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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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

Read more
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.

Read more
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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Your Story
1:01 pm
Fri December 16, 2011

Did ANYTHING good happen in 2011?

Adam Prince flickr

The time for year-end lists and reflections is upon us!

By many measures 2011 has been a tough year around the state. The economy delivered another beating to Michigan, and many businesses and families have a long way to go before they start feeling a recovery.

So...that's the bad news.

But what's the good news?

Have there been things that have gone well this year for you and yours?

What are you thankful for in your community, your work, your family? 

We'll match some of these local stories with an NPR's year-end series.

Just click here to share your story.

Politics
5:05 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Panel sends UM union issue to judge, excludes Attorney General

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

Update 5:05

An administrative law judge will decide whether graduate students at the University of Michigan get the chance to try and form a union.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has decided to send the case on for a hearing.

The commission also ruled that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette cannot be a party to the case. Schuette has argued the commission should reject the unionization proposal.

Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation represents a group of students that’s opposed to unionizing. Wright criticized the commission’s decision to deny those students’ request to be a party to the case.

“The only parties that are going to be admitted to be full parties in that hearing are the university and the union, which both want the graduate students to be designated as public employees,” said Wright.

The commission said the students Wright represents can present evidence to the administrative law judge.

At issue is whether the students are public employees. If the judge rules they are, they’ll be allowed to hold an election.

-Allison Lyons, Michigan Radio Newsroom

9:32 AM

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission is expected to decide today whether graduate students at the University of Michigan can try to form a union. Some graduate students who also work as researchers and teachers have been trying to unionize for years.

Now, Michigan’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette, also wants to get involved.

So today at its public meeting the Commission will need to decide two things.

First, graduate students need to be employees to unionize. The Commission has to decide if the students are employees, and might pass the decision along to an Administrative Law Judge.

Second, the Commission has to decide if the Schuette can get involved.

In a letter to the commission Schuette says a graduate student union would make U of M less competitive, hurt the state, and that the Commission decided the issue thirty years ago.

His letter says it’s important Schuette be involved on behalf of the state to express these concerns. His office thinks it’s likely the Commission will allow him to take part as the matter moves forward.

Your Story
9:07 am
Fri November 25, 2011

Your Story: Once an abandoned liquor store, now a brewery

Barry Van Dyke outside what will soon be the Harmony Brewing Company
courtesy of Barry Van Dyke

Jack’s Liquor Store was never a beautiful building, even before it closed down and stood empty for more than 10 years. It was a dingy, generic convenience store on a corner. In May 2010, 33-year-old Grand Rapids resident Barry Van Dyke and two siblings bought it anyway.

The store sits on the border of the Uptown and Eastown neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Eastown has been known as a diverse, vibrant business district and the Van Dyke’s wanted to capitalize on the energy and traffic. They plan to open a brewery in the space soon, Harmony Brewery. But converting the formerly empty building has not been easy.

The Van Dykes came into the project with redevelopment experience. Together, with their father, they own a local property management company called Bear Manor. They’ve bought, fixed up, and rented or sold 13 residential and three commercial properties in Grand Rapids, mostly in the Uptown neighborhood.

These 16 buildings are just a dent in the at least 1,078 buildings the city of Grand Rapids has documented as abandoned. Barry Van Dyke isn’t surprised there are so many. He says the thing most people don’t realize about renovating empty places is how long it takes.

Read more
Culture of Class
9:03 am
Fri November 18, 2011

Listener Mailbag: What you are saying about our “Culture of Class” series

Word cloud put together with your "Culture of Class" comments.

We’ve been reading all your comments on our Culture of Class series (If we haven’t heard from you tell us your thoughts).

We’ve heard from people who have enjoyed the pieces and those who have offered, well, constructive criticism.

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Arts/Culture
9:30 am
Thu November 10, 2011

Factories in the neighborhood; remembering Mr. Rogers factory tours

Tom Link, owner of Link Bass and Cello, glues a label into a finished bass violin in his factory.
Sarah Alvarez

Today’s American manufacturing industry is a shadow of what it once was. It’s lost millions of jobs and thousands of factories.

Many of us know what some of those factories looked like in their heyday. Not because we visited the factories ourselves, but because we watched them on T.V., with Mr. Rogers as our tour guide. Mr. Rogers’ factory videos started airing in the early nineteen seventies and ran through the late nineties.

Through these kids watched how all kinds of things in the world around them were made, like construction paper and graham crackers.

These places were full of old looking metal equipment and conveyer belts lit by florescent lights. They were also full of people, workers were busy pumping out things like trumpets and shoes and flashlights. I wanted to know if the factories in some of these video's had survived all the upheaval in manufacturing over the last few decades.

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Politics
8:46 am
Thu November 10, 2011

Five things to know about workers' compensation

D.Clow flickr

Sweeping proposed changes to Michigan's Workers' Compensation law are working their way through the state government. Here's a recap on some basics about the system.

The basics

Most employers in the state must participate in the workers' compensation system.

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Economy
1:58 pm
Thu November 3, 2011

Poverty growing, changing around the Midwest

A report released today shows poverty is on the rise in Midwestern suburbs.
Mike McCaffrey flickr

Stereotypes of people living in poverty are persistent.

But Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution says these stereotypes are becoming less accurate.

A report released today by the Institution shows poverty is growing and affecting many it didn’t touch before.

Some highlights from the report:

  • Concentrated poverty rose in Midwestern cities, but the number of people living in very poor neighborhoods is rising faster in the suburbs.
  • Poverty still affects communities of color in the inner cities. But, over the last decade poverty has grown among the number of well-educated white people living outside cities.
  • In the last decade concentrations of poverty have crept back up. That's where 40 percent of the people in a particular neighborhood live below the federal poverty line. These kinds of concentrations were on the decline up until 2000.
  • These concentrations of poverty almost doubled in the Midwest over the last decade. 

See more highlights, and read the entire report, at the Brookings Institution website.

Inform our coverage: How has the growth in poverty touched your life?

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