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Families & Community

A new voice at State of Opportunity

May 13, 2014

I've lived in Michigan for five years, reporting on public health, urban life and community development for the Detroit Free Press. Those five years happen to have been some of the state's worst, economically and spiritually.

How one teen escaped gang life in Detroit

May 7, 2014

Jennifer Guerra from the State of Opportunity team talks to one young man who says advice from his mom and hope for his brothers made a difference in his decision to leave gang life behind.

Helping Michigan's homeless and runaway youth

May 2, 2014
Doug Coombe / Issue Media Group

Children make up a significant portion of Michigan's 86,000 homeless people. How are we helping young runaway and homeless youth have better outcomes?

More than 38,000 children in Michigan are living on their own, left to their own devices and fending for themselves (American’s Youngest Outcasts, 2010). The common national number is 1.7 million, often quoted when talking about homeless youth under the age of 18.

State of Opportunity Reporter Dustin Dwyer shares his thoughts on why a viral video of hockey player Jordin Tootoo giving his stick away to an eagerly awaiting kid makes him sad. It has to do with the young woman in the upper right part of the frame.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

At the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, 11-year-old Brianna Allgood is being tested by a machine called a spirometer. It measures her breathing.

Brianna has asthma. Sometimes she has difficulty breathing. Most of us would have a hard time imagining what that’s like.

“It feels like your chest starts tightening and you’re like and you can’t really breathe much air,” Brianna said. 

Vickie Elliot is Brianna’s grandmother. She says she finds herself checking in on Brianna – a lot – just to make sure she’s breathing okay.

“Having a child like that in the home is scary because anything could happen,” Elliot said.

Brianna is luckier than some kids with asthma. Her family can get her to the clinic. They now know how to treat the asthma.

Elliott says it’s made a difference.

Google Maps

People are getting poorer in Oakland County.

This is the major finding of a report released by Lighthouse of Oakland County today. After analyzing census data, Lighthouse President John Ziraldo says that between 2005 and 2012, the number of people living under the federal poverty line has grown about 77 percent. That's 118,000 people now living in poverty in a county whose overall population hasn't changed much in the same time frame, even if the socioeconomics of the people has.

On top of a rise in people living in poverty is a rise in the working poor – people whose income isn't enough to meet basic needs. Ziraldo says these folks often don't qualify for government programs, but they still need help paying bills and getting enough to eat.

"For all of Oakland County, there's probably between 15 and 20 percent of our overall population that really struggles, every month, to meet their basic needs," he says.

Oakland County is expensive, he says. It's the wealthiest county in Michigan, and the Michigan League for Public Policy says the amount of money a three-person family needs to cover the basics is $47,000.

Losing a child is one of the greatest blows anyone will bear.

It would be so understandable if that parent crumbles into his or her grief – becomes filled with sorrow and anger.

But when Vic Strecher lost his 19-year-old daughter, Julia, to heart disease, that experience of being "broken open" sent him on a voyage through philosophy, biology, psychology, literature, neuroscience, Egyptology, and more.

Strecher has turned that journey of self-discovery and growth into a remarkable graphic story.

It's called “On Purpose: Lessons in Life and Health from The Frog, the Dung Beetle, and Julia.”

*Listen to our interview with him above.

"Beating the odds doesn't just happen." In the two years since Dustin Dwyer's been reporting for the State of Opportunity project, he's finding breaking the cycle of poverty involves more than luck. We're starting a series on people who've broken the cycle and the person who helped them get ahead. Today, Dustin speaks with Jamie Alexander, a social worker who credits her grandparents with letting her know that "not going to school was not an option."

Flickr user afagen / Flickr

As we get together with our families to celebrate the holidays, we often think about those who are no longer with us. For many, a trip to a cemetery to visit loved ones is easy, but for others, it’s impossible.

For families with relatives buried in the Beth Olem cemetery in Detroit, they can’t go pay their respects.

