Sarah Alvarez

Public Insight Journalist

Sarah is the Senior Producer/Public Insight Analyst at Michigan Radio. Her job is to encourage people to share what they know and become sources for Michigan Radio and to help tell those stories.

Before coming back to Michigan and jumping into journalism Sarah was a civil rights lawyer in New York and a consultant to social justice organizations in California. She graduated from the University of Michigan, Columbia Law School and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

She lives in Ann Arbor with her wonderful husband and three wonderful, busy kids.

 

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Education
10:43 am
Thu July 12, 2012

How do stereotypes shape your view of Detroit?

Young journalists in Detroit work to break stereotypes about what life in some of the city's under-reported neighborhoods is like.

Most of what people think they know about what poor people look like and what their problems are is clouded by stereotypes.

I met a group of young journalists in Midtown Detroit looking to paint a more accurate version of what life in a low-income community is really like. They write for a project called “Our life in the D.” Most of them are in high school and from neighborhoods in Detroit that don’t attract much money or attention.

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State of Opportunity

State of Opportunity is a multi-year reporting and community engagement project focused on how poverty affects children in Michigan. It will shed light on the challenges of growing up or raising kids while struggling to pay the bills and highlight the successes and the resilience of these families and the people who serve them.

Law
10:25 pm
Mon July 2, 2012

Is foster care in Michigan getting better?

Some of the games for young people at the Ruth Ellis House, a place for homeless youth.

Michigan’s foster care system is huge, the sixth biggest in the country. So many kids in the system were being abused, neglected or just forgotten about under the state’s care that a group called Children’s Rights sued the state to force it to change in 2006. Two years ago, the state entered into a court settlement and is now being monitored as it makes changes to its child welfare system.

Toni Williams grew up in foster care. She spent almost her whole life in the system, from the time she was a baby until a year ago when the state says she became too old for the system. Williams was 20. Under recent legislation some young people in Michigan can now receive transitional services until 21.

Williams just graduated from high school and is going to community college in the fall where she’s going to study to be a childcare provider and maybe work with the foster system.

“The reason why is because I know what it feels like, you know, to not have your family," says Williams. "You know what I’m saying? So it’s actually a good feeling to know that there’s someone out here who is willing to take a place for being a mother, or a father.”

Williams knows somebody needs to step up and be there for kids who need love, and guidance. The state for too long, was not stepping up.

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Education
12:00 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

How much does preschool matter?

A 14 year study of 500 Michigan children showed the effects of preschool can last all the way through 12th grade.
U.S Embassy Manila, Phillipines flickr

Preschool matters a lot. Particularly for low income kids. In Michigan, low income students with one year of preschool were found to do better in school than other low income kids, and positive effects of that early education were seen all the way through 12th grade.

Those results are from a 14-year study of 500 Michigan children. The study is part of a recent evaluation of the state Great Start Readiness Program.

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Economy
11:24 am
Thu May 10, 2012

Moving up the economic ladder in Michigan

Despite a tough state economy, people in Michigan are better able to move up the economic ladder than people in almost every other state. That's according to a report released by the Pew Research Center today.

The study found overall economic status doesn't change much over people's lives.

Erin Currier is from the Pew Center. She says the study did not look at why certain states did better than others. But she says there are some general lessons.

“Certain drivers of mobility are extremely powerful and those drivers include things like educational attainment, savings and asset building, and neighborhood poverty during childhood among others,” Currier.

The study found states with the most economic mobility are New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Auto/Economy
9:47 am
Wed March 28, 2012

To prepare workers, retraining programs try to predict the future

Wendy Whitmore, CEO of EMR Approved, and Penny Smith, who works in business development at EMR Approved. In 2009, Whitmore retrained her staff of 12 to turn her IT company into a company that deals with electronic medical records.
Preeti Upadhyaya

Unemployment numbers in the Midwest are bad. Not as bad as when the recession was at its worst, but there are still a lot of people looking for jobs. Even so, we keep hearing that some employers can’t find enough skilled workers. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says in his state alone, there are more than 77,000 job openings that can’t be filled.

There is really only one way to bridge that gap. People need training. And the way people are getting that training is changing.

Wendy Whitmore is the CEO of EMR Approved, a company in Chicago that works with doctors and hospitals that are making the switch to electronic medical records.

Four years ago, EMR Approved didn’t exist. Back then, Wendy Whitmore was running SSG Consulting, an IT consulting firm that wasn’t doing so well.

So she decided to try something new, and she took 12 of her employees with her.

Whitmore still runs SSG Consulting, and some of her employees straddle both businesses, but what they’re doing now is totally new.

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Cancer & Environment
8:55 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Suing over cancer (Part 4)

Kathy Henry's property was contaminated by Dow Chemical with a chemical called dioxin. The EPA says it's likely to cause cancer.
Photo by Kathy Henry

As part of our week-long series on cancer and the environment... we’re talking about going to court. Some people turn to the courts because they think pollution has made them sick, and they think they know who’s to blame. But, the courts aren’t always the best place to turn with these kinds of cases.

