Thursday, October 30, 2014

Buying a meal will feed a hungry neighbor at Feed the World Cafe

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 30, 2014

Patrick Mixis (Photo by Susan Andress)

Patrick Mixis was appalled to find out how many hungry people there are in Kalamazoo. So he set about opening a restaurant that will help feed them as its customers get fed. Zinta Aistars has the story on Feed the World Cafe.

It’s a stunning statistic: 24 percent of all households in Kalamazoo County qualify as ALICE households. ALICE is an acronym coined by United Way in collaboration with Rutgers University to designate Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed people who are working at one or more jobs, yet are still falling behind.

Forty percent of Michigan households, according to the ALICE Project, a report issued by United Way and Rutgers University, earn too little to afford basic needs.

In Kalamazoo County, 24 percent translates to more than 24,000 households, with more than another 17,000 households living under the poverty line. ALICE households, the report states, include both genders, young and old, and those of all races.

"I was taking a class at Western Michigan University on current social issues, including world hunger, and I was shocked to learn about some of these numbers," says Patrick Mixis, who graduated from WMU in the spring 2014 with a degree in food service management. 

"I thought, 'How devastating; so many people going hungry'," and then, he started thinking what he might do about it. One in six children, he learned, didn’t know from one day to the next if he or she would eat a meal that day.

"Patrick came to me with this idea about opening a restaurant that would share its profits with nonprofits feeding the hungry," says his mom, Debra Mixis. "I’ve been working with nonprofits for 25 years; I loved his idea. I got really excited, but I wanted him to finish school first. He held onto that idea for two years."

Good ideas don’t fade with time. As soon as he graduated, Patrick Mixis was ready to roll up his white, chef’s sleeves and get to work. 

"At least a quarter of my classes were culinary," he says. "I worked at Food Dance Cafe and and Monaco Bay. I interned at Casa Bolero and the chef there, Jared Dellario, mentored me as I developed the business idea. I worked at the microbrewery in Portage. John Tsui at Chinn Chinn gave me some great ideas with the start up and kitchen design."

Chef Howie Peak, now at the Radisson was another mentor. And more help came from John Mueller, professor of entrepreneurship at Western Michigan University. He helped Patrick develop the business plan that led to the purchase of the Blackeye Cafe after it came up for sale shortly after Patrick graduated. 

Debra Mixis and her business partner, Lori Shugars invested in the Blackeye Espresso Cafe at 7000 Stadium Drive, which will be the first Feed the World Cafe. It now serves coffee and lunch, but they were willing to turn it over to the young chef to bring about his idea. 

He brought his longtime friend and neighbor Kurt Shugars, Lori Shugars' son, on board to supervise the servers, while Patrick took on chef duties as kitchen manager. The new restaurant will be renamed Feed the World Cafe after a full kitchen is installed.

In September 2014, Mixis and Shugars, mothers and investors, were granted the last liquor license in Oshtemo Township, giving them permission to serve beer and wine at the new restaurant. 

"The Township issued us a tavern license when they heard what we were planning to do. They really liked the idea," says Debra Mixis.

The idea, now the plan: For each meal the restaurant sells, their nonprofit partners will receive a percentage of the profits to help feed the hungry in Kalamazoo County. Those partners include ...


Monday, October 27, 2014

Invisible Traffic: Stories About When Life Hits You Like A Truck

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

My WMUK 102.1 FM Arts and More interview with Deborah Ann Percy:

Deborah Ann Percy

In Deborah Ann Percy’s short story “The Woman Who Loved Paul Simon.” The main character has just about had it with her dinner date at a nice restaurant on Lake Michigan. Here's an excerpt:
Allison smiles and speaks slowly because she knows she’s no longer on safe ground with him, "Paul Simon’s songs have words about being alone, about giving up trying to find someone to trust." "That wouldn’t be much good for dinner." Allison stirs her coffee. She wants to tell him how wrong he is, about how the music is good for everything because it’s true. But then the evening will end shortly after dinner. She smiles as she does for Rob’s clients, "How’s the red fish? Everyone says it’s good here."
The story is from Percy's new book of short stories called Invisible Traffic. Percy will read from the book at Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Wednesday, October 30, at 6 p.m. 
Invisible Traffic and Good Mothers
Percy says the stories in Invisible Traffic all take place near Lake Michigan and they're predominantly about women - especially women who are good mothers.
"There are some wonderful women writers who write stories from a woman's point of view, but too often I think a woman has to be a bad mother to be the subject of a literary story. I don't think that's true," says Percy. "I think being a good mother, making the decisions you have to make to be a good mother and make your children safe and healthy, is just as hard."
There's a lot of variety in Percy's stories: a husband who drops his wife off at a store and then disappears, a child who swims dangerously far, one night stands, domineering friends. 
But if there's one uniting theme, Percy says it's ...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

GS Custom Bullets helps you hit 'em with your best shot

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 23, 2014

Gina Schultz (Photo by Susan Andress)

Making bullets is part of the family business for the Schultzes. Today Gina Schultz runs the custom bullet business started by her father, a bulletsmith, in South Africa. Zinta Aistars reports on bullets designed to order. 

Gina Schultz was 7 years old when her father first placed a gun in her hands. Schultz is the daughter of Gerard Schultz, owner of a gun shop in South Africa that he had opened for business in 1977, two years before her birth. Her father trained her and her sister carefully on how to shoot. 

Handling guns, Schultz says, "is second nature to me." 

In 1999, shortly after moving to the United States from South Africa, Schultz took over the ownership of the business that grew out of her father’s gun shop, opening a United States-based business to mirror the original one started by her father in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. 

GS Custom Bullets is located at 69301 M-62 in Edwardsburg, Michigan.  Schultz’s father oversees the technical side of the bullets he designed and patented, and her mother oversees the store’s administrative side at the South Africa location.

"We’ve been shipping to United States for years," says Schultz. "There was a learning curve to learn about importing, licensing, so I thought, why not just manufacture here?" 

Schultz knows her bullets. Among her favorite memories are the hunting trips she went on with her father from age 13, and by age 16, the .220 Swift rifle she sighted on the beautiful blesbok, a type of antelope with a white blaze across its face, found only in South Africa. Schultz was 300 yards from her target. 

"My father helped me get closer," she says. "It was a flat, open field, and the herd ran off but this one. Usually, a hunter fires at 200 yards; this was the longest shot I’d ever taken at 300, but I knew what my rifle could do. The shot hit the blesbok in the ...


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 ...