your story

Former Marine Adam Fields, 27, of Modesto, Calif., has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.
Michael Short / Center for Investigative Reporting

We've written before about the "unfinished business" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... caring for thousands of vets who are coming home after multiple tours with symptoms of PTSD or other disabilities.

Vets seeking benefits to help with their disabilities can face long wait times.

Thanks to a new analysis released today by the Center for Investigative Reporting, we can get a sense for how long those wait times are.

Josh Eikenberry

Changing Gears is partnering with Michigan Radio to collect stories about how people are planning ahead in light of the recession. 

Josh Eikenberry writes:

Because I got through college, I’ll probably be slightly better off economically than my parents, who only graduated high school.

On the other hand, the generation after me is doomed; college tuition and a rapidly changing economy requiring less workers means no chance to improve or make money, and the (probable) lack of a social safety net just adds to the gloomy picture facing my generation’s kids.

A second income is essential to any household. We have three. I work, my wife works, and on the weekends I work as a photographer. I’m iffy about kids, primarily because I don’t think I could realistically afford them. Maybe someday I’ll have enough saved to buy a house, but I’m not holding my breath. 

All I ever wanted was an office job. I have that now, so now I just want to pay of my debt and enjoy my life with my wife.

 

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Angela Dugan

Michigan Radio is partnering with Changing Gears to share stories about how people are planning ahead and how their expectations have changed in light of the recession. You can read those stories here.

Angela Dugan writes:

I am doing better than my parents, mostly because I am not a stay at home mother like my mother was. I also make more money than my husband.

We are working on starting a family, and I am struggling with the decision to stay at home or continue to work. It is both a question of what’s feasible economically, and what is best for our children.

My biggest concern is being able to afford a lifestyle that we are happy with if I choose to stop working once we have children. I make more money than my husband, so it would be a big change unless he ends up being the one that stays home. We are currently renting a home we could not sell, but at a huge loss, and our new home needs a lot of repair work.

To some extent, I feel that even though I’m doing the best I can to invest wisely and save as much as I can, a lot of variables are simply out of my immediate control.

You can help us cover this topic by sharing your story. How are you planning for what comes next? Tell us by following this link.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Changing Gears is partnering with Michigan Radio to collect stories about how people are planning ahead in light of the recession. You can read more stories about how Midwesterners' expectations are changing at the Changing Gears tumblr blog, http://chgears.tumblr.com.

Here's what some Midwesterners are saying:

"I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but we couldn’t have just one source of income and raise a family. Our fix? I opened a day care in our home. I treat it as my small business – which it is - and raise our child along with 3 others in her age range." -Ella Bensen

Michigan Radio and Changing Gears are collecting stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and we’d like your help. What’s on your mind as you plan for what comes next?

You can follow this link to share your thoughts.

We want to hear from you – whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a home, sending kids to college, or just starting a career. If you’re retired, have you had to make some adjustments?

Jennifer Knightstep was a researcher in the media archives at General Motors until she was laid off in 2008. Her first reaction was fear.

“I panicked for a few minutes, and then I tried to think of what I wanted to do next,” she says. “There’s not a big demand for archivists in Metro Detroit or anywhere else for that matter.”

So instead of trying to get a similar job, Knightstep decided to go in a new direction.

“I thought maybe I should start trying to do what I really wanted to do, which was be a writer.”

When she filed for unemployment, she learned about No Worker Left Behind, a program in Michigan that offered up to $10,000 in tuition for degrees in emerging industries. NWLB was scaled back in 2010 following federal funding cuts.

When most people think about growing fields, freelance writing is not the first job that comes to mind, but Knightstep made it work.

As part of the Environment Report's week-long series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, we'll be highlighting some powerful stories of hope and loss in the words of those touched by cancer in Michigan. You can read more Michigan cancer stories here. How has cancer affected your life?

As part of the Environment Report's week-long series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, we'll be highlighting some powerful stories of hope and loss in the words of those touched by cancer in Michigan. You can read more Michigan cancer stories here.  How has cancer affected your life?

All week long The Environment Report has been airing stories exploring the link between cancer and the environment we live in.

The series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, will run through this Friday.