Kathy Henry lived along a river in the Midland area that Dow Chemical contaminated with a chemical called dioxin. The EPA says dioxin is likely to cause cancer. Henry’s property had high levels of the chemical. So she and a group of other people sued Dow. She was more than a little nervous that first day in court.

“I was a little overwhelmed, just really interested in watching the proceedings.”

But what does she feel like now?

”We’re just frustrated to the point where I have no respect for the process anymore.”

Henry’s frustrated because her case started nine years ago. Their case isn’t over yet, but it’s not looking good for them.

“We just wanted the courts to force Dow to basically buy our house so we could leave. And we couldn’t afford to just pack up and leave on our own.”

Henry’s group has not been successful in getting Dow to pay for any moves, or for medical monitoring to look out for future health problems.

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Cancer & Environment
8:55 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Mapping cancer cases in a small town (Part 2)

Claire Schlaff and her daughter-in-law Polly were motivated by the loss of their son and husband, Doug, to start a cancer mapping project. They're trying to piece together information about cancer cases in White Lake, a resort community in West Michigan.
Photo by Sarah Alvarez/Michigan Radio

All this week we're bringing you a special series on cancer and the environment.

Cancer is a scary enough word, and cancer cluster can sound even scarier. That term describes a place where more people have cancer than you’d expect to find in the rest of the population. But finding out if a cluster really exists and then getting something done about it is hard, really hard.

Claire Schlaff doesn’t know if there’s a cancer cluster in her small resort community around White Lake, Michigan on the western side of the state. She says she just wanted to know more about what might have caused her son, Doug to get cancer and die three years ago.

“He went to two major medical facilities and was even in a clinical trial. They were focused on treatment. They weren’t about doing research into what causes Ewing’s Sarcoma.”

Claire’s daughter-in-law Polly was also looking for answers to what had caused the disease. She’s Doug’s widow and the mother of his three boys.

“He was diagnosed when he was 33 and he passed away when he was 35. We were high school sweethearts. He was a high school counselor; he was a high school basketball coach. He was an athlete.”

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Your Story
11:24 am
Fri March 2, 2012

Lebanese Easter cookies; our winning recipe

Dianne Johns and her sister Holly, wearing babuskas and feigning suffering as they bake away
courtesy of Dianne Johns

As part of our Your Family Story series, we collected recipes that have been passed down within families.This is our contest winner, Dianne Johns of Lansing is our winner. We'd still like your stories about family culture and traditions. Add it here. 

The very best traditional Lebanese Easter food is the Easter cookies. They are called kaik. This is a two syllable word with a very subtle distinction between the syllables (kah-ick). The pronunciation is so similar to a slang word for a part of the male anatomy, that we rarely use it around the non-Lebanese.

I had never made kaik before. My sister, Holly made it once with the Lebanese-born cousins. They wouldn’t let her do anything but cook because they were afraid she would mess it up. Their cookies are perfection.

My sister Holly, her sister in law Linda, my friend Susie and I all got together at Holly’s house with my mother’s recipe, Linda’s experience, 10 pounds of flour, huge packages of mashed dates and walnuts, and a “What the hell” spirit. We were joined by another sister,Carol, and another Lebanese friend, Dolores, who is also an expert.

Living in Michigan is a real advantage when you are making Lebanese food. There are more Arabs in Michigan than any other state, so the ingredients for Lebanese food are usually available. These cookies call for finely ground mahleb (cherry pits) and anise. No problem. Just go to the bulk food store on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This recipe makes around 50 fairly large cookies.

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Your Story
1:17 pm
Thu March 1, 2012

The tradition of hunting in Michigan

Grant Fry of Lake Orion, pictured above (center) with his son and stepson.
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.

Your Family Story
10:56 am
Mon February 27, 2012

Arriving in a new land, alone at seventeen

Esther and Antonio Manzo on their wedding day in the mid 1940's.
courtesy of Carlos Manzo

Most Americans have ethnic and cultural roots outside of the U.S. We're asking you to share cultural traditions that are still important to you.

Changing Gears is looking for stories, recipes, songs, and pictures. We'll be collecting these stories  on the Your Family Story page. They'll also appear at changinggears.info and we'll even put some on the air. You can share your story here.

In the early 1900’s our widowed great grandmother, Soledad Perez, left the USA and went back to La Piedad in Mexico to raise her four daughters: Luz, Angelina, Esther & Carmen.

In the winter of 1948 my mother, Esther, a young newly married 17 year-old, found herself in a Mexican border town boarding a train headed for the USA. Her husband (my father Antonio Ramirez Manzo) gave her an address of a Catholic parish in Detroit, MI.

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Your Story
12:24 pm
Fri February 24, 2012

Your Story: If you love Michigan, give stuff away for free

Kedron Rhodes displaying some of the Michigan-centric designs he's giving away each day in February.
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.

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Midwest Migration
10:44 am
Thu February 9, 2012

Returning to the region after weathering the recession

Name: Kelly Nieman Anderson
Midwest Home: Ann Arbor, MI

Kelly and her husband moved to Mexico City in 2008 to keep him working in the auto industry. They returned to Ann Arbor in 2010. She shared her thoughts about what she missed while she was away and some lessons she learned in Mexico with Changing Gears' Midwest Migration project.

