Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Helping those in need rewarding

I dreaded getting up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, but I knew it would be worth it, not only for our readers but for personal reasons. As a young reporter in Dexter, I always enjoyed covering Christmas in April and I was looking forward to seeing how Christmas in Action generated that same community spirit in Saline and Milan. So, off I went for Milan to get to the Milan Area Fire Department by 8 a.m., where volunteers were being served breakfast before heading out to their job sites.

There I met Bob Grostick and Pam Palmieri, who talked to me about the various work to be done that day. Bob was leading a crew of seven to 10 volunteers at a home on North Street. They planned to prune trees, clean up trash on the property and help out in other ways. Bob estimated that if the 84-year-old homeowner had to pay for it herself, it would have cost her $2,500.

The first home I visited was on Anderson Street in Milan, where organizers would only identify the homeowner as “Carlos." He was getting a new bathroom, stove, washer, dryer and bed thanks to Christmas in Action. “It’s what he wanted to make his life better,” said Palmieri, organizer of the effort in Milan.

The homeowner, who friends said has been deaf since childhood and cannot speak, touched my heart as he helped volunteers haul away trash and do whatever he could to help those who were there to help him. Ross Gordon, the house captain for the job, said Carlos had many needs. Among them, he didn’t have a stove and was using only a microwave and George Forman grill to cook his food, which, Ross said, he got weekly from Compassion, a food bank run by Vineyard church in Milan. Palmieri said he didn’t have a bed and was sleeping on a couch.

I was touched by his story and felt compelled to share it with readers, who , I hoped would be inspired to help Christmas in Action after reading his story. The story is posted online and will be in the May 1 edition of The Saline Reporter and The Milan News-Leader. About 20 people were at his home Saturday, and Ross estimated that labor and materials would have cost Carlos $11,500 if it weren’t for the help from Christmas in Action. Carlos’ friend, Arbutus Bickerstaff, said he wouldn’t have been able to afford to hire someone to do the work since losing his job last fall. She said his father and brother have been helping him stay afloat financially for the last several months.

Bickerstaff said it best: "I think it reaches out to people in need of help," she said of Christmas in Action. "It lifts their spirits. It makes them realize there are still good, kind people out there who care about you.”

Indeed. I've seen the program flourish in other communities and put smiles on the faces of many people who were in need of a helping hand. In Dexter, every year, at least 200 volunteers would help spruce up a dozen homes or more. I was always touched by each homeowner's story and so grateful they were willing to share it so readers could understand their plight and importance of the help the program provided. This, in turn, often brought in more donations, from readers and local businesses, helping the program grow every year.

I was also touched that day by Ann and Don Esterbrook, who raised their family in Saline and spent much of their lives giving back to the community. On Saturday, it was their turn to receive help as 15 volunteers from Christmas in Action were at their home as part of the program that has promoted neighbors helping neighbors for the last 16 years in Saline and two years in Milan.

“It’s harder to receive than it is to give,” Ann Esterbrook told me as volunteers washed windows and spruced up her yard on State Road in Pittsfield Township. “It’s not very easy to think somebody has to do for you.”

Esterbrook, who had worked 30 years in food service, retiring from Saline schools in 1999, has health problems, as does her husband, Don. They have spent their retirement giving back to their church, St. Paul United Church of Christ in Saline, as well as St. Joseph Mercy Saline Hospital, and deserved the help, just as the others did.

And the homeowners who were referred to the program weren't the only ones who benefited today. The volunteers feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in helping others. “It’s just nice to help people who have been givers their whole lives,” said Christmas in Action volunteer Jack Winchester, who was serving as house captain at the Esterbrook home. Winchester, who has been a volunteer with the group since its inception, said he enjoys giving back to the community. “You can’t get any other feeling like this anywhere else,” he said.

If you haven't been part of this amazing organization as a volunteer, I urge you to support it financially or next year as a volunteer. For more information about the Saline group, visit the Web site

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Top 10 things that make Saline great

Saline is a special community to live in and that opinion is coming straight from the people who should know –– local residents, business leaders and public officials.

While the editors at CNN/Money Magazine had the good sense to recognize Saline as among the top 100 places to live in the country, it’s the people who call Saline home who personally know why the city earned the distinction.

Based on nominations from local residents, the staff at The Saline Reporter compiled a top 10 list and created a video featuring representatives from each of the top 10. From the schools and library to the hospital, retirement homes and parks to the area’s rich agricultural roots, we hope you agree with our thoughts. If you have different ideas or your own top 10 list, we invite you to post your comments on this blog.

Also, pick up a copy of the April 24 Saline Reporter. It includes a 24-page special supplement highlighting the 59 things that make Saline great.

The list below is in no particular order.

