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Speaking Loudly and Getting Her Hands Dirty - Milwaukee Water Commons’ Brenda Coley

As a child in the late 1960s, Brenda Coley remembers being in the attic of her grandmother’s house, feeling the footsteps of marchers as they walked through the streets of Milwaukee demanding justice. Living in Milwaukee during the civil uprisings shaped Coley’s thinking and influenced her life’s work as an activist and community advocate. “You’re formed by what’s happening in your environment,” says Coley. She has always had a way of understanding people from differing backgrounds, and she goes on to say that she has spent much of her life explaining one group of people to another.

Coley’s drive comes from the many eye-opening experiences throughout her life. For a time, Coley was one of five women out of 800 employees, which made her aware of issues involving gender. Later, she moved on to work in HIV research in the ’80s while taking care of her brother when he was diagnosed with HIV. She experienced first-hand how the gay community was shunned by the general public, fueling her passion to speak for people identifying as LGBTQ. Coley was never one to sit back and accept the inequality that is ever-present in our country; she has always been one to speak loudly and get her hands dirty.

Her community work and reputation eventually led her to her current role as the co-executive director of Milwaukee Water Commons (MWC). “What we’re about is connecting the community to water,” states Coley. “We want to engage and educate people about being stewards of water.” The organization achieves that goal by reaching out to all races and ethnicities, then asking those communities what being a “global water city” means to them. MWC has created a community inspired Water City Agenda with six initiatives and gets people involved through cultural events, art and education.

According to Coley, “Every culture has a water story, and one has to understand that story in order to re-engage people who have been disengaged from water.” The Mississippi River, for instance, was a pathway of freedom for African American slaves along the Underground Railroad. By using water as the vehicle to engage the community—and by believing that “water belongs to no one and everyone”—the organization can address some of the problems we face in Milwaukee.

So, how can everyday people of the Milwaukee community help address segregation? Brenda Coley has a few thoughts. Follow the examples put out by the leaders in the civil rights movement, who pushed for change on an individual level and on a systemic level. Go into an unfamiliar neighborhood with the intention of integrating and discover what that neighborhood has to offer. On a systemic level: vote, write to your congressperson and attend city council meetings. But whatever you do, says Coley, don’t just talk about the problem, because that’s not enough. You need to act.

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

Bread of Healing Clinic Finds Solutions for Health Care

About 20 years ago, Rick Cesar was working as a nurse in the Aurora Sinai Emergency Room, treating patients that often had no reason to seek care in an emergency room except for the fact that they had no insurance. The sad truth was that the ER was their only option for medical care, which is still the case for many people today. In the same hospital, Cesar knew a doctor, Tom Jackson, and a residency student, Barbara Horner-Ibler, who were both frustrated with the treatment system they were a part of.

Cesar, Jackson and Horner-Ibler watched as patients came in to the hospital to be treated for an illness, temporarily recovered from their symptoms, were discharged with a prescription and would start the process all over again a few months later. These patients would not be cured; they were simply sent off with a quick fix. If patients do have health care, their level of care is dictated by what their insurance covers, which often limits follow-up appointments and other necessary treatments like behavior health assessments. These three health care providers came together to find a solution to these problems and make health care more accessible to those who cannot afford it.

In 2000, Cesar, Jackson and Horner-Ibler co-founded the Bread of Healing Clinic (1821 N. 16th St., in the basement of Cross Lutheran Church) with help from partners including Aurora Health Care and United Way. Although the clinic has grown to treat almost 2,000 patients and accommodate around 6,800 visits per year in three locations, it started much smaller. In the beginning, Cesar was stationed as a parish nurse at Cross Lutheran Church and began seeing a few patients a week to keep them out of the ER for needs like removing stitches and checking vitals after starting a new drug. Horner-Ibler then joined Cesar and prescribed medications to patients. She would leave her credit card on file at the pharmacy so that when patients went to fill their prescriptions, the pharmacist knew to put the bill on her credit card. Jackson became the medical director, and the clinic grew quickly with the needs of their patients.

At Bread of Healing, they consider themselves to be an integrated health provider, understanding that an illness comes from medical, social and behavioral problems. That is why all their patients interact with someone from their social work, behavioral health and medical team that are available at every location. But there’s more to health than that; there’s hope, explains Michele Cohen, the clinic’s behavioral health director. “I hold hope when other people can’t hold it for themselves, and that’s what this place is,” she says. “I’ve learned how much of a difference we can make in someone’s life by just listening, by just telling them the truth.”

The clinic’s health care providers are used to their patients telling them that no one cares about them, that they have been forgotten. These are fellow citizens of this city that feel alienated. Bread of Healing was founded to show Milwaukee’s underinsured that “you need hope, and somebody does care,” states Cesar. “You have to be willing to accept people and understand you are not the one doing the favor. You’re going to learn more from people than anything. And if you can have a heart that’s open, and you can encourage caregivers to do that, it’s going to make them better practitioners and provide better care to the patients.”

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative's Natasha Dotson

Many of our city’s men are struggling because they are dealing with poverty, child support and other issues, but they don’t know where to turn. These men have grown up being told to “act like men” and show no signs of weakness, so instead of asking for help, they often turn to crime, because, as they see it, it’s the only avenue available to them.

Sitting tall and speaking with a strong voice, Natasha Dotson talks about her brother, who fell into the same cycle that many of Milwaukee’s men have fallen into. She speaks of his extreme frustration when he needed support but couldn’t find it. “Nobody is going to help him. Nobody is here for us,” thought Dotson at the time. With no one to work with him to find a job or figure out his child custody issues, her brother ended up committing a crime and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. “His choices were his choices,” explains Dotson, but the fact remains that “he didn’t know what to do or who to call.”

What happened to her brother was Dotson’s motivation for reaching out to the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative (MFI) 11 years ago. When she first called the organization, she screamed at them on the phone, furious that they weren’t visible enough for her brother to find them in time. That’s when Terence Ray, the director at the time, got on the phone and said two very powerful words to Dotson: “Get involved.”

Those two words changed everything for Dotson, motivating her to volunteer with the organization for the next nine years and eventually become MFI’s full-time project director. “I’m going to do all that I can to help this not happen to somebody else’s brother,” she says, and she has acted on that incentive, working to broaden MFI’s outreach in the community.

The Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative was started in 2005 by Mayor Tom Barrett, who recognized the issue of fathers missing from the family. The overarching goal of the organization is to promote healthy fatherhood engagement and connect men with the resources they need to succeed. MFI has community partners that provide services for child support, health, legal issues, housing, job searches and much more.

