50 Years/50 Stories

50 years/50 stories is a special campaign NEMCSA launched in 2018 in honor of our 50th anniversary.

Throughout 2018, we will be highlighting our participants, partners, volunteers, and employees as a way of sharing our story with the community. We would not have made it 50 years without the tremendous successes of our participants, our dedicated employees, or the support of those people and organizations who believe in our work to fight poverty in Northeast Michigan.

Story 19/50 "You Saved Me, You Never Gave Up On Me, Right?" 

Gabriel Taylor was in crisis. Despite many accommodations, Gabriel’s struggle with internal regulation interfered with his success. Gabriel was often punching, scratching and choking other children. On several occasions, Gabriel stabbed others with pencils, flipped chairs and fled the classroom. He would throw food or smash milk cartons against his head at lunchtime. Gabriel often threatened to hurt himself or his classmates.

Recognizing that Gabriel and his grandmother required a more intensive support system, he was referred the family to the NEMCSA School Success Partnership Program.  Relationships were created, trust wqas established, and an Action Plan with specific and attainable goals was shared with his teachers and family. . Each day, challenges were met with social stories and role-playing, while successes were celebrated and shared from school to home. Gabriel was learning to trust that school was a happy place where he was safe, could learn and be loved.

In addition to in-school support, referrals were made to community agencies that could assist Grandma Carrie in caring for Gabriel. While many agencies are more than twenty miles away, Mrs. Fletcher actively coordinates with local service clubs and private donors who assist with providing resources for ILES families. These relationships prove to be a critical connection for removing barriers and sustaining success at school and in the community.

 Gabriel started the next school year in aSecond Grade classroom. His teacher recognized the value of strong connections between teachers, programs, and community resources. The classroom was designed with academic stations that foster involvement with both peers and adults.  Building a relationship of love and accountability would continue fostering Gabriel’s sense of personal identity. “Academically, he's below grade level but is still making growth. I see significant improvements mentally, socially and emotionally. It’s amazing what building a relationship, trust, and showing you love them no matter what, will do for a kid,” his teacher said.

Although there are still some hard days, there are more celebrations than sorrows. Gabriel’s continued success is a direct result of the collaboration established through the School Success Partnership Program. Gabriel's  Grandma said, “A whole network of people came together for us.  There were some days I didn’t know if I could do it. Looking back, it was all out of love for Gabriel. I love him and knew you guys at school did, too.”

Story 18/50 Foster Grandparent Volunteer Recognized for 20 years of Service

Grandma Margaret Olsen was  recognized for an impressive 20 years of service.  While Grandma Margaret was not forthcoming  with her age, the minimum age requirement to be a Foster Grandparent is 55, but when Margaret joined the program, the minimum requirement was 60.  In the spirit of not revealing a woman’s age, the math speaks for itself!  Very impressive!  Grandma’s teacher, Brandie Gapske, from Lincoln Elementary took the podium to speak many praises about Margaret. 

Story 17/50 Tawas Head Start Celebrated 20 Years

Tawas Head Start Celebrates 20 Years of Serving Children and Families. Ellen Reeves, Teacher, and Dorene Rose, Teaching Assistant, held their 20th Annual Ice Cream Social on May 4, 2017. The event was held at the Tawas Early Childhood Center (ECC) and was attend by 100 past, present, and future Head Start children and families. We recognize and sincerely appreciate the Tawas ECC teaching team for 20 years of service to families in our community!  

Pictured is Ellen Reeves and Dylan Rose (1996-1997), the oldest Head Start student to attend.  He is the son of Dorene Rose, Teaching Assistant (right).


Story 16/50 Natural Playgrounds and Head Start

A natural playground is an area where children can play with natural elements such as sand, water, wood, and living plants. Children are encouraged to use their imaginations and be creative. Studies have shown that regular outdoor play in natural areas has positive effects on children’s social development, motor skill development, attention and activity level.  
NEMCSA Head Start has made it a program goal to convert as many playgrounds as possible to natural play areas over a 5-year period. In 2016 seven sites were chosen to begin this project based on current conditions as well as staff availability and interest.  

One of those sites is Frederic Head Start in Crawford County. Robin Braden is a Head Start teacher dedicated to the concept of natural playgrounds. She observed that children were losing interest in the outdoor play structures on their playground. In addition, there was a lot of ongoing upkeep with sanding and repainting as well as maintaining the required depth of mulch for fall zones.  

Robin started with a small garden in the playground, removed a large slide, then added logs and sensory bins to hold materials such as water, snow, mud, leaves, etc. Some classroom equipment was moved outside and the playground became a natural extension of the classroom. Staff immediately saw a difference in how the children played. They were more creative, more engaged, had fewer challenging behaviors and exhibited more child-directed, independent play. They wanted to spend even more time outside! 

