Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My WMUK Arts and More interview with Life of Pi author, Yann Martel

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM radio
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate
Arts and More program

Yann Martel with his bestseller, Life of Pi

Author Yann Martel is best known for his popular novel Life of Pi, about a boy who explores his spirituality while stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
Martel will give a talk called “Healing Journeys: Crossing the Pacific, Dealing with Trauma” as part of the Western Michigan University’s healing arts speaker series Thursday, October 23, at 7 p.m. at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The event is free.
Finding Answers Through Storytelling 
Martel says stories can give meaning to our lives. He says stories have a defined beginning, middle, and end, while our day to day lives tend aren’t as linear and can even be a little boring.
“What storytelling has the capacity to do is select out of the randomness of life key elements that do give meaning,” says Martel.
Understanding Religion
Martel says he wrote Life of Pi in an attempt to understand why people have faith. Martel says in his early 30s, he did not see religion as logical and often criticized organized religions for practicing intolerance. But when he went to India, things changed. While examining Hinduism—a religion he did not know much about—he saw religion in a different light.
“I suddenly realized those things that we hate about religion is only part of the story,” Martel says. “Not every person who’s religious is out to put women in the kitchen, put down Jews and gays, etc.”
Martel says writing Life of Pi did give him faith, but didn’t necessarily bring him to ...

Friday, October 17, 2014

The littlest entrepreneurs: Money and teachable moments

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 16, 2014

Christian and his father shopping, downtown Kalamazoo (Photo by Susan Andress)

Stanley Steppes got his start in business at age 9. Now he's teaching children financial wisdom. Zinta Aistars reports. 

When 5-year-old Christian wants to buy his mommy a birthday gift, nothing is big enough or good enough. After all, Christian’s mommy is the best in the world. 

Shopping for mommy’s birthday gift with his father becomes an educational journey for the boy, and his father is ready to take advantage of the opportunity to teach his son about the concept and value of money. 

Christian today is 7, and his father is Stanley Steppes, founder and CEO of Financial Literacy Partners of America, with Money Smart Kids an educational initiative Steppes has founded to inspire, motivate, empower and educate children on how to become entrepreneurs and to grow up financially wise.

“My philosophy is that money is a tool to help us reach our dreams,” says Steppes. “Money Smart Kids is not just about teaching kids to save. It’s important to understand why, to talk about the purpose.”

Steppes has written a children’s book called Christian and Daddy Go Shopping, edited by Sonya Bernard-Hollins and brightly illustrated by Kenjji Jumanne-Marshall (who goes simply by Kenjji). Along with the book, Steppes sells colorful lunch sacks, T-shirts, greeting cards, a music CD, and kid-size wrist bands that read: “I am money smart.”

It’s all part and parcel of what Steppes calls a movement. Money Smart Kids isn’t just a business idea for Steppes; it’s his passion. 
“I want this to go national,” he says. “I want this to go global. Finances support our dreams. Financial literacy is life literacy. It’s a conversation we should be having every day.”

Steppes started his own financial career when he was not much older than his son Christian is now. He was a 9-year-old growing up in Kalamazoo, and he disliked asking his dad for money. There had to be a better way. 

“I bought some ..."


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Green between the tracks: An urban nature park

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 9, 2014

Photos by Susan Andress

Turning brownfield to green space is the point behind the Urban Nature Park now being created in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. 

In the minds of the leadership at Kalamazoo Nature Center, there is no wrong side of the tracks. There’s just the green side.

Freight trains once moved across railroad tracks through the four-acre parcel in downtown Kalamazoo where now the beginnings of an urban nature park is taking root. The parcel was once a train yard, later a coal dump. Along Portage Creek at East Michigan Avenue and Pitcher Street, adjacent to the Arcus Depot and across from Food Dance Café, the parcel of land still sports tall weeds and patches of bare dirt, but to the knowing eye, great changes are evident.

An urban nature park is a natural space found in the city, designed to provide green space to urban residents. Traditionally, this kind of green space is found in rural conservation spaces. 

The idea for the Urban Nature Park project, says Sarah Reding, vice president for conservation stewardship at Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC), began with William Rose, president and CEO at KNC. 

"The idea came about sometime in 2005, from Bill and other colleagues," says Reding. "Bill wanted to provide green space for the inner city. Nature is, after all, for people everywhere. This particular parcel had long been an industrial space, a railroad yard."

The area qualified for brownfield development. Brownfield, Reding explains, refers to an area that has been contaminated. 

"People often think of brownfield development as cleaning up an area and then putting a new building on it," says Reding. "But in this case, we wanted to create green space, and we wanted to help revitalize the Portage Creek and Kalamazoo River areas. I’ve so often heard people tell me that they haven’t thought about the rivers in this area. Our rivers have so long been thought of as contaminated, unusable, and people have almost forgotten that they are there."

Working with nonprofits as well as for-profits, KNC created a master plan to restore the brownfield site and show the positive effects an urban nature park can have on surrounding property values, urban redevelopment, and quality of life. The railroad agreed to lease the land for the project.

"It’s a movement around the country, not just here," says Reding. "We are starting to realize—and research backs this up—that nature is good for us, that we need green spaces. Even 10 minutes outside has been shown to calm people. Hospitals are incorporating nature into the healing process; research shows nature helps people heal faster. Kids do better in life when they have access to ...