‘Something for and About Men’

Some of MFI’s most impactful events have been “Real Men Real Talk” and the annual “Fatherhood Summit”—events that bring men together from throughout the community to talk about their struggles and show them the resources that are available to them. The 2018 Fatherhood Summit took place on Oct. 5 and 6, and had health screenings, legal services, a job fair, driver’s license recovery services and child support services all in one room. Men will had the opportunity to solve those problems and attend workshops about fatherhood, trauma, personal care and conflict resolution.

“The Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative was created to say that this is something for and about men,” Dotson says. There are many programs focused on women, but people don’t realize how little assistance is available for men looking for guidance. Dotson and the team at MFI are making it clear that they are here as a support system, and they are helping fathers understand what being ‘manly’ really means.


View the article on the 
Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

Riverwest's Woodland Pattern Book Center

The Riverwest neighborhood is a gathering place for artists, writers, dreamers and those who choose to live slightly outside the norm. It is one of the few truly interracial neighborhoods of Milwaukee and has a vibe that is both welcoming and accepting. Many people who have lived in Riverwest for a long time consider it to be part of their identity.

But Riverwest was not always the creative hub that it is today. In the 1970s, if someone wanted to be at the center of the poetry scene, they would look to places like New York or California. So, in 1979, Karl Gartung, Anne Kingsbury and Karl Young started the Woodland Pattern Book Center to create a spoken-word scene in Milwaukee by hosting writers from around the country. They felt that Milwaukee needed a physical space where artists and idealists could come together to share knowledge and collaborate.

In Gartung’s manifesto, he wrote, “We exist to prove the living artist. We exist against isolation,” describing how important it is that the artist not make work in isolation. To allow the work to come alive, the artist needs an audience, whether that is a small group of people in a workshop or a large audience. And that is what Woodland Pattern has provided to the community since the very beginning.

The team made it their life’s work to strengthen the Riverwest neighborhood with Woodland Pattern at the heart of it all. After more than 30 years of helping build a community of poets in Milwaukee, Kingsbury, who remained the executive director, decided to retire. In March of this year, Kingsbury and the team at Woodland Pattern hired two dedicated and hopeful poets to take her place: Jenny Gropp and Laura Solomon. New to Milwaukee, Gropp and Solomon moved from Georgia as soon as they saw their dream job open up. “We are here because of the mission; that’s why we wanted to come,” Solomon says. They strongly believe in the idea of making art by sharing and listening to one another’s emotions.

In addition, Gropp and Solomon were attracted to the book center’s uniqueness. Woodland Pattern is nationally known for its collection of more than 26,000 small press titles, including hand-made letter-press books by writers from around the world. Many of these books are made for live readings and meant to be handed out to the audience.

In the coming year, Woodland Pattern plans to open its own record label to record the live readings on vinyl. The book center regularly brings in spoken-word performers from around the country who create a safe space for emotions and ideas to be shared with the audience. “The space sort of functions as a sanctuary,” explains Gropp.

Woodland Pattern Book Center continues to make efforts to inspire the next generation to become leaders. “A lot of what I’ve learned from this place is respect and examination of what has come before and for the community that is all around us,” says Gropp. The center’s history is a large part of the neighborhood’s story. That story is one of a community open to trust, sincerity and acceptance.

Woodland Pattern Book Center is located at 720 E. Locust St. For more information, call 414-263-5001 or visit www.woodlandpattern.org.

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

Marcela 'Xela' Garcia

Marcela “Xela” Garcia grew up attending art classes at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts (WPCA), a non-profit arts center that provided opportunities for her that she couldn’t find in other places. The center helped her grow and understand her place in a culture that was new to her. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Garcia’s native language was Spanish. When she came to the United States at a young age, she stood out. Because of her different language and customs, Garcia questioned where she belonged in her new environment.

“I had very supportive parents that instilled the power of my culture and my identity. I really found refuge in that, especially in the arts,” she explains. Art allowed her to ask those questions, helping her make sense of the world around her. Garcia uses her childhood lessons as a driving force to show others that art can transform lives and neighborhoods. So, in 2016, when the executive director position opened at the WPCA, Garcia decided to join the team and merge her goals with those of the organization.

Since the inception of the WPCA in 1987, the mission of the organization has been providing accessibility to the arts for youth and underrepresented people in the Walker’s Point neighborhood. The WPCA invites artists from around Milwaukee and around the world into its gallery to participate in arts education programming. With the varying ideas and experiences of the artists, the WPCA can incorporate vastly different cultural perspectives into their programs.

One of the many ways the WPCA represents the traditions of the people who have lived in the Walker’s Point neighborhood is through events like their 26th annual Día de los Muertos exhibition. The exhibit that opened Friday, Oct. 19, challenged the viewers to consider their ancestral connections and the meaning of death in communities. Local artists were invited to create altars that explored the theme of tradition, family, life and death.

The WPCA is a safe space for people to start a dialogue, which is why it has been seen as an anchor in the Walker’s Point neighborhood for the last 31 years. “We have what we need as a community, and oftentimes we don’t realize that,” states Garcia. The organization uses artist talks, exhibitions and community events to talk about relevant issues, such as immigration, gentrification and segregation. Through art, people are able to express how they feel about such issues, giving them a platform to explore solutions when they wouldn’t otherwise have one.

“At an early age, I saw the power the arts had in building confidence, pursuing leadership and finding a voice when you sometimes didn’t feel like you had one; in doing it in your own way, and in your own terms,” Garcia says. The first step to helping youth and underserved community members succeed is by opening doors that allow them to explore their creativity.

For more on the Walkers Point Center for the Arts, visit wpca-milwaukee.org.

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

Jean Bell-Calvin

This country’s health care system is complicated, difficult to navigate and not attainable for everyone. Jean Bell-Calvin and her team at the UW-Milwaukee Silver Spring Community Nursing Center are working to change that, starting at the local level. The team at the Nursing Center treats their patients differently than the average hospital. Rather than simply looking at symptoms, they take the time to speak with their patients about their day-to-day habits and stressors that may have caused the symptoms. “You have a right to be treated a certain way, have your questions answered and have somebody take the time to listen,” says Bell-Calvin, the Nursing Center’s director and driving force behind the clinic for the last 30 years.

Bell-Calvin has made it her life’s work to help the community understand health. If asked to talk about her life, she will tell you, “It is not about me but the wonderful team of people I work with and the people we serve,” yet she deserves enormous praise for her dedication to the people of Milwaukee. In 1988, Bell-Calvin took a job at the recently opened clinic and has worked to improve the programming to meet the needs of North Side residents ever since. The original goal of the clinic was to promote health, focusing on education and nutrition. But in the late 1990s, after being approached by Milwaukee County, the clinic transitioned to providing primary care for the underinsured. Through the General Assistance Medical Program, the clinic became a contracted insurance provider for the county and began to provide primary care to community members that otherwise could not afford it.