Story 15/50 NEMCSA Gets in the Ethanol Game

The photo  was taken in July of 1980.  NEMCSA had received a special $49,000 grant for ethanol production from the Michigan Bureau of Community Services.  According to a news article, in NEMCSA’s pilot plant, the ethanol produced by NEMCSA was enough to heat ten homes and power twenty five vehicles at a cost of 62.5 cents per gallon.   

The article further states that a gallon of gasoline was an average of $1 at the time.  NEMCSA built and operated the ethanol plant under a permit from the U.S. Department of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms.  The plan was to produce 50,000 gallons that year.  After the ribbon cutting, Senator Levin drove an ethanol powered vehicle. 


Story 14/50 School Success Program: a "20-year overnight sensation"

 Michigan Community Action highlighted NEMCSA's School Success Partnership Program in their monthly newsletter.   

"An elementary school student who was often suspended is particularly memorable to Lisa Siegert, School Success Partnership (SSP) Program coordinator with Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency I nc. (NEMCSA).  Struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the then-fourth grader was aggressive in the classroom, easily distracted and on a path to academic failure.  Today, that student is an honors graduate, a volunteer firefighter and a productive, working member of the community, Siegert says. Such outcomes were exactly what organizers envisioned when they created the SSP program in 1 991 , says Dorothy Pintar, program director." Read the full article here

Story 13/50 For Years Jim Thought He Didn't Count

For years, Jim felt he didn’t count, this year he knows he counts. For nearly 5 years, an old shed covered in tarps is where Jim called home. During the winter months, he made an indoor woodstove from scraps he had found when he went to town. Some mornings, his hands were so numb from the night, that he didn’t want to get out of bed to make breakfast. When sought out by community agencies, Jim was initially resistant to assistance. He expressed no interest in taking up space in a home that could be used for someone else.  After volunteers reached out to him during our annual Point in Time (PIT) count, Jim subsequently made the decision to contact the housing assistance authorities. When we asked Jim what changed his mind, he stated that his daughter had made contact with him; he wanted to have his own home for her to visit. At that point, Jim was finally able to secure a quaint, 1 bedroom home and had his first visitor in years, his estranged daughter.

Story 12/50 Program Volunteer recognized in Lansing

Rita K. Christian was selected to receive an award commemorating her outstanding volunteer efforts on May 9th in Lansing.  Rita began volunteering for NEMCSA's food programs more than 33 years ago as the Arenac County TEFAP site manager, packing and distributing boxes of food, helping clients fill out applications, and getting the word out through marketing and advertising. Rita also volunteered in many ways that were way above and beyond the call; she would drive clients to medical appointments, deliver meals to homebound seniors and assisted with the Senior Olympics.

 In 2004 Rita was forced to cut back on her volunteering due to health conditions, but after 10 years she returned in good health and good spirits to pick up where she left off.  Her example has inspired many NEMCSA staff and her daughter, who now helps with the agency's food programs, too!  Thanks Rita for everything you do!!!!

Story 11/50- RSVP Honors 2018 Volunteer of the Year

Wayne is an active volunteer at the Baby to Toddler Closet in Grayling, and was honored at the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon on September 11 for his volunteer service. Wayne has been an RSVP volunteer since 2011, and this year alone, has served almost 480 hours at the Baby to Toddler Closet!

Wayne has been involved with the Baby to Toddler Closet since they opened their doors on October 9, 2009. From the very beginning, Wayne has been a steadfast source of support, willing to jump in and help wherever he's needed. According to his fellow volunteer, Bonnie Townsend, "Wayne helps us all at the Baby to Toddler Closet. Anything we need, he makes sure we have it to the best of our ability." 

Adds Rose Mary Nelson, Volunteer Coordinator for the Baby to Toddler Closet, "in our newsletter we call him our guy Friday, because he does such a variety of different projects; for the Baby to Toddler Closet and us personally." The Baby to Toddler Closet is open the first and third Thursday of each month; however, Wayne also volunteers time throughout the week, to make sure that volunteers and clients have everything they need. From helping with setup and take down, to traveling out-of-county to procure extra storage, to helping with maintenance issues onsite, to picking up lunch for fellow volunteers on open days, Wayne does it all! No job is too small or insignificant, and Wayne can be counted on to lend a helping hand (and a smile!). According to Rose Mary, "Wayne has done all of the above with a great attitude, smile, and patience because he knows what we do is so helpful to the community and he enjoys doing it."

Story 10/50- New Found Confidence To Provide a Family Her Kids Deserve

"Beginning as a single mother and then stay-at-home mom, NEMCSA Early Head Start and Head Start Programs have provided me with the confidence to give my kids the family they deserve. From helping me to get registered for college courses, to my home visitor treating me as a friend and encouraging me to get treated for depression. I don't think I could have gotten this far without the support I received."