We felt the series would not be complete without hearing from the people who are affected by it.

So through the Public Insight Network, we asked you to share your experiences.

So far, we've received dozens of entries from all over Michigan. Some tragic, some hopeful - each one represents a different, and personal perspective on the experience of having or knowing someone with cancer.

Here are some exerts from the blog:

"I have lost my partner. I am heartbroken that our young daughter has lost her dad and will miss out on all that his amazing heart and mind offered to her." - Amy Lobsiger

"My husband Joe died of cancer on his favorite holiday, July 4, in 2010. He was 39, I was 33. We had the gift of cancer. Cancer isn’t something that most people would consider a gift, but really, we did." -Amy Scott

"It has made me a different person because I don’t wait to enjoy things until I retire. I live now. I save for retirement just in case, but I don’t want to have any regrets no matter how long I live!" -Jill Schultz

You can see photos and read those stories on our Michigan Cancer Stories Tumblr page.

And we'll continue to collect these stories.

How has cancer impacted your life? Tell us here.

As part of the Environment Report's week-long series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, we'll be highlighting some powerful stories of hope and loss in the words of those touched by cancer in Michigan. You can read more Michigan cancer stories here. How has cancer affected your life?

As part of the Environment Report's week-long series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, we'll be highlighting some powerful stories of hope and loss in the words of those touched by cancer in Michigan. You can read more Michigan cancer stories here. How has cancer affected your life? Tell us your story.

In July, the idea of Chloe’s hair loss was difficult—difficult for Chloe, difficult for Kip and me.

The other day, the kids were at my parents’. My daughter Martha was brushing her long hair and working on some pretty tough tangles. “I HATE my hair,” she exclaimed, in a dramatic fashion.

Chloe looked up at her, smiled confidently and said, “I LOVE my hair.”

It felt like she had come full circle.

As part of the Environment Report's week-long series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, we'll be highlighting some powerful stories of hope and loss in the words of those touched by cancer in Michigan. You can read more Michigan cancer stories here. How has cancer affected your life? Tell us your story.

My wife battled serious recurrent spinal meningiomas for over 30 years (she died in 2008). She lived with intense unrelenting pain that worsened as she became progressively more handicapped.

Her disease took an enormous toll on me emotionally. I felt helpless against this devastating incurable disease and hated seeing her suffer so badly. I knew the disease would kill her, but I couldn’t stop this slow-motion disaster.

This is the last, best photo I have of us together. We’re at our youngest son’s July 2007 wedding in eastern Germany.  Remarkably we both were able to smile. 

Grant Fry

Grant Fry of Lake Orion sent us a story as part of our culture project on the importance of hunting in his family.

Today is the first day mentored hunting licenses are available in Michigan for children 10 years-old and younger.

Fry shared his reflections on hunting in Michigan as a boy and a man (share your story here):

As a boy growing up in Northern Michigan, hunting season, especially firearms deer season was a tradition.

Going hunting that first time and taking your first deer were as important as getting your drivers’ license. The public schools closed as teachers and students went into the woods.

"Mister" is dropped in deer camp and you can address all the adults by their first name. The expectation is you are a man and you are expected to do a man's work and take on a man's responsibility.

That has been and continues to be passed down through the generations.

I've been out hunting on opening day of firearms season for 42 years.

The anticipation builds up at dinner the night before-listening and telling stories of past hunts and past hunters. Then, there’s getting up at 4:30 in the morning to a big breakfast and lots of coffee.

Seeing the joy on your son's face as he takes his first deer and appreciates the transition he's made and seeing him accept the responsibilities of becoming a man.

Work has forced me out of Northern Michigan.

I've lost contact with some friends. My two boys are even more distributed due to out of state work and can't always make it back to hunt.

It is a loss.

photo courtesy of Kedron Rhodes

A lot of people like where they live, but there are also people like Kedron Rhodes-who love, love, love, where they live.

The 34 year-old professional designer lives outside of Grand Rapids.

He just can't think of enough ways to show his appreciation for Michigan. But he's trying. One of his ideas is to run a design challenge of sorts. 

Each day in February, Rhodes is making a new graphic design and posting it online.