There is more to health than clinical diagnoses; the Nursing Center also takes into consideration the many factors that can affect people’s well-being, such as relationships at home, not being able to pay the bills or a lack of reliable transportation. The Nursing Center seeks to build a relationship with the people they serve and adapts their programming to meet the needs of the community.

A vital partner that helps them achieve this goal is the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center (SSNC), a non-profit community center that services the people in the neighborhood through programs relating to health and wellness, education and employment. The SSNC often looks to the Nursing Center for programming related to health and nutrition, providing an opportunity for the nurses of the UWM Nursing Center to go out in the community and learn what is needed to improve people’s health. “It’s about looking at people, finding out what their needs are and plugging them in,” Bell-Calvin explains.

Bell-Calvin and the UW-Milwaukee Silver Spring Community Nursing Center emphasize that primary care is not enough to keep people healthy; they must also be educated. Whether that means teaching people proper nutrition or helping them understand how to use their insurance plan, the goal is to empower people with knowledge. “This is the work I’ve been called to do,” says Bell-Calvin, and with that work, she continues to change lives one family at a time.

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

Maudwella Kirkendoll

Maudwella Kirkendoll grew up in Milwaukee’s 53206 neighborhood, which gave him a perspective of people who work long, hard hours to support their families but still need some help to get by. It’s that perspective that drove Kirkendoll to become the devoted community worker that he is today. “I know there is some point when you can move people from needing help to the people that are helping,” he says.

Kirkendoll loved growing up on the North Side because of the sense of community, but it was also a rough part of town because of crime and poverty. The deaths of friends due to violence and lower economic status in the neighborhood were simply circumstances he had to navigate through. Once he learned how to overcome those challenges, though, he found a way to help others do the same.

When he was a child, Kirkendoll describes standing in endless lines with his mother, waiting to receive government assistance. He remembers feeling embarrassed and treated poorly at the time—two things that motivated him to change the system to make it easier for people with similar situations. In 2000, Kirkendoll was hired as a caseworker at Community Advocates (CA) and has since worked his way up to become the company’s chief operating officer. The reason he was drawn to the organization was its passion for helping people, a characteristic that has persisted for the past 18 years.

CA is a social service agency that is composed of four divisions: Basic Needs, Milwaukee Women’s Center, Behavior Health and Public Policy. People come to CA’s Basic Needs Division for assistance with issues including housing, landlord issues and tenant training. The Milwaukee Women’s Center Division provides a family shelter, domestic violence shelter, drug treatment programs and more. The Behavior Health Division aims to relocate people living on the street into permanent housing. Simultaneously, CA works on changing public policies that will help reduce poverty and transition people into regular jobs. This only touches on the many programs CA implements, but they impact the lives of community members in so many more ways.

One program that drastically affected Kirkendoll’s life—and the lives of the participants of this particular program—is the mentoring of young men at the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility. Kirkendoll and other mentors go into the prison matched with young incarcerated men in hopes of steering them onto the right path for their lives post-incarceration.

Kirkendoll strongly connects with these men because, as he says to them, “I’ve been where you’ve been. I grew up in the same area, had some of the same experiences, and you guys can make it. Stay focused.” These men need someone to understand what they’ve been through and someone to guide them to the right choices at times of weakness.

Connecting with one another and taking the time to listen is what makes a difference for so many people looking for a safe haven when they walk through the doors of Community Advocates. Our community is hurting in so many ways, and it’s time for us to follow this model—and Maudwella Kirkendoll’s personal example—and listen to those that are speaking the loudest.

 

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column.  

CORE El Centro

Our current health care system is complex, difficult to navigate, and inaccessible to people with limited funds and recourses. Especially for people from different cultural backgrounds, these challenges can feel impossible to overcome. But CORE El Centro understands health differently.  To them, health is an elaborate web of pieces that we must tie together to be our best selves and that starts with a safe space to practice healing.  When co-founders Jayne Ader and Madeline Gianforte started CORE El Centro 16 years ago, they saw a need for an understanding of healing and access to health services in the community.  “People have this innate wisdom about their path and each path is different. So how do we help you find that,” says Ader.  Their goal is to inspire individuals and families to achieve optimal health by offering affordable services in both English and Spanish. 

co-founders Jayne Ader and Madeline Gianforte

CORE El Centro treats members of the community that have limited access to health care due to low income, language barriers, cultural barriers and other factors. Most of the organization’s clients are Latino, but anyone is welcome for treatment.  Their ability to connect with clients through language and culture is what makes CORE El Centro unique.  When a client first visits the building, they meet with a staff member called a health navigator, who discusses their health concerns, problems at home, and general troubles to truly understand the factors impacting their health.  “They can really connect with what you are going through,” says Carla Del Pozo, director of the Integrative Health and Wellness program.  These health navigators are able place the client with the best possible practitioners because they are trained community health workers and people from the community.  In order to heal someone, CORE believes you must first get to know them and understand where their pain originated from.

The organization is built with four main programs: Integrated Health and Wellness, Gardening and Nutrition, Children’s Wellness and Volunteers.  They offer one-on-one sessions in therapies such as acupuncture and massage, as well as courses like reiki, yoga, gardening and nutrition.  CORE El Centro has also built strong relationships over years with their partners, such as Aurora Walker’s Point Clinic, The Healing Center and others.  These close relationships allow CORE to confidently refer clients who are in need of different healing services than what they offer.  “Part of the mission is building community,” explains Ader. “By building community, you also heal.”  When people are given access to health care through language, cost and community members that understand their needs, people are able to better themselves and give back to their community. 

 

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column.    

Dr. Kyana Young and the Marquette University Strategic Innovation Fund

 Dr. Kyana Young, a postdoctoral fellow at Marquette University, began working in the Global Water Center in 2016.  With a background in environmental engineering, Young’s passion is finding solutions for safe water to improve global and public health.  Soon after she arrived, it occurred to her that there was a lack of diverse groups of people represented in the building.  But it didn’t take her long to do something about that. 

She spoke with staff at Marshall High School and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), including Larry Farris, Toby Hairston, Rochelle Sandrin, Jan Haven, and Megan Sun, who helped her come up with an idea for a program that would provide opportunities to demographics that are underrepresented in scientific fields relating to water research.  She applied for a grant from Marquette University with the support of the group at MPS, and was awarded the Marquette University Strategic Innovation Fund Grant.  The grant made it possible for her to provide internships to students at Milwaukee’s Marshall High School and bring them to the labs of the Global Water Center to do hands-on research. When working in the classroom at Marshall High School, the youth learn how to write lab reports and do data analysis with their teacher Megan Sun.  The students are taught how to apply their newly learned scientific knowledge to solve real world problems.

