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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dear Santa - Muskegon Teens Help Answer The Timeless Letters - Maybe This Story is Best For Grown Up's

For years, there has been a "Letters to Santa" drop off box in Roosevelt Park.  Local youngsters put their Christmas list down and send it off in the hopes that St. Nick will hear their plea and bring them what they wish for at Christmas.  For the longest time, all the letters were answered by one woman. Ann Wisnewski. 
Today, it takes a group to to handle it and you'll get a chance to meet them here.

Now, let me say that we prefaced this story saying it's for grown up's because there's a magic about the whole subject of Santa.  We certainly don't want to spoil that for young-in's, but we wanted you to see too, that other young people are stepping up to preserve a tradition and some of that innocence in a world of ever increasing cynicism, accusations and polarization.  As much as us grown up's all know Santa, maybe it's time to remember what Santa really stands for.

Santa is the belief that there is good in the world.  Santa is the embodiment of what we hope and dream about.  We stay on the straight and narrow and we hope Santa notices.  Santa brings the unattainable.  If we long for hard to find toys in our youth or things that just can't be afforded any other day of the year...somehow that Christmas Miracle happens and Santa did it.  As grown up's we hope Santa brings things like a day of peace, a little time with friends and family, maybe a break from bills.  We hope for good tidings and joy and we strive to protect our little ones and we allow them to believe because once innocence is's gone for good.  We go the extra mile for the kids too because we desperately hope that even though they may never see Santa coming down the chimney, we want them to know that the good in the world he represents is there, albeit illusive most of the time.   Santa is safe to confide in, you can tell him a secret, you can ask for an indulgence or you can go to bat for your parents or siblings.  You can ask for a sack of toys, a pony, a puppy or maybe that your grandma up in heaven has a Merry Christmas.  It's really a shame that Santa only comes once a year.

Well, with all that in mind, Ms. Helmer at Mona Shores High School has a leadership class made up of students who strive to get into it.  They are young people who are determined to make a difference in their school and community for now, and who knows...maybe some day the world.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, these young people volunteer their time to hand write all the letters and get them back to the kids who dropped them off.  I'd like you to meet Connor, Leanna, Erin and Chloe and hear their story about what they read in the letters to Santa and what they learn by answering....well, "help" answer.

I'd like to take a moment to congratulate these young people and thank them for their time and effort to jump in and take the initiative to keep that thought that there is good in the world.  You know...there really is good in the's in all of us.  It's up to every one of us to remember that it doesn't take a just takes a caring hand.  It takes a moment of compassion.  Follow the example of these distinguished young helpers of the miracle like they are!  This is what makes Muskegon so special.  This is why I love this community and all the people in it!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Giving Back Christmas Returns to the VFW on Apple Sunday December 17th

2015 was a year of firsts!!  We launched the Positively Muskegon blog in October of that year and Andrea Rosema was kicking off an event at the Apple Avenue VFW Hall for local kids to come and have a little holiday fun decorating cookies, making cards for veterans, first responders and more.  A visit with Santa, maybe get a present wrapped and a chance to just have some holiday fun and games with friends and neighbors.

As Andrea and her crew got things going, they invited me out to share their story and in as much as I had a pretty good idea of what the long term purpose of Positively Muskegon would be, I still had yet to focus it.  I knew what I wanted to get done, but would I be invited in to peoples homes and business to help share their story?  Would there be an audience for what we were doing?  I mean, it's easy to grab headlines when someone gets shot, or a store gets robbed....but would people actually respond if some guy went all over Muskegon and found local people who put their pride and passion into making sure that kids had fond memories of the holidays?  Keep in mind too, back then...I only had a Go Pro camera and a tiny little tripod to work with.  I didn't even have the money for that, I had to get it 6 months same as cash at Best Buy.  Well, it's going to be 3 years for Andrea and her group and it's 330,000 page views for I guess you can say the true inspiration to all of this goes to Andrea and a group of moms from Wolf Lake.
Handmade Raffle Entry Box for Kids