Anyone can download the designs and use them as they see fit.

courtesy of Jeremy Peters

As the election season begins, it almost seems politicians are obligated to tout small business as one way to stave off further economic collapse and bring back the American Dream for all of those whom it has left behind.

Small business overall does have a tremendous economic footprint in this country, employing half of all private sector employees, by government estimates. But small business is also a really big umbrella. The United States Small Business Association includes any firm with less than 500 employees a small business. It’s easy to see how a business with 500 employees could be critical to a town.

Then there are people like Laura Cowan. She hopes to be a small business owner, but she’s not there yet. Cowan runs a green, affordable parenting blog out of her home, and patches together paying work while she balances full-time care of her young daughter. She is what has been called a “micro-preneur.” These are people who run very small businesses, typically with only one, or at most a handful, of employees.

In developing countries, micro-enterprise has received great attention for helping move some people, especially women, out of abject poverty. In this country, that strategy has been tried, but has worked less well. One reason is because starting a small business is very high risk, and pretty low-reward. There are people who begin these types of businesses because they have no other way to support themselves, but there are also a lot of people looking to make a change in their lives and thinking starting a business might be a good idea.

It is less certain what the effects of micro-enterprises are on the economy in this country. They haven’t been studied anywhere near as much as small businesses. It’s not clear how often micro-enterprises turn into flourishing small businesses, how often they stay small, and how often they fail.

Here are portraits of three different Micro-entrepreneurs in Michigan:

courtesy of Brendan Doms

Brendan Doms has launched more than a dozen ventures. Most of these are tech websites designed to do something new and useful. By his own admission, none of the start-ups have been particularly successful. Nevertheless, he’s getting ready to launch the next one “within the next month.”

Doms is a serial entrepreneur. These are people who start businesses again and again, apparently impervious to outside pressures like a bad economy, tight lending environment, or failure.

Ray Gauss II / flickr

Changing Gears is kicking off a new feature. Inspired by Smith Magazine, and possibly Ernest Hemingway, we're asking people to share stories of what the economic transformation of the industrial Midwest means to them. But there's a catch. We want these stories in six words.

Listen to the result of our request for stories about the housing crisis. Take Mary Mary Beth Matthew's submission for example, "2007 bought ex's half, 2011 underwater." Set to music, it's creative, poignant, and even funny.

You can also contribute to our current six word story-your "Plan B."

Six-word poets: Marcus Bales, Amanda Thomas, Becky McRae, Matt Lechel, Christopher Lada, Manuel Magana, and LaGaspa McDougal.

Music by Steve Osburn, produced by Cade Sperling.

courtesy of Backstage Pass MI

Detroit’s shrinking population is well-documented, as are the many incentives offered to people to move back into the city center. These efforts are a mix of hyping what Detroit can become and offering economic incentives for those willing to give it a try. A group of Jewish organizations in Metro Detroit has been using the same formula to keep young Jewish people from leaving the area.

The Jewish population in Michigan is less than 1 percent, according to the U.S Census. The overwhelming majority of those 87,000 people live in Metro Detroit, in an area east of M5 and north of Interstate 696, according to Joshua Goldberg of the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit. But the area’s Jewish population has been falling steadily for at least the last few decades. Mirroring a trend in the state overall, in the Jewish community the young people are leading the march out of state.

Arthur Siegal wants to reverse this. The 50-year-old attorney and Wayne State graduate conceived of the Back Stage Pass MI program. The four-year program started last year selects promising Jewish high school students before their junior year and culminates in a Detroit internship placement after the student’s sophomore year of college. Along the way, the program takes its cohort of around 20 students a year to cultural and social events designed to show Detroit at its best.

“These young people are really wanted in this community, they are going to be sought after here,” says Siegal. “There are amazing opportunities for people who stay. Land is cheap, labor is cheap, and the opportunities to do your own thing and make your own mark are unparalleled. ”

photo submitted by Kim Sapkowski

Going to college keeps getting more expensive. In 2011 the College Board estimated it would cost $20,000 a year, on average, for students to go to an in-state, public university.