Each student is assigned a project for the semester by participating companies and universities.  Young asked these organizations to host and mentor the youth, including Stonehouse Water Technologies, Youth Rising Up, Solar Water Works, DRM International Inc., Sun Yat-Sen University, Grand Valley State University, Assembly of God and Marquette University.  Dr. Young knew that the students needed more than community partners, they needed mentors like Dr. Moe Mukiibi, the chief technology officer at Stonehouse Water Technologies (the company with the most interns in the program), to make the program a success.  The program is meant to “create a path for them that could be life changing, so that they can see why they are working in a lab and see what this can become,” says Mukiibi.

 “When you provide an opportunity and you back that up with resources, this is what can happen,” says Young as she describes how the students have excelled far beyond the expectations of the program. “This impacts the global community.”  Thanks to Young and the team at MPS, these students have a chance to explore their interests and realize career paths that can make a major difference in their lives.   

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column.

Fyxation Bicycle Company

Those of you that have strolled into the Fyxation bicycle shop in Riverwest, may not know the whole story behind the company that designs their own bicycles and parts.  The concept for the brand and their original product first came to light in 2009 when owners Nick and Jessica Ginster were living in Taiwan.  An idea popped into Nick Ginster's head to design a bicycle tire for fixed gear bikes that had both sturdy tread and was available in multiple colors; a niche in the market.  He was originally contracted by a company to make the tire, but they backed out.  So, with the encouragement from his wife Jessica, they decided to invest in the brand and take the tire to market.  At the same time, Nick's brother Ben Ginster came on the team to run the accounting and logistical side of the business.  With a perfectly balanced group of people driven to succeed, the company was born.  

Originally from Milwaukee, Nick and Jessica first met over 20 years ago while working together at a bike shop.  Nick worked as a mechanic and Jessica was the store manager.  They were brought together by their love for bicycling, health and spreading adventure.  Nick was always mechanically inclined and an avid biker since a child, and at the age of 13, he disassembled a snow blower engine to create a gas-powered bicycle.  His mom looked at his dad and said "engineer."  The rest is history.  Jessica, however, has a background in health, science and community engagement.  She has a natural talent of adapting to rapidly changing circumstances and understanding the needs of Fyxation’s customers. 

Before moving back to Milwaukee in 2009 to start Fyxation, the couple lived in Taiwan for five years because of Nick’s job that involved overseas production of bicycle products.  He later took that knowledge to start his own company (still in Taiwan), doing product design and product sourcing overseas for U.S. companies.   When Nick and Jessica came back to the United States, they first presented their fixed gear tire with Ben at the world’s largest bicycle trade show.  “Fyxation has always been a Milwaukee company and Milwaukee is our home,” says Nick.  

The business took off when they found distributers to sell their product through bike shops around the U.S. and globally, but this did not happen by luck.  It was a "very tactical approach," explains Jessica.  Their well laid-out plan combined with years of experience allowed the company to grow quickly.  Soon after their tire was on the market, other companies began making competitive tires so Fyxation started diversifying their products to include pedals, parts, accessories, frames, and then bikes. 

“That has developed into the product line that you see today," says Nick.  "We are quick to change when we need to.  But from the beginning of our brand, we always made quality affordable products and we still do that.”

The time came when they needed a local warehouse.  The natural choice was to use the Pedal Milwaukee building in the Silver City neighborhood. The building was formerly owned by Tom Schuler of Team Sports but Fyxation just bought the space.  Until that point, Fyxation only sold their products through other bike shops, but when people started knocking on the door of the warehouse looking for a Fyxation store, the team decided it was time to open a public storefront, so they could better connect with their Milwaukee customers. “We had never been very good at telling our story locally," explains Nick, "and when we opened the store, we had a public front and decided to change that.”  So, in 2014, the company opened the store you now know in Riverwest.  

Fyxation has continued to grow over the years, both in their production and community outreach.  One of their first local projects was designing a custom bike for Colectivo and have since expanded that by designing custom bikes for Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee County Parks, Wisconsin Bike Fed, Goose Island, Nike and many other partners.  Nick's favorite project they've done recently is their custom-designed bike for the Milwaukee people's flag.  The bike was in such high demand that they decided to do a limited run of 40 bikes, which sold out in under a year. “We really believe in cycling and trying to help out in our communities as much as we can," says Nick.  It's impossible to list all of the ways Fyxation gives back in a short blog post, but to name a few, they host and support local organizations like DRAFT Milwaukee and Black Girls Do Bike.  Fyxation also donates to organizations outside of biking like Lymphoma & Cancer Society, Progressive Community Health Centers and Feeding America.

Everything they do as a company comes back to their core mission: to deliver adventure.  Fyxation wants to be a place where people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and experience levels feel comfortable to get on a bike and ask questions.  “One of the strongest suits that I bring is the fact that I am a female in a male-dominated industry and I’m also a woman of color," states Jessica. "For me, it’s all about empowering the consumer, empowering the community.  Knowledge is power so let’s share the knowledge I’ve gained with people who are intimidated."  Biking is for everyone, whether you're the urban commuter, the mountain bike adventurer or the person that occasionally wants a little wind in your hair.  Stop by their shop so they can find the perfect bike to fit your style and help you discover your adventure. 

Visit Fyxation's website to get in touch or see their product line. 

 

Urban Guesthouses and B&Bs: A New Way to Experience Milwaukee

I recently wrote an article for the Shepherd Express about Milwaukee's guesthouses and B&Bs, highlighting the uniqueness of these businesses and why people would want to stay at this type of accommodation.  You can read the article here or see it on the Shepherd Express website.

 

The accommodation industry is shifting toward small cozy guesthouses and Milwaukee is picking up on the trend. When most of us imagine a bed and breakfast (B&B), we think of a remote cottage in the countryside, but Milwaukee has urban guesthouses and B&Bs that offer easy access to the city and a comfortable, welcoming place to rest your head at night. With the rise of the “sharing economy” through sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, people in the industry are realizing that travelers are looking for a “home away from home.”

Imagine for a moment that you are visiting a new city for a few days, and when you first arrive to your accommodation, you are greeted by a friendly face—the owner of the house. Rather than walking into a generic lobby, you enter what feels like home, with a personalized touch. You sit down in the common room with a warm cup of tea to have genuine conversation with the other guests, and suddenly this city doesn’t feel so strange.