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Saline Recreation Center –– encouraging a healthy lifestyle. When it comes to physical activity, Saline-area residents enjoy the Saline Recreation Center. The recreation center, which recently completed a $1.5 million renovation, offers basketball, volleyball, racquetball and wallyball courts. An indoor 1/16-mile track, an outdoor fitness trail and 25-yard lap pool make it a busy place for local residents striving to stay fit and healthy, while also enjoying the fun and games recreational opportunities bring. The facility also has an aerobics studio, a free-weight room, cardiovascular equipment, and a Nautilus weight room, as well as four softball fields and a disc golf course.

Saline District Library –– the heart of the community. In 2006, Saline voters passed a 0.55-mill levy to help fund a $5.8 million expansion of the Saline District Library. The new-and-improved library opens May 27 after 10 months of operating offsite at Liberty School while the facility was expanded from 16,450 square feet to 33,000 square feet. Local residents are eagerly awaiting the opening of the new facility, which will provide a collection of more than 90,000 books, magazines, movies, CDs, audio books and more. The library is truly a gathering place in the community for people of all ages as it offers something for everyone, from computers with Internet access, special activities for teens and children, and resources for all to enjoy.

Saline School District –– educating Saline’s future citizens. The district is touted as among the tops in the state and receives remarkable support from the community as illustrated by the success of Community Project 2000, a $124.5 million bond passed by district voters eight years ago. The bond funded the construction of a new elementary school and a 500,000-square-foot high school. The district has a rich tradition of academic and athletic excellence.

Two Twelve Arts Center –– providing a creative outlet for all ages. The community has embraced the Two Twelve Arts Center, a nonprofit organization offering art classes, exhibits and encouraging creativity in local residents. It has everything, from knitting and pottery to drawing, basketry and painting, as well as numerous courses and camps for children. The center enriches lives as a gathering place for area artists and those interested in learning a new skill or hobby.

Evangelical Homes of Michigan –– providing a safe place to call home for Saline’s older residents. Residents appreciate the proximity of the Evangelical Homes of Michigan, which encompasses the Evangelical Home, Brecon Village, and Mill Pond Manor. The range of resident programs provide a safe, secure, and stimulating environment for Saline’s older community members.

Saline Area Chamber of Commerce –– tirelessly promoting businesses and organizing events to promote Saline. The busy chamber of commerce represents local merchants, and the many successful businesses and strong industries that make Saline a well-rounded municipality. Its administrators and board members work hard to celebrate local businesses and the community through its business enterprise awards and Saline Salutes programs, while educating its membership on issues affecting the business community through breakfast talks and luncheons.

Rich agricultural roots and active farm community make Saline a diverse community to live in. Farmers help sustain the community and feed the nation. The active 4-H clubs pay homage to Saline’s rich agricultural roots and inspire a second generation of farmers. And with the Washtenaw County Farm Council Grounds just minutes away from downtown, residents can enjoy livestock auctions, antique shows, carnivals and competitions year around.

St. Joseph Mercy Saline Hospital –– ranked tops in the nation. Saline hospital, which two years running has received recognition as being one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation, has served the community for more than 50 years. Built in 1959, the 74-bed facility boasts an award-winning 24-hour emergency department, a newly expanded and renovated nuclear medicine suite and a clinical laboratory. Plans are in the works to develop an imaging center.

Lots of festivals –– providing entertainment and activities, while promoting Saline’s downtown. From the Saline Celtic Festival to Summerfest, from Harvest of the Arts to the Saline Fair, the community holds dear the events that draw its residents together. That includes a parade, whether it’s the Memorial Day parade, the Homecoming parade, the fair parade or holiday parade. These annual events provide opportunities for local folks to congregate and to celebrate their hometown pride.

Saline parks system –– encouraging passive and active recreation. Salinians cherish their park system, which is extensive and varied. Within Saline there are 11 public parks that cover 190.54 acres. Fish or just stroll along the Saline River at Curtiss Park. Walk the dog at Millpond Park’s dog park. Catch a Little League ballgame or have a picnic at Brecon Park. Take a walk in the woods at Wilderness Park. There is a park, it seems, that fits the interests of everyone in Saline.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Be a responsible citizen

Voters in Saline and Milan will get an opportunity tonight in Saline and Wednesday in Milan to learn more about their future school leaders, and I hope they take advantage of it.

The Saline Reporter is hosting a Meet the Candidates' Night 7 p.m. at Saline Middle School. Reporter Sue G. Collins will moderate. The editorial staff at The Reporter has formulated some questions and has received a few from the community. Milan's event will be hosted by the school district and is set for 7 p.m. at the high school's performing arts center. We hope the turnout at both will be good, although often it's not because parents are so busy with their children's activities, work and other commitments.

I plan to video both events, so voters who are unable to make it can see the candidates and listen to their responses to issues affecting the school district. I believe the local cable TV video crew will be there, as well. Combined with our candidate profiles in today's Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader, I hope the coverage will help voters make an informed decision.

I urge area residents to be responsible citizens. Take advantage of these opportunities and cast an informed vote May 6. Remember, you have a say in this election and an important role in setting the direction for the school district's future.

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