Well, here we are again talking about this years Giving Back Christmas.  We're back in the hallowed grounds of the "She Shed" out behind Andrea's house.  I am going to swipe the event description from their Facebook page - "Dedicated to the children of our community. We offer a Christmas card booth for kids to fill out Christmas cards for our veterans, fire fighters and police. We also choose a family or child to send cards to. We have an ornament/craft booth for children to make a gift for a loved one, we have a booth for the kids to wrap the gift they made, they can make it look super cute. We have a booth for Kids Food Basket, kids gets to decorate paper sacks for children in need. We have Christmas games they can play to earn prizes, we have a Christmas story area, for kiddos to sit and listen to some of the very best Christmas tales. We have a Christmas cookie decorating area, kids can design their own cookie and share or eat :) .....and we have SANTA!!We offer food and drinks and their are raffles for the kids and for adults. We have a bake sale and local crafters can sell items This event is free, donations of postage stamps are very appreciated."

This years party will be at the VFW at 6285 Apple Avenue on Sunday December 17th from 2p-6p.

Take a listen to our chat about this years even and some of the people that help put this on!

We've run the numbers up on readers, we've also made some technology advances on how we record the people who make this channel happen.  Heck, we even got to the point where we were so busy that we had to add another whole website to accommodate the amount of stories that were coming in.  But I want to tell you something from the bottom of my heart.  Nothing we do is more important than finding people like Andrea and her friends who make a difference in their neighborhood.  Muskegon is FILLED with stories like her's where people see a need... and they fill it.  The leg work, the donation requests, the time treasure and talent that goes into making the lives of their fellow community members better....THAT IS EXACTLY what makes Muskegon the community it is.  That is exactly why we started this page and that is exactly why we'll continue to work to share the stories of those who choose to make a better world for those around the.   For more information on the Giving Back Christmas Event.... click on the image below to visit their Facebook page.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

2018 The Year of the Lighthouse in Muskegon

Muskegon's maritime history is something to be proud of.  From our glorious beaches to the industry that has made use of our waters to the historic relics we now house in Muskegon with the ships that are here, water is a part of just about every aspect of our community.  We sit on part of the worlds largest fresh water supply and like any waterfront area, part of the lore is the lighthouse. 

2018 will be a celebration of those lighthouses as the South Pier Lighthouse turns 115 years old.  WOW!

As you can imagine, at 115 it's time for a little face lift.  There's some work that needs to be done to repair and preserve this historic lighthouse.  Now, if you're wondering....this is the South light house.  It's in past the breakwater and might be a little difficult to get to.  It sits behind the Coast Guard Station and the NOAA Weather Office, but it is open for tours in the Summer and people do make their way out there to fish off the dock.  Might be a good time for a true confession moment, I didn't even know where to park to get out to our filming location when we shot this you've never made your way to the South lighthouse, don't feel bad.  Back to our story though.  The South lighthouse needs some work, but the one that's really far out there needs a LOT of work,  so 2018 will see some great activity and awareness centered around our historic landmarks.

A look at some of the floor that needs to be replaced
There are people who work tirelessly to preserve and protect these pillars of our community.  A staff of a non-profit as well as volunteers who assist in maintenance of the light houses, giving tours, telling the history of them and generally advocating for not only what they were, but what they still are.  Yes, lighthouses are still used as navigation tools by the shipping industry.  They also make an incredible backdrop for photographers and sunset gazers who come to town to admire the serenity that can only come from looking West out over Lake Michigan.

I was contacted by Cindy Beth Davis-Dykema who is the Executive Director of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy.  She's been at it since 2010 and her mission is to preserve, promote and make accessible Michigan's lighthouses to the communities that they reside in.  She is a walking talking history book on Michigan lighthouses and I'll be honest...makes a VERY easy interview.  We met up in one of the most spectacular settings I ever found myself in for a chat.  Take a listen.

It was like a view from heaven.  What an incredible treat to be able to spend a few minutes on top of the world talking about something we in Muskegon might take a little for granted, but others come to see from miles and miles away.  I'd like to invite you to follow the Muskegon Lights website.  You'll find links to their Facebook page too, give it a like.  We have to preserve and protect what set's us a part from the rest of the area.  Our lighthouses are historically significant in so many ways, they are beacons that reach out and say there is safety here...we should make sure they are cherished.  You can find their link under the photo below!