As travelers, we are drawn to these small, unique businesses when looking for accommodations because we want a story. The structure and design of a guesthouse tells the story of its neighborhood, just as much as its owner does. By staying in a family-run guesthouse or B&B, you get the chance to meet the people who run it and see Milwaukee through their eyes. Not only will they reveal the hidden corners of Milwaukee, but they take the time to learn about you and your interests before suggesting the perfect outing. When traveling, the place where you stay should be as much a part of the experience as the rest of the city.

Milwaukee has six small, family-run guesthouses or B&Bs that are all notably unique. From Victorian-style bed and breakfasts to a guesthouse in the midst of flourishing gardens and a cozy gallery space, each place adds a unique accent to the urban neighborhoods of this city.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

 

The Brumder Mansion

www.milwaukeemansion.com

The Brumder Mansion brings a different experience to the Concordia neighborhood. Built on Wisconsin Avenue in 1910 by George Brumder (1839-1910), the building has a theater in the basement and five bedrooms, most of which have a Jacuzzi and fireplace. Nine years ago, Tom and Julie Carr came from California, bought the Brumder Mansion and rebuilt the basement theater. Some guests come for romantic escapes in the bed and breakfast, while others come specifically for the theater.

“This isn’t a bed and breakfast; it’s a Hollywood set,” says Tom Carr. Stay a night during one of the performances, and you will be taken away into another world of fantasy and imaginary characters. The Brumder’s theater puts on four to five shows per year, made possible by production manager Amanda Hull, artistic director Tom Marks and Milwaukee Entertainment Group. Whether you are trying to solve a murder mystery or you are being swept up into the madness of the Hatter in Alice’s Wonderland, you won’t be bored. Don’t miss their upcoming shows including Dancing with Hamlet.

 

Kinn Guesthouse

www.kinnmke.com

Originally from Chicago, Charles and Connie Bailey moved their family to Milwaukee in 2015 when they bought the Cream City brick building on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. After a year-and-a-half of restoring the building, the couple opened Kinn Guesthouse in March of 2017. The name Kinn comes from Charles’ father and grandfather who ran the Drake hotels in Chicago and passed the trade down to him. The eight-room guesthouse has a chic modern feel with large windows in every room, making the rooms seem twice their actual size. All but one of the rooms and the spacious common area are on the second floor of the building, above the restaurant, Kindred.

Before you get to your room, you will be stopped by the stunning kitchen and living room space that is free for all the guests to use. Along with the deep-cushioned couch, gallery wall and fully outfitted kitchen, the Baileys have a Nespresso machine, bottle of wine and popcorn waiting for their guests. “People care to live in a different way,” says Charles. “They want something that’s more cozy and comfortable and feels more like home than the big hotels.” If you stay at Kinn, you will most likely meet the charming couple and be treated to the Honey Pie pastries that they offer every weekend.

 

Manderley Bed & Breakfast

www.bedandbreakfastmilwaukee.com

For the last 17 years, Marie and Andrew Parker have been running Manderley Bed and Breakfast, making it the oldest running B&B in Milwaukee. Originally from the Milwaukee area, the couple decided to open the bed and breakfast once they discovered the elaborate mansion on Wells Street in the Concordia neighborhood. “Even in its dilapidated condition, it had charm and appeal,” explains Andrew. After seven years of rebuilding the structure and designing the interior with hand-made stencils and hand-painted art, they finally opened their dream business. Because there were no other Milwaukee B&Bs at the time, the couple helped the city write the laws pertaining to bed and breakfasts, making Concordia the official Bed and Breakfast District of Milwaukee.

When you first walk up to the Manderley mansion, you will most likely be greeted by one of the friendly cats waiting for you on the porch. As you pass through the door into the house, you will be taken back in time to a Victorian era filled with old books, ornate wall décor and a warm fireplace. Andrew and Marie will make you feel right at home with friendly conversation over fresh breakfast from their backyard chicken coop and vegetable garden. There is no doubt these two are dedicated to their guests and to Milwaukee.

 

Muse Gallery Guesthouse

www.themuseguesthouse.com

When you choose to stay at the Muse Gallery Guesthouse in the heart of Bay View, you may spend hours sitting and talking with Mary Ellen Hermann and Andrew Meechan—the owners of the place. The novelty of this guesthouse comes from the Milwaukee art hanging on its walls and the dedication the couple has for the local artists. All of the art changes quarterly, thanks to the curating of Renée “Luna” Bebeau. To see the work on display, stop in during one of their gallery events or during the Bay View Gallery Night.

As experienced travelers, Hermann and Meechan see the value in bed and breakfasts because of the well-traveled people they often meet in such places. “When you have breakfast with them, you learn so many things, particularly the next two dozen places you want to go visit,” explains Mary Ellen. The guesthouse is meant to be an experience and a welcoming place for travelers to relax and feel like they are part of the city.

 

Sanger House Gardens

www.sangerhousegardens.com

While walking up the front stairs to the Sanger House Gardens through the lush greenery, you can look over the vast array of plants at the beautiful cityscape of Milwaukee. If you continue on the winding pathways through the arching branches and multitude of colors, you will reach the carriage house in the back of the garden. There is only one bedroom in this urban getaway, but it is a luxury space with two floors, kitchen, laundry machines and double doors that open to the gardens. Steve Bialk and Angela Duckert bought the Brewer’s Hill property in 1985 and have been enhancing the gardens ever since.

About five years ago, they decided to start a wedding and event business in the space. Along with formal events, the couple has also hosted neighborhood garden clubs and participated in Doors Open Milwaukee 2017. After getting repeated requests for a guesthouse, Bialk and Duckert finally renovated the carriage house and opened the guesthouse last April. There is no breakfast included with your stay, but when you arrive, you’ll get a personal tour of the gardens and personal suggestions for your Milwaukee stay. One of the best things about Sanger is that pets are allowed. It’s a place where you get the best of both worlds: close proximity to the city and a hideaway amidst blooming flowers.

 

Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast

www.schustermansion.com

In that same Concordia neighborhood, you will find Schuster Mansion Bed and Breakfast, run by Rick and Laura Sue Mosier. They’re known for their Victorian-style high tea and exceptional hospitality. If you want coffee or tea delivered to your room in the morning, a choice of breakfast from their menu that has not changed in 10 years and freshly-ironed sheets every night, then the Schuster Mansion is the place for you. As you wander through the halls of the mansion, you get lost in the relics adorning the walls and the hand-made decorations throughout the house. The attention to detail is unreal, even down to the shower curtain rings covered in fabric so they don’t make a sound.

The moment you meet Rick and Laura Sue Mosier, you already feel like old friends. “It is so fun to meet people and learn about their lives and why they’re here. We’re part of people’s lives,” says Laura Sue. After talking with the couple for what could be hours, they will give you customized suggestions about the city based on your interests and their own secrets spots in Milwaukee.

