Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Between the Lines: Healing Journey

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Susan Harrison

Susan Harrison

It isn't easy finding the right words when a family member or friend experiences grief or loss. It’s even harder when that person is a child. But Susan Harrison, a writer, musician and puppeteer in Kalamazoo, has found a way to ease the pain and bring about healing by combining her various skills. Her Going on a Journey is a picture book for children that features vivid illustrations by Conrad Kaufman.

“It is really appropriate for any age,” Harrison says. “It can be about losing a loved one, or it can be about any kind of grief someone is experiencing, like bullying or being lonely. If you don’t know what to say, you can offer Going on a Journey as a gift.”

The story and the illustrations take the reader on a puppy's journey as he finds himself lost in the dark woods. The puppy struggles to ...


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building relationships from the ground up

by Zinta Aistars
Published in SW Michigan's Second Wave Media
June 25, 2015

Israel Flores (Photo by Susan Andress)

You’ll find him on the floor, playing among the children. Israel Flores, family coach for Battle Creek’s Early Childhood Connection since 2011, is happiest there.

Working with children and their parents wasn’t Flores’ first job in the United States. Born in Mexico City, when he immigrated to the U.S. at age 22, Flores first lived in Ann Arbor and worked in the food industry. He moved to Battle Creek around the time he married, and when he heard of a job opening with the Early Childhood Connection (ECC) for a family coach, his heart sang.

"I love working with kids! You could say I’m like a kid myself," he says. "When ECC advertised that they were more interested in finding someone with a passion for working with children rather than experience, I thought I could make an impact."

With his bilingual language skills and first-hand knowledge of the Latino community culture, paired with his knack for working with kids, Flores was hired.

"I’m like a kid magnet," he says. "Sometimes families need that extra support, and I wanted to provide that."

Early Childhood Connections, part of the Calhoun County Great Start Collaborative, provides welcome baby baskets to new parents, home visits, and playgroups for families with children from birth to 5 years old in Battle Creek. Family coaches partner with parents to help them raise children who are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and in life.

Flores, who has since moving to Battle Creek now has two sons of his own (and two dogs), and he says he's sharpened some of his coaching skills with his own family. 

"I work out some of my own emotions as a father with my boys," Flores says. "I don’t go into homes as some kind of professional who knows everything. None of us are better than anyone else. That’s why I sit on the floor, at kid-level, when I go into someone’s home, and I invite parents to sit on the floor, too."

Flores is skilled at connecting with both the children in the home and the parents, helping both sides to connect and enjoy each other’s company. Since beginning his job as a family coach, Flores has ...


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Between the Lines: Building Latvia's Library

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Maira Bundza 

Latvia's National Library (Photo by Maira Bundza)

Small kids and the elderly bent with age, and every age between, lined up in a human chain in the Latvia's capital city Riga. It began in Old Riga and stretched across a bridge to the opposite shore of the Daugava River. It was a cold January day in 2014 but 14,000 book lovers created what became known as the “Path of Light.” One by one by one, they passed books from one pair of hands to the next, down the chain until they reached the new National Library of Latvia. The “chain” was five miles long and the passing of the books began at midnight.

“Yet they didn’t get that many books across because everybody stopped to look at them,” says Maira Bundža, a librarian of Latvian heritage at Western Michigan University’s Waldo Library. “Even though it was freezing cold that day, people were so fascinated with the books.” Bundža has often traveled to Latvia and most recently toured the National Library there.

Bundža was born to Latvian parents; refugees who immigrated to the United States during World War II when the Soviet army invaded Latvia. She moved to Kalamazoo in 1982 to work at the Latvian Studies Center at WMU, and in 15 years she created the largest ...


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Taking to the skies in style

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
June 18, 2015

One of the vintage biplanes built at WACO

Peter Bowers, owner
Peter Bowers, president of WACO (pronounced WAH-co) Classic Aircraft Corporation in Battle Creek, stands with legs apart, arms crossed over his chest, eyes on the plane. It is one of seven planes currently in the hangar, and seven is full capacity here, but two more planes are coming.

"We had a record year in 2014," Bowers says. "$5 million in sales, but we will be introducing the E model in April 2016. Keep the customers interested. We solicit feedback from our customers, and we put that feedback into the next plane. We’re always improving; every plane is better than the one before."

