Good Neighbors Honored in Ferndale
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 14, 2018)
Ferndale, MI – “While the climate created by national politics divides people, Ferndale comes together,” said Ferndale School Board President Jackie Hart at Tuesday night’s Citizens for Fair Ferndale Good Neighbor Awards. “Our lives are like a knot,” she said. “the harder you try to pull the ends apart, the stronger our bond becomes.”
Hart listed values shared by Citizens for Fair Ferndale, and members of the community that were being honored. Values that included inclusion, civility, and the fair and equal treatment for all.
This year’s awards ceremony happened to fall on the 20th anniversary of world kindness day. County Commissioner Helaine Zack helped welcome the winners and supporters with a list of things people can do to be kind, including “go outside your comfort zone to make someone smile,” and “reach out to a family member you’ve not spoken to in a while.”
For Stacey Jamison, Lindsay Gonska, and Makisha Reed reaching out to make lives better is a day to day occurrence through the work they do with young people.
Jamison is heavily involved in the music program at Ferndale Schools and in the Zion Lutheran Choir. Though some of this is paid work, much is volunteer. “It’s the above and beyond good neighbor attitude that is why she is getting an award,” said Mary Schusterbauer.
“She makes sure people are involved,” Schusterbauer said. “You could just see Stacey’s face light up when she talks about the kids she’s helped over the years.”
In addition to helping kids, Jamison has knitted together bonds of community through the Ladies Knitting Circle and Resistance League. This group combines knitting with fundraising, meeting once a month to hear a presentation and support a cause such as Planned Parenthood and ACLU.
“It’s a real honor to be part of these kids lives and to be a mentor,” Jamison said as she accepted the award.
Gonska is a teacher in Ferndale Schools who has gone above and beyond that role. “She started Blessings in a Backpack after first seeing it while substitute teaching in Royal Oak,” said Gigi Vanderweele.
The program provided 225 kids each week with a backpack of food to take home for the weekend. Money is raised through events and donations. Food is bought at a discount through Meijer’s. And volunteers at Life Skills Village assemble the care packages. “Nothing is worse that hearing a child is hungry,” Gonska had told Vanderweele, adding that it was touching to see people sharing their food with their friends.
Reed helps young people as well. Not by feeding their bellies, but by feeding their souls. She created Greater Girls 1 as a way to do outreach and mentorship for young ladies in the community. Reed was “the honor student everybody thought could do no wrong,” but then found herself pregnant with twins. Though it was hard, she completed high school, college and grad school.
“Girls feel safe coming to her and sharing things with her,” said Gigi Vanderweele. “She doesn’t judge. She has been in their shoes.”
Greater Girls 1 also raises money for personal hygiene bags for girls that can be picked up in the offices at Ferndale High and Oak Park High. This means all girls have access to the products they need to get through each month.
Beth O’Connor also works to improve the lives of children in her job as Director of Programs with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. She was honored for her passions outside of work as well. Karen McElgin introduced O’Connor, praising her parenting skills including as an adoptive parent.
“There are many reasons Beth deserves this award, but I chose to focus on her work for the library,” McElgin said. For over 10 years O’Connor has served with the Friends of the Ferndale Library to raise money for programming, events and materials that keep the Ferndale Area District Library a critical part of the community.
“Imagine Ferndale without all the benefits the library has to offer. We can look at the library and see all that Beth has done,” she said. She shared a story of when O’Connor was a little girl and her parents put a Holly Hobby poster in her room. It said “Love is the little things you do.”
“I just really put that to heart,” O’Connor said.
Helping adults in need is also an important part of being a good neighbor. Doug Gillespie has been volunteering at food banks for 7 years, and for the past 18 months has been leading the pantry at Renaissance Vineyard Church.
“He is a good listener because he listens and he consults,” said Mary Schusterbauer as she presented his award. “He seeks input but deflects the credit… Much of what he does is hidden, the hours of cleaning up and setting up.” In addition to running the food pantry, Gillespie is the leader of his neighborhood association, a group that in itself encourages good neighborliness.
Along with helping others comes the trait of being graceful enough to accept help when one needs it. Carol Jackson has demonstrated both. Bridget Deegan-Krause introduced Jackson by listing some of the ways she is involved in the community, including care-taking of the Hero’s Memorial Garden, advocating for the Ferndale Literacy Project, fostering rescue animals, and helping connect others through the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce. “The word that came up the most has been ‘connector,'” Deegan-Krause said.
Jackson recently went through chemo therapy for breast cancer. “She openly shared the ups and downs of this journey on social media. “She authentically shows up for people and creates bonds,” Deegan-Krause said, quoting Mayor Dave Coulter.
Also demonstrating vulnerability and courage is Grace Bacon. Since 1977 Bacon has been an activist for transgender equality and visibility. At that time she moved to the Ferndale area and started Crossroads, a support group for cross-dressing and transgender individuals. “From 1977 to as recently as two weeks ago, Grace has spoken out to crowds,” said Angela Lippard who presented the award.
Lippard quoted Laverne Cox, saying “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.” She thanked Bacon for being a role model, and carrying on that activism for older LGBT adults who face going back in the closet in order to find safe end-of-life care, and for transgender veterans.
Helping women, men and children nurture the confidence it takes to express themselves is the main reason why Rouge MakeUp and Nail Salon was awarded the Good Neighbor Business Award. Rouge is run by sisters Jenny Bultovic and Cheryl Salinas-Tucker.
They show that “beauty is accessible, fun and safe,” said Bridget Deegan-Krause. “I so want the community to understand how special these women are and how important they are to the community. “They used the word safe over a dozen times when I talked to them,” Deegan-Krause said. “For some, beauty is really complicated. For some beauty is really complicated due to hurtful messages. For some beauty is really complicated to to illness. For some beauty is really complicated due to an understanding of one’s gender and identity… Cheryl and Jenny help people to embrace their beauty and feel radiant.”
While beauty can be enhanced with cosmetics and self-care, it can also happen through doing the dirty work. The founders of the Ferndale Rat Patrol were honored with Good Neighbor Awards.
Rat hunters Suzanne Janik, Eric Geiner, and Laura Mikulski have become heroes for a region over-run by rodents. Through Ferndale Rat Patrol, they track rat activity, eliminate rat nests, trap the creatures as they run through yards in the night, and do educational outreach to groups, municipalities, landlords and homeowners all about reducing the rat population.
“Often admitting to and discussing rat problems is taboo,” said Kat Bruner James. “But their Facebook group is non judgmental, surprisingly humane, and sometimes darkly humorous. And they do all this in a way that protects pets and wildlife.”
Geiner was happy with the award.
“This is the first time I’ve got an award for killing stuff,” he said.
The awards ceremony took place Tuesday at Go Comedy! Improv Theater. CFF does other work in the community including promotion of Civility Pledge principles, hosting nonpartisan candidate forums, and launching initiatives such as the Ferndale Inclusion Network. Learn more about Citizens for Fair Ferndale at http://fairferndale.org/