Silver Spring Neighborhood Center

As you pull off Silver Spring Drive onto 64th Street, you may not think twice about the large building in the quiet neighborhood but once you walk through those front doors, you are greeted by smiling faces and a vibrant chandelier made by the kids that are part of the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center (SSNC).  The community center is a nonprofit organization that services the people in the neighborhood through programs relating to health & wellness, education, and employment.  At the heart of this organization are the people that work tirelessly to ensure these community members thrive in their city. “Whenever you are doing social service work, it is so critical.  You go through a lot internally. It’s no easy job,” says Devin Hudson, the Development Director at the SSNC.  The work they do at the neighborhood center opens so many doors for the individuals that take part in the programs.

The Silver Spring Neighborhood Center started in 1958 as a settlement house servicing the Westlawn neighborhood.  The center was a resource for new residents to turn to as they started their lives in Milwaukee.  Throughout SSNC's history, their partners have helped shape who they are and who they impact.  So in 1986, the center partnered with the UWM College of Nursing, which allowed them to implement programs like health care services for people that are under-insured, classes to teach teens about choosing healthy foods, collaboration with the Childhood Development Center and the list goes on.  At the core of these programs is the director Jean Bell-Calvin, who has been with the UW-Milwaukee Silver Spring Community Nursing Center since the start.  “It’s a blessing to do the work that we do,” says Jean, “It’s about resources.  It’s about how you advocate for resources in the community and it’s a challenge.”  The lives Jean has touched in the community is hard to put into words, much less fit into a blog post.

Jean Bell-Calvin (left) and Devin Hudson (right)

The next major partnership happened in the early 2000s when SSNC joined with Browning Elementary School, part of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).  The two started their cooperative because MPS was focused on bringing neighborhood schools back to the city.  A neighborhood of support is what binds these organizations together.

The core of the SSNC's programs have always been youth oriented, but they also have a number of programs for adults such as their GED program and the Transform Milwaukee Program which opens job possibilities for those with a criminal background or a child support order.

For those in the area needing guidance or a way to start over, the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center stands as a center for hope.  The SSNC has quality employees that can work with you to make the program successful.  As soon as you step onto the campus, you are confronted with encouragement and place of comfort away from the challenges of everyday life.  The SSNC's impact on Milwaukee is overwhelming.  Learn more about what they are accomplishing on their website: www.ssnc-milw.org

Feeding Mouths Filling Minds

We all have those moments when we see a cause that needs attention, and think "I should do something about this," but few of us act on that thought.  That's what makes Maria and Grant Groves stand out.  After a trip to Kenya, they started the non-profit organization Feeding Mouths Filling Minds in 2012.  When Maria was 20, she visited an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya on a service project that opened her eyes to challenges people face across the world.  The widespread poverty she saw stayed in the back of her mind until she finally went back to visit that same orphanage years later with her husband Grant.  This visit was different because the couple started talking about land use, how land use could improve food and water, and what the orphanage could do to optimize land use.  "That's how the organization got started," says Maria.

FMFM focuses on sustainable food and water sources because if these basic needs are fulfilled, children are "able to turn their attention to filling their minds rather than worrying about filling their bellies," as explained on the group's website.  Feeding Mouths Filling Minds has partnered with other organizations to build water wells in Liberia, farm ponds in Kenya, sustainable farming in Sierra Leone and so much more.  With Maria's unique skills in networking and business, the organization is able to acquire funding to implement these projects.  And with the help of their dedicated team, FMFM ensures that the projects continue to be successful by teaching local people in Africa how to carry out the programs.

Feeding Mouths Filling Minds has also started to focus on their local community in addition to their projects in Africa.  They have partnered with Youth Outreach Service in Chicago to build an urban garden for at-risk youth, that will provide local teenagers with healthy food and teach them how to manage their own garden.  FMFM is also in the process of launching a global students program that youth groups, teen centers and/or teachers could incorporate into their activities and lesson plans.  Under that program, kids would pick an African country to learn about and would complete academic components and required readings focusing on that country.  Then the children would choose one of the FMFM projects and would come up with their own ideas to help with funding.  The students would be connected with the children they are helping in Africa via email or mail.  They would "really own it and be empowered through that entire project,” explains Maria.

So when you think to yourself "I should do something about this," follow FMFM's model and take action.  The organization understands that children are our future, both in Africa and at home, and with their basic needs met, they can reach their full potential.  Learn more about the organization on their website at www.feedingmouthsfillingminds.com

Kathy Papineau and MKE Kitchen

It's hard to capture all of the things that Kathy Papineau does for the community in one blog post.  The best way to describe Kathy Papineau is that she puts her community before herself.  She runs three businesses that all work together: MKE Kitchen, Localicious and Soup in a Jar.  On top of all that, she is a huge advocate for the local food movement in Milwaukee and a role model for composting and eating local.

Kathy first became interested in food at a young age.  She grew up in Manitowoc, WI with 5 siblings, an unhealthy father, and a mother that didn't have much time to cook.  Kathy's childhood fueled her motivation to eat healthy and learn to cook by watching cooking shows on TV and reading magazines like Home & Garden and Good Housekeeping.  Years later as a stay-at-home mom, Papineau started her catering company Localicious around 2007.  She started small in her home kitchen, but the business kept growing until 2012, when she opened MKE Kitchen, her commercial kitchen in Riverwest. Soup in a Jar is her food truck you may see around town that she uses to sell her homemade soup and meet new customers. Naturally, Kathy thought of others before herself. “If I was going to build a kitchen for my business, I thought I should build a kitchen big enough so that other people could build their businesses too," she explained.

But that's not all the kitchen does, not even close.  Kathy teaches cooking classes to kids, and the classes incorporate the importance of composting and the benefits of a local market.  “Schools need to find room in their curriculum to cover stuff like that,” she says.  At the same time, the kitchen acts as a meeting place for local food groups such as volunteers from the Urban Ecology Center advocating for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.  Papineau has created a welcoming place for ideas to spread and for the local food community to grow.

Kathy moves fast and doesn't sit still for very long which means she has a million ideas for the future.  She wants to teach a course about starting your own business to teach people about all the business technicalities they don't consider at first.  Whether she planned it or not, Kathy has become a guide for the new entrepreneurs that rent from her and she's willing to share her experience.  One of those new entrepreneurs, Collin Wallace of Chillwaukee, talked about how helpful Kathy had been to his new business.  “She’s very accommodating and gives us the space we need, and puts us in touch with people and news stations,” he said.