Outshining the sun in the open hangar, facing the runways of W. K. Kellogg Airport, is a bright yellow WACO YMF-5D Biplane with an open cockpit. It’s not quite yet ready to fly, and a sticker that says as much is taped to the standard fixed-pitch MT wood propeller, but it will be soon. Somewhere, a customer is counting the days. 

"About 25 percent of our business is offshore," Bowers says. "Every year, at least one plane goes to Europe. We just sent one to New Zealand, another to Australia."

Bowers has been running WACO for seven years. His father, Jon Bowers, is a minority partner. WACO, however, goes much farther back in its history. During what’s known as the Golden Age of Aviation, between 1919 and 1947, the WACO Aircraft Company began as a family-owned business in Troy, Ohio. WACO appears to have been the acronym for the original name of Weaver Aircraft Company. 

The aircraft manufacturing company saw its booming years during World War II, building twice as many planes as any other aircraft manufacturer. They also build an open-cockpit biplane, the WACO YMF, for the barnstorming pilots of the 1930s. It is that vintage plane that ...



Custom painting makes each plane unique

Wings are made of wood covered with Dacron polyester

Bowers looking at engineer's drawings

Ready for a test flight

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Between the Lines: Combat to Poetry

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Bruce Lack

Bruce Lack

Poetry probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a hardened, experienced Marine. Bruce Lack served two tours, spending 21 months in Fallujah, Iraq. And he says it was poetry that helped him return to civilian life.

While Lack had long enjoyed creative writing, he says poetry synthesized the complex and difficult emotions of coping with the experience of combat and his return to the world back home. There, only those who have also experienced combat truly understand how jarring one reality can be when juxtaposed with another.
In his debut poetry collection, Service (Texas Tech University Press, 2015), Lack writes about deployment, the horrors of the front lines, even the odd sense of missing that nightmarish world after returning home.
“I don’t miss it enough to still be in it,” Lack says. “But there’s something about that kind of closeness where there’s very little margin for error. The things that happen are immediate and intense, and you reach a level of understanding that you will only have with those seven or eight or ten people. Of course you would miss that. Tangentially, it’s, well, very exciting to not be killed when someone is trying to kill you. Euphoric for the moment, and then you immediately crash into the reality of what’s just happened. There’s that initial rush of—I can’t believe I’m still alive. It’s a great feeling to be still alive.”
Lack says Service has found an audience among other veterans. But it has also helped him connect with those who have not served in uniform, providing them at least a glimmer of understanding of a reality that's almost incomprehensible. Lack also hopes the book opens a dialog. He says writing it also helped him untangle his thoughts and emotions, allowing him to process where he has been and where he is now: back home in Portage, Michigan, with his wife and small son.
Lack says he understands the thought when people thank veterans for their service, “But I think it’s a phrase that’s ...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Can systemic racism impact infant mortality?

by Zinta Aistars
for Rapid Growth Media
Published June 11, 2015

Peggy Vander Meulen and Ken Fawcett (Photo by Adam Bird)

When life first stirs inside a woman’s womb, her dreams have already begun to unfold around her child’s future. A nursery lovingly prepared, a first step taken, the ringing of school bells, the proud march for diplomas, weddings and future generations. For an alarming number of Latina and African-American women, however, those dreams darken to nightmares—a child’s death.

The infant mortality rate, or IMR, refers to the number of babies who die before their first birthday. “Rate” refers to the number of babies who die for every 1,000 babies born alive. The IMR reflects the physical, social and economic health of a community.
According to Peggy Vander Meulen, RN, MSN, program director of Strong Beginnings in Grand Rapids, a black baby is 2.9 times more likely to die than a white baby.

“That’s down from 5.2 in 2005,” she says. “The rate in Grand Rapids was very high back in 2003—the worst in Michigan. But we’ve made inroads; our totals are now close to statewide averages.”

Strong Beginnings is a Grand Rapids-based program formed in 2001 to address the glaring disparities in birth outcomes between African-Americans and European-Americans. “We are a partnership of six community agencies,” says Vander Meulen. “Traditionally, we began with a focus on African-Americans, but we have opened our program to all who meet the criteria of being underserved, because any loss of an infant is tragic.”

In 2004, Strong Beginnings applied for federal funding and received it. As the program grew, its financial needs grew along with it. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded the program a grant in 2011 to expand its services to all of Kent County, add a fatherhood component, and to work toward promoting racial equity. A second grant in 2013 allowed Strong Beginnings to engage the Latino community to improve maternal-child health. 