Story 9/50- Back at Home and Never More Happy!

At age 62, Deborah fell in her home, where she was living with her husband, and broke her femur in two places. Legally blind and suffering from existing health complications, she has a heart attack while undergoing surgery for her femur forcing her to be placed in a nursing facility. Deb thought that being able to move back home with her husband was to “good to be true” since she was faced with barriers to leaving the facility. Her home was not handicap accessible and she lacked the support and services such as assistance with bathing, preparing meals, and transportation. 

Through NEMCSA’s Region 9 Area Agency on Aging’s Nursing Transition Program, a team was successful in contracting with a licensed builder to complete a full bathroom remodel and make her home handicap accessible for her safely to return home. They also provided personal care, homemaking and meal preparation services for her under the Mi Choice Waiver Program. These programs gave Deb the chance to return home. She stated, “I have never been happier!”

Story 8/50- Tragedy Led to Homelessness, NEMCSA was there to help!

James and Anita experienced a tragic car accident where they lost their child and another was seriously injured. They depleted their savings for doctor appointments and travel to and from U of M hospital for their daughter.  Struggling to pay bills, James and Anita lost their home. They bounced from different friends’ homes and eventually ended up at the Sunrise Mission Homeless Shelter in Alpena.

The shelter linked the family to NEMCSA, where James and Anita met with a Housing resource Specialist and a housing plan was created to get them a safe and affordable home. After moving in they were able to settle into a normal home life and grow stronger as a family.

“NEMCSA has helped us out so much. I don’t know if you have ever been in our situation, but just having our family back and in our own home again…that was one of the best days of our lives. When we were homeless it was tearing our family apart…”

Story 7/50- Depressed to Empowered

NEMCSA Foster Grandparent program volunteer Karen Dunn was honored by the Arenac County Child Protection Council with the annual ‘Friend of Children’ award. Karen was nominated by Mary Courtemance, a teacher at Standish-Sterling Central Elementary, whose classroom Karen serves in as a Foster Grandparent. According to Karen, joining the Senior Corps Foster Grandparent program is “one of the best choices I’ve ever made”. Below is an excerpt of Karen’s speech that she reecently presented at the Annual Foster Grandparent Recognition luncheon. 

“From the time I turned 14 years old I always worked one and two jobs to support myself and my family. Three and a half years ago I had to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance because of a lot of health problems. Because of this I found myself feeling totally worthless and I didn’t feel like a contributing member of society... I really felt like a failure and my depression was getting worse. I was caught in a black hole in my mind and I had no way of climbing out by myself.

...I started getting out of bed on Sunday mornings to go to church. On the bulletin board was a letter that was going to change my life... It was a letter from NEMCSA asking for Senior Volunteers and Foster Grandparents at the schools. I picked up my phone and called the number. I didn’t know how that day was going to change my life even more dramatically for the better.

I only spend nights in bed now. No more 20-24 hours a day in bed, not even on weekends. I get up five days a week at 5:45am, ready to face the day. I feel like I am a contributing member of society again and feel like I am making a difference in children’s lives every day! “

Story 6/50- Homeless to Homeowner

In 2010 Marty walked through the doors of a homeless shelter and felt hopeless about her future. She want able to see her children often because she needed to find adequate housing to obtain her share of parental custody.  While residing at the shelter, Marty noticed a brochure explaining the Individual Development Account (IDA) program and took action. She attended the required financial literacy classes, which she found very informative and looked forward to attending. The classes not only taught her how to clean up and establish credit and how to create and follow a budget, they also gave her hope in moving forward. 

Through Marty’s hard work and determination, she was able to find employment, pay off her bills, repair her credit, work on a budget and save towards the purchase of a home. Participation in the IDA program helped Marty save the required $1,000 so that she could receive $3,000 in program match dollars to use as a down payment. 

Story 5/50- NEMCSA Partners with Food Bank to Offer Free Produce to Communities

In fall of 2017 NEMCSA partnered  with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to provide free produce in several counties. In two short months  3,933 individuals (1,482 families) accessed this service. The communities  had a  tremendous response  in support of this program with many of the volunteers willing to take this on for NEMCSA and do them on a more regular basis.  The gratitude people had brought smiles to the volunteers faces and tears to many eyes.  Read one person's account below:

"Each person that came was given the opportunity to take what they felt the family would use before it would go bad.  When asked how many romaine lettuces for instance, would they like, I was repeatedly asked, how many can I have? I would tell each person, take what you can use. This is what is it here for.  As each participant came through the line, we were continually told how thankful they were for what we were doing and that many of them could not afford to get such fresh produce. 