With every new idea, Kathy stays true to her core goal: “I want people to eat healthier. I want them to understand the relationship between their food, their health and the environment. That’s what I want.”

Chillwaukee

On a calm sunny afternoon, I walk through the open door of MKE Kitchen in Riverwest to meet Danielle Dahl and Collin Wallace, owners of Chillwaukee.  I find them chopping rhubarb and juicing buckets of fresh vibrant lemons in the welcoming commercial kitchen that they rent from Kathy Papineau.  This was definitely not what I was expecting when meeting a couple that makes local popsicles.  But what do I know about making popsicles?  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Dahl and Wallace hand-make all of their pops from scratch using fresh ingredients and once the growing season starts, they plan to work with local farmers and use all local produce.  Some of their flavors include Strawberry Rhubarb, Lavender Lemonade, Chocolate Covered Coconut, Arnold Palmer and my personal favorite Bananas Foster.  Trust me, they taste even better than they sound.

Chillwaukee is all leg power.  Once Dahl and Wallace prepare all their popsicles, they load them into their bicycle/freezer and ride their business to the next event.  “That’s what we’re committed to, we can’t flake out. We gotta prove to people that biking is a viable means to getting where you need to go, even if you run a business," declares Danielle.  They mentioned that one of the hardest parts of running their business is when you reach a large hill and have to get the fully-loaded bicycle up that hill.  Sometimes it takes two people to push it over.  But the benefits far outweigh the struggles.

Danielle and Collin officially launched their business in May of this year.  The idea dawned on them when they were walking through a festival last fall looking at the vendors and thought, "we can do that."  The two of them were tired of working inside so they quit their jobs in hopes of spending the summer outside, “hanging out with people and connecting,” says Collin.  Previously a Milwaukee chef, Collin brings a professional food perspective to the business and fixes the bikes, while Danielle's history in photography and graphic design allows her to do outreach and run the website and social media.  Together they create the recipes. Can you say power couple?

Although it's been a steep learning curve, these two have a solid business plan and are already taking on Milwaukee.  They are passionate about the local food movement and dedicated to their sustainable practices. “Keep it really really simple. Keep it local as much as possible. Be good role models for composting. Bike as much as possible. If you want to be in the food scenes, you don’t need to buy a $40,000 food truck and have a generator running all day long…You can keep it small and simple,” explains Collin.  If you want to see where they will be this summer or want to get in touch with them about catering, take a look at their website: www.chillwaukee.com

Jacob Bach & Good Land Guides

Meet Jacob Bach.  He's one of the most outgoing, encouraging, eccentric and caring people I know.  One of his main goals in life is to always make the people around him laugh.  Just a few months ago in February 2017, Jacob incorporated Good Land Guides, "a Wisconsin-based tourism company that focuses on getting people out into the good land," explains Jacob.   Not only does he take people on backpacking and rafting adventures in nature, but he also leads trips into cities or interesting places around Wisconsin in order to show people what Wisconsin really has to offer.  On top of that, he tries to schedule one volunteer day per month like the Devil's Lake clean-up event last month that brought about 300 people to the state park to clean up trash and maintain the trails.

So how did Bach get here?  Yes, he does spend most of his time outdoors, but no, that's not necessarily his professional background.  He actually started as a dancer, actor and then a comedian.  Bach grew up in Milwaukee learning dance and acting, then started doing comedy through the ComedySportz High School League, which he now teaches. In 2010 he started The Improvised Musical, a theater company he ran with co-producer Mary Baird that was a traveling improvised musical which he calls "the gypsy company."  The group would travel around the country headlining improv festivals in New York, performing at universities and other venues.  During the company's five-year run, the company won best theater company in Milwaukee by the Shepherd Express.

Once the company ended in 2015, Jacob began to focus on his solo career.  He started a podcast called "Yeah, Bro!" which Jacob describes as "the show where straight guys talk about gay things.” Little did he know, he would gain thousands of listeners in the first year and get asked to do photo shoots for Milwaukee Magazine and Quest.  “I was getting a reputation for being me… I was notorious for being myself, like having a personality,” says Bach.  He has also been working at ComedySportz for 10 years, making a living from coaching comedy, performing, independent contracting and leading team building work shops for corporate companies.

His life was running smooth until his father had a massive heart attack in 2014 and Jacob was the first responder on the scene.  Luckily his father was fine, but the event changed both Jacob's and his family's perspective.  It "opened my family’s eyes to doing things” and not worrying about money, he mentions.  Skip ahead to 2016: Jacob made it his goal to see every state park in Wisconsin in one year.  “I finished up that tour and completely fell in love… I didn’t know how badly I wanted to share things with people.”

After completing his 2016 goal, Jacob took the NOLS Southwest Outdoor Educator course to become a trained outdoor guide.  Once he got back from that trip, he realized that he wanted to work in the outdoors and show people this “crazy awesome” state. That’s when the idea for Good Land Guides first popped into his head.

So as I sat on the couch with Jacob at the rock climbing gym listening to his story about his life, the creation of Good Land Guides made perfect sense to me.  But I had one final question: What do both comedy and guiding do for the community and why do you do them?

His answer was so profound, that I am going to let him take it from here:

“I think that they are both honestly the same. It’s just an escape for people for a while. Both of them should be bringing you happiness in some way.  I do comedy because I need attention, but I also do comedy because I like to give people attention. Specifically, I do improv because it’s so interactive with people and it’s so collaborative.  I love commanding attention from people but it’s because I like to make sure that people are always laughing about something or at least having a decent conversation about something.  Guiding people is my way of sharing what I love with people. It’s a communal thing. You’re getting people out into places that you have chosen for them.  And you’re showing them why you love it and hopefully they are loving it in return.”

Dr. Moe Mukiibi

How clean is the water we are drinking?  Is bottled water really any better for us than tap water?  How can I be sure that the water I am drinking and using in my home is safe?  If it's not safe, what can I do to fix it?

These are some of the questions that Dr. Moe Mukiibi is asking for us.  As a globally recognized Water Exert and Tech Innovator, Mukiibi has been all over the world trying to solve our water problems and wants to empower the average person by helping them understand what is in their own water.  “We gotta do better, we gotta educate the people,” he proclaims.

Dr. Mukiibi grew up in Uganda walking miles with his mother every day carrying water back to their village.  They did not have many sources of water, so the only option was to walk to the closest source, and bring it back to their home.  When I asked Mukiibi what motivated him to go into the water field, he replied, "I [went] into the water area to find a solution…I was so determined that I was going to help my mother out to find water…I remember that vision very well when I was 5 years old.”