A view back from the top - Photos by Derek Wong


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Brayden's Voyage Gets a Hand From Michigan Mortgage

One of the foundations of Positively Muskegon has been to find the places in town where people connect to make great things happen.  We been preaching for a couple of years that Muskegon is full of stories that celebrate the human spirit as well as community togetherness and how when there's a need, we step up as friends and neighbors to make sure we do all we can to make it happen.  Well, if that's the kind of story you're up for, you came to the right place today!

Like you to meet Baryden Janetzke and his mom Christina.  We're a little short on time for this one, and I'll explain why in a minute, but I am going to quote what Christina sent me in advance so we can get to work. -

"Brayden Janetzke was born with a genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA for short).

SMA is a neuromuscular disease that limits voluntary muscle movement. SMA has NO cure but there is currently ONE form of treatment that Brayden is receiving every two weeks at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Click for
Brayden is a happy 7 year old who enjoys simple things and loves Captain America!!! Brayden spends his days by attending Churchill Elementary in the Mona Shores School District, going to his Cub Scout meetings as a Wolf Scout, Attending Crew Jr. for Wednesday night Worship at Lakeshore Fellowship Church, and spending time with friends and family. Medically he attends Pediatric Clinics at University of Michigan Mott’s Children’s Hospital and Helen DeVos. He also attends weekly Aqua therapy at Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids.

We appreciate the opportunity to spread awareness and let Brayden’s story be heard."

So there is that part.  Now, here's where we come in.  Michigan Mortgage is offering to help the cause out.  They have made a cash donation already and are giving a $1 donation for every check in on their Facebook page between now and the end of the month...which is  Thursday November 30th.  Time to get clicking.  You can find the link to their Facebook page on the right.  Click on it, and click on that check in!!  Let's see if we can raise a few bucks for the little shaver.
Check in @MichiganMortgage and #mmgivesback

While you're clicking and checking in take a listen to our chat with Brayden, Christina and Tracey Kiel who was the employee of the month who nominated Brayden's Voyage!  Take a Listen!

There's the scoop!  Click on the Michigan Mortgage Facebook Link above and check in!  Given them the #mmgivesback and $1 goes to help Brayden and his family along in the journey.  We are always on the hunt for great people, and great companies who are out to make a difference in our community.  It was a pleasure and honor to meet Brayden and his family today and the folks at Michigan Mortgage were first class from the minute we walked in the door until we left.  What a great place to do so much for the Janetzke's.  Our best wishes to all.   To visit Michigan Mortgage online, click on the image below.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Festival of Trees Begins at the Muskegon Museum of Art November 22nd

It's getting to be that time of year again.  The Festival of Trees is set to open at the Muskegon Museum of Art and the celebration of Christmas from all over the world will be front and center again this year.  You can not only see how Christmas is celebrated in other countries but you can also benefit the museum in a number of ways.

Fist off, let's talk about opening night! Bring in some canned goods for the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and you can get in for $5 on November 22nd.  What better way to see all the splendor of the season and give yourself the feeling of knowing you did something good for someone in needs.  You'll find plenty of other special days too during the run, which goes until December 3rd.  Music, food, Santa and more!  It's a great time for a holiday gathering and a great cause!  Why December 3rd though?

Well, the Festival of trees is also one of the largest annual fundraisers for the Muskegon Museum of Art.  The trees are bid on by local people and business and after the 3rd, they are off to their forever homes to adorn the season for years to come.

Marguerite Curran joined me to talk about the event, I should preface the video by telling you...we were going for the "warm backlit" feel of Christmas time and it played a little havoc with the auto focus on the camera, so it gets a little hazy from time to time, but the message is important and your chance to get down and be a part of the fun starts tomorrow.  Take a listen.

If you just need a little something to put you in the mood, or maybe you'd like to be a part of some of the great events surrounding the Festival of Trees...make sure you head down to the Muskegon Museum of Art.  As we discussed in the video, this last year has been such an eye opening experience for me at the museum.  I admit shouldn't have taken something as incredible as the North American Indian exhibit to get me in there, but I grew a serious appreciation for what we have in the Museum of Art and I am very thankful to be able to help share the story of this great holiday tradition in Muskegon.  To learn more, click on the image below to visit their website.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Follow Up With Alyssa Clark - She's Cleared For a Kidney Transplant

About 6 months ago, I got a message asking if I'd be willing to help spread the word about a benefit for a young woman who was in the fight of her life over a kidney disease.  Her friends and family were getting together to put on an evening of food and fun in the hopes that it would help defer the costs incurred while waiting for a life saving operation for Alyssa Clark, she needs a kidney transplant.