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Midwest Migration
11:00 am
Mon February 6, 2012

Comparing Mexico to Michigan: apples to oranges?

Name: Esperanza Rubio Torres
Midwest Home: Lansing, MI
New Home: San Luis Potosi, Mexico

I was making ends meet by working a couple waitressing jobs, the winter was coming, and I think I had gotten depressed and sort of refused to recognize it. My life was in an ugly rut. After much thought, I threw all my cares to the wind. I sold my car and I quit my jobs and got out of Michigan. It was really freeing and scary and amazing.

I can't give any real reason why I left, exactly, but I just felt like I was done with Michigan and Michigan was done with me. I ended up moving to Mexico with my parents who had decided to retire there.

Is it better here in Mexico than in Michigan? I think it is unfair to compare, it's apples and oranges.I am happier and healthier than I was in Michigan.

I have no plans to move back to the Midwest. But, I miss my friends and the family I left there. I still recall with great joy the beautiful moments I spent there, and the warmness of the people in the city I was born in. Lansing really is a gem, and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't really know Lansing. That said I do not miss the winter-so many grey months where I felt sad and depressed, shoveling, expensive produce and driving everywhere. I really love where I am now, and the challenges I'm facing. In the event that I did return, I know the Midwest, and Lansing in particular, would welcome me back with arms wide open.

Midwest Migration
11:13 am
Fri February 3, 2012

Midwest Migration: Is the grass greener in Atlanta?

Changing Gears' Midwest Migration” project is featuring the stories of former Midwesterners – people who have left the region since the recession of 2008.

Name: Conrad Schissler
Midwest Home: Ann Arbor, MI
New Home: Atlanta, GA

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Midwest Migration
9:29 am
Thu February 2, 2012

Leaving Michigan to make ends meet

Changing Gears' Midwest Migration” project is featuring the stories of former Midwesterners – people who have left region since the recession of 2008.

Name: Tanna Sherril
Midwest Home: Michigan
New Home: Oxford, MS

I initially left my home state of Michigan over the summer of 2009 so I could find summer work. I had spent the entire previous summer looking for a job in and around the county I had grown up in, but to no avail, mostly due to my inexperience.

I found a call-center job in Tulsa, OK. I was being paid well over minimum wage and made a sales commission. After three months, I made my way to Mississippi, following my father. I have since been attending University of Mississippi, and have been working in food service to make ends meet.

I wish I could move back to the Midwest. There's nothing really keeping me here once I am done with my degree. I basically just have to follow the jobs. If I could find a reasonably secure, well-paying job in Michigan or the metro-Chicago area, I would be overjoyed. I miss my family, and I miss the Midwestern culture. The winters are better in the South. But, I've never quite felt at-home here.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Add your story here.

Midwest Migration
10:00 am
Sat January 28, 2012

Leaving the Midwest – and the country – to teach

Changing Gears' Midwest Migration” project is featuring the stories of former Midwesterners – people who have left region since the recession of 2008.

Name: Ryan Brevard
Midwest Home: Kalamazoo, MI
New Home: Mexico City, Mexico

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Changing Gears
12:49 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Trickle down effects of changes in education, a student perspective

Wednesday we heard from some teachers at Saline High School in Michigan about changes in education over the past year. Today, we’ll hear from two students at the school about how these changes have trickled down to them. Christine Houle and Aaron Mukergee are the co-founders of a student group called STRIVE.

They work on school reform issues. Aaron says their voice, as students, has been lost in the debate over changes in education.

Saline is an affluent district and its high quality schools are known to draw people to the community. But Christine says even in Saline, funding cuts are affecting students in very real ways.

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Midwest Migration
2:30 pm
Mon January 23, 2012

Finding a job after age 55 felt like “swimming upstream”

Changing Gears' Midwest Migration” project is featuring the stories of former Midwesterners – people who have left region since the recession of 2008.

Name: Mary Beth Hetrick
Midwest Home: Westland, Michigan
New Home: Cambridge, MA

After 20 years with a non-profit organization I was let go as I “cost too much.” I spent many hours, days and weeks over a three-year period trying to get a job. As I was over 55 it seemed as if I was swimming upstream.

I could not find a job in Michigan. In the community I lived in stores began to go out of business. It was a very down economy. I visited my children in Boston and was able to get a job immediately. Better economy by far.

I think it is going to be years before Michigan finds an economy that will work. I do not think I will ever return.

Read more Midwest Migration stories on our dedicated page. If you or someone you know has left the Midwest add your own story.

Your Story
11:00 am
Fri December 30, 2011

2011 in review: the good, the bad, and the ugly

With a new year just days away we asked you to take stock of 2011. Michigan’s economy shows signs of improving, but times are still tough for many around the state.

So we decided to put the question directly to you. What was good about 2011? What didn’t go well?

These word clouds sum up the responses listeners and readers sent on Facebook or through the Public Insight Network.  You can view the word clouds by clicking on the image above.

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