Mercedes Mejia

When a hand full of Cass Technical High School graduates from the class of '78 failed to call their fellow classmate for a field trip to the old school, Tony Lockard turned to social media.

Lockard  posted a message on Facebook calling for fellow graduates to come out and bid farewell to the old building one last time. He says he got message from people from all over the country.

"One man said that he lived in four different continents, and he’s met somebody from Cass in four different continents. So Cass Tech touches not just locally, it’s a global reach."

Since June, demolition of the almost 100 year old building has been in progress.  The facade of the building facing Second Avenue is the only thing still standing. Lockard hopes people will visit the site one last time and reunite with old friends.

Arvella Watkins says the building was special. She's a '65 Cass Tech graduate.

"Even now I have dreams about going to Cass and running up and down stairs and riding the elevators. ”

You can see video of the old school and hear interviews with Cass Tech graduates, including an interview with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White.

Sasha Acker

It happened a year ago. An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy spilled more than 840,000 gallons of tar-sands oil into Talmadge Creek which flows into the Kalamazoo River.

People were evacuated, the Red Cross set up shelter, and officials were wondering if the spill might reach Lake Michigan (it never did).

Sasha Acker is a social worker, grad student, and activist living in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

She sits on the board of the Kalamazoo Peace Center. We asked people to share their experiences with the Enbridge oil spill on our Facebook page.

Acker wrote:

I was skeptical when Enbridge put out a press release that said that the oil was all cleaned up, so I went to a spot along the river near Battle Creek. I went with a group that picked up gobs and gobs of oil and video taped it.

The news story Acker saw was published in August of last year. She told us that her chance to visit the river came this past spring when activists from the Yes Men  contacted her about a planned media hoax to draw more attention to the Enbridge oil spill.

Ann Arbor Public Library

Making money as an artist can be tough, but Jerry Berta made a good living selling his clay pieces for decades.

He and his wife Madeline Kaczmarczyk, also an artist, weathered the Midwestern recession of the early 1980’s and even built a house in Rockford, Michigan where they still live. Berta said they felt like rich people. They made enough money to buy and sell a couple of restaurants along the way.

“It was so easy when we started out. We started out on a street in Ann Arbor,” Berta said. “We set up, we sold stuff, and we were in business! Now, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Even successful artists, they’re having a hard time making it.”

They later sent two kids to ivy-league colleges. But when the 2008 recession hit things changed.

“It had been happening slowly. You could just feel it,” Berta said. “People were being really tight with their money, and art, you don’t really need art. It’s changed, and I have adapted.”

Submitted by Amber Turner

Family bonding can be a reward for working in a family business. But there is also plenty Amber Turner worries about.

The restaurant industry took a beating in the economic downturn. Although some Wall Street analysts expect restaurants to pick up soon, a lagging restaurant industry makes Turner more than a little nervous. In her family, any trouble is multiplied.

Designer Felicia Ferrone worked as an architect for six years in Milan, Italy before returning home to Chicago a year and a half ago. She now runs her own design practice and wishes Chicago had more of a reputation as a design center.

Ferrone thinks what has kept Chicago from being better known is its Midwestern work ethic.

“Everyone is just busy working, instead of clamoring for attention,” she said.

Photo submitted by John George

For the past few days, we asked people whether they thought Detroit's image was on the rebound. We heard about the best and worst in the city. And people shared their visions of Detroit's future. Some people chose to show us their own Detroit in pictures.

Photo submitted by Gary Stock

Gary Stock calls himself a member of the “creative class.”He is a longtime resident of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Changing Gears is wrapping up its first week as part of the Public Insight Network. Through PIN, everyone can sign up to become a source for our coverage. It’s kind of like a citizen news wire.

To put your personal experiences in the spotlight, we’re introducing a new daily feature called Your Story. We’re letting you tell how Midwest’s economic transformation is changing your life.

Stephen Henderson / flickr

Michigan Radio is becoming a part of the Public Insight Network. Just what is the Public Insight Network?

Well, it's our way to give you a microphone and get your voice heard.

You might contribute to stories on Michigan Radio or those broadcast by  Changing Gears, a radio collaboration between Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago, and Ideastream Cleveland.