Like so many others around town, it's always a community effort.  An affordable hall is found to rent, people put on a pot luck or a spaghetti dinner, some raffle items are gathered up, there's usually a 50/50...simple things that all add up.  The root of it all is to raise a few bucks, sure, but the fellowship created is equally an important message.  All too often, I would imagine, people who struggle with long term problems like kidney failure probably feel like they are isolated.  That no one understands the trials they face, the pain they go through or the long term doubt in their mind wondering if they will ever find a way to be normal again.  It's really the power of people that make one of these benefits the success.  The faces that show up to lend some support and encouragement....those are the faces that make Muskegon what it truly is.  I don't know of any benefit that ended with enough money to fix what's going on, but every single one of them instilled enough hope in the beneficiary that they can continue in their fight.  That's community.

I heard back from Alyssa, it seems that her story has taken another turn.  Since we last visited with her, she's been upped in her quest to become a transplant recipient.  Yes, it's a process for anyone to be "on the list".  There are a multitude of factors, but to get there is an accomplishment and it's also hopefully a fist glance at a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the need for a transplant.  There have been a few bumps in the road up til now, but over all the spirits are high and the message is strong.  Alyssa is not only looking for a kidney for herself, but advocating that anyone becomes an organ and tissue donor.  It's a simple process and upon your grand finale here on earth, what you won't be using anymore can go on to save the lives of others.

I met up with Alyssa and her mom Marge Nichols.  We met at DaVita Dialysis on Apple Ave to get an update on Alyssa and let you know how you can help if you'd like.  Take a listen.

A great update and a brave young woman to share her story.  That number to see if you're a match is Andrea at 616-685-5187.  We all hope the best for Alyssa, and if you'd like to know more about being an organ and tissue donor, you can click on the link below.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Serenity 2 - Life Changing Skills and Dynamics in Muskegon

To be a part of the launch.  It's a place that you like to be when you do what we do at Positively Muskegon.  To see seeds planted and ideas grow into real change and effective building of community and people, it's amazing to say the very least.  We've been at this a while now, and in all honesty, it's getting a little easier to find these upstarts, because as you meet people, you find more who are out to do something good too.

I first met Priscilla Agnew back last Summer when I took off to the north to meet the women of the Reeths-Puffer Neighborhood Improvement Association.  I tell ya, out of the hundreds of stories we've done, never have I met a group with so much character and charm.  Character and charm aside, they also do a lot of good for their surrounding community, and they also share each other's passion for work outside that one group. Lending time and talent to what's important to their supporting members.

Priscilla's mission is to help women in crisis.  She's at the beginnings of launching Serenity II - Life Changing Skills and Dynamics.  The long term plan is to own a home where women in crisis can come with their kids for some respite and some help to get back on their feet and take with them some skills they may have not had which may have led to their situation.  There is a building that's targeted for purchase in Muskegon.  There is a staff of professional people who will be there to help.  Counselors, care givers, social workers, admins and more.  All in the mindset that taking the steps to better the lives of those in the community will better all of us in the long run.

Back to the ground level.  That's where we are at this point.  There will be an inaugural fundraiser to help get this building secured and some funding happening for this outreach.  The grand affair will be held at 1478 E. Ellis Road, close to Target in Muskegon on November 21st.  You'll find champagne, Hors d'oeuvres, live music with Mr. Robert Moore and live and silent auctions.  This is the beginning of something wonderful, so please...plan on attending.

I caught up with Priscilla and a few friends at the event location.  Joining us were Joann Betts, Jessie Pearson and Ratan Khatri who's helping the women with the building for the home.  Take a listen.

One more.  There's always room for one more hand to hold on to.  One more group who's willing to go the extra mile to help those in need and one more chance for someone to better their lives.  We wish Priscilla and company the best as they get this project going.  We'll also be right here to watch as they grow and impact the lives of those they serve and continue to make Muskegon the community of miracles we all know it is!  Please, take some time and head out to the fundraising party and offer your help to the launch of Serenity II.