The cemetery is hidden within GM’s Poletown plant, and is only open to the public two days every year: the Sunday before Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

People are able to visit the cemetery if they go on a private tour offered by the Michigan Jewish Historical Society. We heard from some of the visitors today.

Listen to the full interview above.

We've been calling this story, State of Opportunity meets StoryCorps. Get ready to be moved. Meet Bentley. He's a rambunctious five-year-old at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School. Zak Rosen and filmmaker Andrea Claire Maio continue our series on the school and its students. In part five of the series, hear how everyone benefits from inclusive education.

Carhartt was made in Michigan.
Carhartt / Facebook

Carhartt got its start in southern Michigan when the company's founder, Hamilton Carhartt, set out to make the best pair of overalls he could for railroad workers.

The company is still family owned and remains in Michigan.

We spoke with the company's current CEO, Mark Valade. He's Hamilton Carhartt's great-grandson.

Listen to our interview with him above.

When it comes to diversity, who counts?

That's the challenging question raised by my next guest in a piece she wrote for the Huffington Post.

Borne out of some important insights that dawned on her as she stood in front of a class and really listened to her students.

Martha Jones is a professor of history, law, Afro-American and African studies at the University of Michigan.

We spoke with her about her piece.

Listen to the interview above.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report paints a bleak picture of the well-being of African-American children in Michigan.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has studied the economic and societal challenges facing children for a long time.

The foundation’s latest study finds Michigan’s children face more challenges than most American children. 

But when the study breaks its findings down by race, Michigan's African-American children face substantially greater problems.

New parents are seeing the benefits of having social workers and health care professionals come to their homes to offer hands-on lessons in early childhood development. But what happens when funding for these programs dries up? This week, on State of Opportunity, Dustin Dwyer takes a closer look at infant and early childhood home visiting programs in Michigan.

What's your "return on engagement?"

Mar 10, 2014

On the State of Opportunity blog, we're gearing up for Michigan Radio's Spring Challenge by featuring our most popular posts. We think of this as showing our supporters a "return on engagement." Here's how we're using your contributions to tell the stories of Michigan's most vulnerable population: children living in poverty.

Failure:Lab / YouTube

It was Bill Gates who declared,"It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure."

And it's good to realize that we all fail at times. It's just that most of us try to cover that up, or, at the very least, we don't broadcast our failures.

But that’s not how it works at Failure:Lab.

It’s a program designed to get us thinking about the meaning of failure – to realize that failure happens to everyone and to inspire us to take intelligent risks.

You can see our past Failure:Lab posts here.

Today, we hear about Ellie Rogers’ failure.

She works for leading furniture maker Herman Miller. She has an eight-year-old daughter, Campbell, and has found personal struggles to be overwhelming at times.

This is the story that Ellie shared at Failure:Lab Grand Rapids on May 23, 2013 at Wealthy Theatre.

Check it out below, or at this link.

R. Kurtz / flickr

We're getting ready for a new project here at State of Opportunity, and we're excited about it.

We'll take the experiences of families in towns and cities around the state and turn them into useful news – the kind of news that usually travels between two people when they talk about the way things really work.

Part of what makes this project work are stories and insights from you and the people you know. 

Right now, we're looking for stories about taxes.

Catch up with State of Opportunity this weekend

Feb 28, 2014
Stew Dean / Flickr

There's a lot happening in the courts, education, popular culture, and technology  impacting Michigan's kids. Here's what we're talking about on the State of Opportunity website

The impact of the challenge to Michigan's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage will extend to definitions of family. The federal court will hear arguments related to adoption, parenting, and family formations that will add another contour to how the legal landscape approaches same-sex marriage. 

  Transcript: 

STATE OF OPPORTUNITY: documentary

[Dustin Dwyer:] Children’s brains do not come preprogrammed.

[Jack Shonkoff:] Literally, our environment shapes the architecture of our brain.

[Dustin Dwyer:] If that environment is dominated by the stress of poverty, and a lack of learning opportunities, the brain is physically changed.

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