And, this past May, Strong Beginnings was awarded more than $9 million in grants to expand outreach to African-American and Latino communities. The program will receive $4.3 million over five years from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to improve maternal and child health among Latinos in Kent County through its program, Familias Fuertes y Saludables. The grant will provide services during pregnancy and two years after the baby’s birth.

Partnering with Strong Beginnings are Spectrum Health’s Healthier Communities, Arbor Circle, Breton Health Center, Cherry Health, Family Futures, the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, the Healthy Kent Infant Health Team, the Kent County Health Department and the Salvation Army Booth Clinic.

Ken Fawcett, MD, has been vice president at Spectrum Health’s Healthier Communities for about six months, but it’s been time enough to impress him with the difference the Strong Beginnings program has made, even as he understands the need for the program to do more.

“When we look at the incidence of infant mortality, it’s a reflection on our society,” he says. “This is not a matter of genetics, but a societal issue.”

“When the first generation of Latinos came to Grand Rapids, they were ...


Monday, June 08, 2015

Between the Lines: Growing up 4-H in the Sixties

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Anne-Marie Oomen

For a writer, few topics are more revealing, and make them more vulnerable, than writing a memoir. Love, Sex and 4H (Wayne State University Press, 2015) is the third in a trilogy of memoirs by Anne-Marie Oomen. She now lives in Traverse City but writes about her hometown of Hart, Michigan. 

Set in the 1960s, Oomen’s memoir tells of growing up on a farm and working on sewing projects for the 4-H Club, embodying the principles of loyalty, service, and better living. She writes about the teenage angst of a girl growing up on a farm, sizing herself up against the “townie” kids but finding confidence in modeling the outfits she sewed in 4-H.

“I felt I had a lot more to say about growing up in the Sixties,” Oomen says. “It’s an important time, so I was thinking a lot about that, and I realized I had been in 4-H that entire time, from 1959 to 1969, so that became the controlling metaphor, the device for writing about the lessons, the changes in my life.”
Anne-Marie Oomen in her high school prom dress
Anne-Marie Oomen in her high school prom dress
Oomen writes about her first sewing project, a dishtowel she still owns and brings to readings, and learning how complex a deceptively simple project can be when you must learn to sew an invisible hem with exacting stitches. From that she graduated to aprons, dresses, prom gowns, and finally mini-skirts and bell-bottoms. Those exacting stitches became her expression of rebellion. Sleeves might get torn from gowns and a neckline lowered as Oomen chooses her first boyfriends and learns how to kiss—and how to break hearts.
Sewing projects happened alongside changes outside her ...

Monday, June 01, 2015

Between the Lines: Tragedy to Hospital

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guest: Larry Massie

Old postcards of Borgess Hospital

When the doors of the jail shut on the young man, the officers who arrested him thought he was just another young drunk. He wasn’t. He was sick. In fact, he was mortally ill. Within another day the young man died for lack of medical care and the Last Rites of the Catholic Church were administered to him by Father Francis O’Brien.

That was in the early 1880's when Kalamazoo was a bustling town of 17,000 people but didn't have a hospital of its own. Other Michigan cities had them but in Kalamazoo the sick were as likely to end up in jail as see a doctor. The incident with the young man who died moved Father O’Brien and he shared the story with his good friend and mentor Bishop Borgess in Detroit. Borgess was also moved and responded by donating $5,000 to establish Kalamazoo’s first hospital.

Michigan historian Larry Massie began writing about the history of what became Borgess Health about three years ago. The health system commissioned him to create Health Care Anew: The First 125 Years of Borgess Health. The book tells the story of how Kalamazoo’s first hospital was built, its growth pains, and the challenges it faced over the years. Borgess Medical Center at 1521 Gull Road in Kalamazoo also has other affiliated medical care facilities around southwest Michigan. Borgess today is a member of Ascension Health, the largest Catholic non-profit health system in the United States.
Massie says, “The $5,000 from Bishop Borgess went toward a down payment on an Italian Revival mansion located on the corner of Lovell and Portage Streets. The ceremonial cornerstone was placed at the new structure in June 1889. That first 20-bed hospital has now expanded to a hospital that serves ten counties throughout southwest Michigan.”
Larry and Priscilla Massie
Larry and Priscilla Massie
Once the building was ready for its first patients, nursing care was provided by 11 nuns of the Sisters of St. Joseph. “The sisters arrived by train in July 1889, wearing stiff and stifling black and white habits,” says Massie. They’d been warned that ...