Since then, he received a PhD in Chemical and Environmental Engineering and has worked around the world with various water technology companies. He now resides in Milwaukee working as the Executive Chief Technology Officer with Stonehouse Water Technologies at the Global Water Council.  But for Dr. Mukiibi, that is not enough.  He has 9 patents out for water technologies that he invented, including a machine that can convert air into water.  Don't believe me? Ask him yourself.

As part of his "Wise Up on Your Water" initiative, Mukiibi also wants to start a water co-op in Milwaukee for the average person like you and me because most of us don't really know what is in the water that comes from our tap, bottled water or wells.  Mukiibi points out that he has seen a lot of people looking for solutions but they don’t know how to decide which is right. For instance, people use waters filters at home, but often choose a filter based on advertising, personal bias or simply guessing.  “I want to change that. I want to empower and educate the people. I want to give them the tools.”

If people joined this co-op, he would teach them how to read the water report they receive in the mail every year, teach them how to test their own water and help them find a filtration system that matches their water supply quality and lifestyle.  Dr. Mukiibi's idea is to first educate this group of people.  Then once educated, these people can take this information and educate others, make money off their ideas or simply be safe in their own homes if that is what they desire.

Dr. Moe Mukiibi is a strong believer that knowledge is power.  He explains to me that we need to be informed and "together that is how we are going to make a difference in the world.”

To get in touch with Dr. Mukiibi, visit his LinkedIn or email him at dr.moe.m@fwmtech.com

Flying Squirrel Pilates

Jaime Hayden is an outgoing and engaging pilates instructor that runs a small studio in the Third Ward called Flying Squirrel Pilates. Jaime is a busy woman, teaching a wide variety of classes along with running the business on her own.  She first became certified in pilates 12 years ago while working a surprising mix of other jobs.  Originally from Houston Texas, Jaime moved to Milwaukee to be closer to family.  She started her business seven years ago out of her home with a little support from her dad and it has been growing ever since.  She now has bragging rights for winning the best Milwaukee pilates studio in 2013, 2014 and 2016 according to Milwaukee A List.

When describing her path of how she got here, Jaime described her love of athletics and history as a softball player and gymnast.  Later in life, she had two knee surgeries and consequently found pilates.  She quickly fell in love with the new sport and pursued the idea as a career.   Pilates was "designed to make your body feel good doing everything else you do," she explains.  "It is meant to strengthen your core and keep your vertebrae decompressed."

Jaime sees pilates not just as a sport, but as a healing practice.  She began telling me about her very first client, Terri, who has taken her classes in every location she's taught for 7 years now.  The two met at the occupational therapy clinic where Jamie was working at the time. Terri has severe rheumatoid arthritis and used to have a very limited range of motion, but has been taking Jaime's classes twice a week ever since she started the business. Now Terri "can do planks better than anyone. What it's done for her rheumatoid arthritis is amazing," says Jaime with a proud smile on her face.

If you talk to Jaime for more than 30 seconds, you can tell that she is passionate about her business and her clients. "My clients are amazing, they've become super good friends," she mentions and adds that she would much rather be doing this than anything else.  So talk to her yourself or better yet, take a pilates class.

You can view her website at http://fspilates.wixsite.com/flyingsquirrel.

Voyageur Book Shop

One morning on my day off, I was wandering down Kinnickinnic Avenue just after grabbing a cup of coffee from Stone Creek.   I figured I would check to see if there was anything new on the main street when I stumbled across Voyageur Book Shop, a hidden little book store at the end of the block with an impressive collection.  I thought that surely I must have walked by this place a thousand times, but after walking in and talking to co-owner Blaine Wesselowski, I learned that he and Jeremy Mericle just opened the shop in spring of 2016.

Blaine and Jeremy met while working at Renaissance Book Shop a few years back.  Once the shop closed, they bought a large collection of the books and art (now hanging on Voyageur's walls) in order to open their own place.  Blaine, originally from Kansas and Jeremy, originally from Wisconsin are a perfect match for going into business together.  They both have a love for rare books and a knack for finding unique copies.

So how does one acquire books to fill a small book store?  Well, you have to do your homework.  Blaine explains that it's about knowing the right type of places like certain estate sales or specific library sales.  "Often you get referrals from people that have a library they want to sell out of" and those can be gold mines.  But there's more to it than simply finding the books, you also have to know your customer base and carry the books that people will buy.  Popular authors like Edgar Allen Poe always sell out.  "The earlier in life people experience the author, the more broadly known they are," says Blaine.

You might be wondering what book shop owners Blaine and Jeremy are currently reading so lucky enough, I thought to ask.  Jeremy is deep into  The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God by George Bernard Shaw while Blaine just finished a biography of Lewis Carroll and has now moved onto Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.   And yes, conversations with these two are as unique as their book choices.  So take a stroll over Voyageur and venture through the boundless collection of stories.

Three Sisters Farm

Three Sisters Community Farm is a young organic farm run by Kelly Kiefer and Jeff Schreiber. They recently started their farm in 2011 using Kelly's family land where she grew up and additional land nearby.

The name Three Sisters is unique because it has two meanings: Kelly is one of three sisters and there is a group of three crops that support each other when grown together which native groups called the three sisters. These three crops are corn, beans and squash. The corn grows tall providing a trellis for the beans to climb while the beans create nitrogen rich soil, needed to make plants healthy. And finally the squash grows on a vine which provides ground cover for the soil around the other plants. "We liked the picture of this synergistic combination of plants contributing to the greater benefit of the whole system as a metaphor for how we build relationships with our community of supporters," mentioned Kelly.

I recently visited their farm in the fall while they had volunteers helping plant garlic and prepping the tomato plants for spring. While having the privilege to speak with Kelly and Jeff, I was able to gain some insight on how much work they do both on and off the farm. Working on the land is not easy and farmers often spend 10 or more hours working on their land every day. But owning a farm also means owning a business. Winter is their opportunity to catch up on calculations for the season, taxes and all of the less glamorous pieces of running a business.

Kelly and Jeff stay connected to their supporters in multiple ways including volunteer opportunities and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). One of their goals is to build community relationships and create a welcoming sanctuary at their farm so if you are interested in volunteering, I hear they pay in vegetables. For those of you who don't know, becoming part of their CSA means that you subscribe to the farm for the growing season and Kelly and Jeff deliver fresh produce to a location near you every week. The produce you receive every week depends on what is in season so you get a chance to discover all kinds of new vegetables that you never knew existed. Three Sisters Farm is unique because they actually allow you to pick some of the vegetables that go into your box each week on their website.

So you if you're looking for volunteer opportunities, a CSA to join or just two genuinely welcoming farmers to talk to, look up Jeff and Kelly.

www.threesisterscommunityfarm.com