story happens to be my mother and the son in this story happens to be me. …

“Never doubt the power of vision. Never doubt the power of expectations. Never doubt the power of love. And to sum it all up, never doubt the power of an involved parent.”