A volunteer told me this one story. One woman came towards the end and we had started to run out of certain items.  The volunteers working behind the produce, had set some boxes in the back for damaged or produce that could not be used.  This person wanted to look at these items.  She sorted through the peppers, finding those that just had spots and could be used if the bad spots were cut out.  She expressed that just because one spot was bad, it did not mean the whole item was bad and she could find something she could use them for.

Not only did we have volunteers from our TEFAP distribution, but from the Housing Department, MSU Extension and the Head start. These areas had information available for each of the clients.  Such as the Prescription for Health or coloring sheets for the young children.  I was happy that we could incorporate other areas into our food program distribution.  In the future I know that each area will continue to be present at these distributions."

Story 4/50- Detroit Free Press Named NEMCSA Top Work Place Twice!



In 2010 Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency made the top five best places to work in Michigan in the Detroit Free Press' annual Top Workplaces survey. Nominated and supported by its employees, NEMCSA came in fifth in the top five large companies and was ranked above corporations such as Domino's Pizza, Compuware, Huntington Bank and University of Michigan Health System. Former Chief Executive Officer John Swise said the award is "one hell of an honor."

 NEMCSA was nominated by Kay Cosgray, NEMCSA's business liaison at Michigan Works in Grayling. After it was nominated, NEMCSA had to provide its employees e-mails so it could fill out a survey and participate in a screening. NEMCSA was chosen out of over 800 companies from around the state and later from 105 companies as narrowed down by a company in Philadelphia that was compiling the data.

In 2016 NEMCSA was awarded Top Workplace again!  “I am really proud that NEMCSA has again been recognized as a top Michigan workplace” says Lisa Bolen, executive Director of NEMCSA. “Knowing that NEMCSA staff find value and meaning in the work that they do says we are on the right track, organizationally. A dedicated staff will successfully carry out our human services work which is often challenging, but is also very rewarding.” 


Story 3/50- One Person's Gratitude for the Weatherization Program 

NEMCSA’s Weatherization Assistance Program uplifted many people’s lives over the years in Northeast Michigan. Providing energy efficient updates to homes not only lowers heating and utility bills but also increases the family’s health, safety and comfort improving their quality of life.  A letter of appreciation was sent to the Weatherization crew in 2010 that captures one person’s gratitude for the program:

“I’m writing this still in a state of shock and awe for what you have done for me is nothing short of a miracle, sincerely! With every hot bath, every light I turn on, the sound of my hot water heater clicking on and running smoothly. I’m just filled to the top with gratitude, it goes beyond what words can convey. Every single person at NEMCSA and your contractors have been so nice, professional and talented. For you maybe it was simply restoring a house, for me it was a renewal of life, my heart and my home.”

Story 2/50- PATH Program Participants are Impacted By Workshop

If it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video tells a thousand stories.  For story 2/50, watch this short video that highlights one person's experience after participating in a six week PATH Educational Workshop in Alcona County.  Personal Action Towards Health (PATH) workshops empower participants to take an active role in managing their health. To learn more about the PATH Program and other Education Workshops provided in your county, click here.


Story 1/50- Homeless Man Finds Home and Reunites With His Family

A Housing Resource Specialist (HRS) was working with a young man that was living in his car who had a serious addiction to drugs for several years and his family had disowned him.  Although this young man had a part time job he had very little money. Due to his drug addiction he could not get food stamps, so he learned how to eat out of various garbage cans at different restaurants for food. 

The HRS began working with him on finding house. After a few weeks a house was found. This grateful man, who moved into his new home with nothing except the clothes on his back,  said “I felt like I won the lotto and was given a second chance.” 

While completing the paperwork with the Landlord the NEMCSA HRS could hear this young man’s stomach growling.  He was asked if he needed help with food or was hungry.  He said “No Miss Shelley, I am fine.”  The paperwork was signed and he was handed the keys to his home. The HRS left and went to a local food pantry to pick up some food to get him started. When she  came back to deliver the food  the young man was sitting in the middle of his new living room, crying. 

He stated “I have never had someone treat me so kind and not want anything back.  I am so thankful for all you and NEMCSA has done for me.”  

Case management continued with this young man each week.  About a month after he was housed he became eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8);  a program that will pay up to 70% of his rent for a life time.  He was excited to hear the news, and could not wait to share that he had been clean and drug free for a few months, has a job, and reapplied for Food Stamps. 

Today this young man is housed, working, and still clean.  Shelley, the NEMCSA Housing Resource Specialist that worked so diligently with this homeless man, helped reunite him with some of his family and he spent Thanksgiving with his family this year.  Shelley stated, “Sometimes people just need to know that you care and it’s not “just a job”…. It’s about making a difference.”