Street Talk: Keeping a promise


When the Muskegon Area Promise Zone Authority received approval from the Michigan Department of Treasury last fall to move forward with its development plan, officials were faced with the task of raising two years’ worth of private funding before securing part of the state education tax to support the scholarship initiative.

John Severson, superintendent of the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, said at the time of the program launch about $108,000 would be needed for the first two years and up to $900,000 would be needed to phase in every district in the county by 2017.

On Jan. 15, Muskegon Area Promise officials announced that, after a recent $100,000 investment from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the program had reached $1.03 million in funding for the countywide college scholarship program.

“This is a game-changer for the Muskegon area,” said Severson. “I have personally seen three things happen in communities with a Promise: The population and economic activity grows; students become more serious about high school and their grades improve; and students are more likely to enroll and persist in college.”

Alena Zachery-Ross, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System superintendent, said the school system is proud to be an active participant in the Muskegon Area Promise.

“This program provides our students with opportunity, motivation and vision to achieve academic excellence while in high school with the promise that college is a reality for their future,” she said.

The scholarship program received initial funding when Hines Corp., Nichols, ADAC Automotive and the Alcoa Foundation contributed a total of $400,000 to the initiative.

Since then the program has received financial support from: the Community Foundation for Muskegon County; the Donahue family; Sheryl and Dan Kuznar; MasterTag of Montague; Newkirk Electric Associates; Steve and Deb Olsen; Parkland Properties of Michigan; Quality Tool & Stamping of Muskegon Heights; Supreme Machined Products of Spring Lake; Tyler Sales; Verplank Trucking Co. of Muskegon; Webb Chemical Service Corp.; and grassroots funding from the community.

Steve Parker, Muskegon Area Promise Authority board chair, said the funds are critical in allowing Muskegon County to capture half of the growth in the existing state education tax beginning in 2017.

“By law we had to fund the first two years privately. In future years we will be funded both privately and with the tax capture,” said Parker.

“The Muskegon Area Promise will not only improve our education base, but also help fill persistently vacant skill-based jobs, and ultimately lead to the opening of new businesses and the expansion of others in the Muskegon area.”

Health milestone

Just before the end of 2015, Spectrum Health hit a major transplant landmark.

Spectrum recently announced its adult blood and marrow transplant program performed its 199th and 200th transplants Dec. 31.

The BMT program performed its first transplant in February 2013.

“This is an impressive accomplishment,” said Judy Smith, M.D., chief of the Spectrum Health Cancer Center. “The fact that we have reached this milestone in only three years says a great deal about both the need for a local program and the exceptional team we have in place.”

Although there are four adult blood and marrow transplant programs in Michigan, Spectrum’s is the only one in West Michigan.

“This is a tough experience to go through alone,” said Stephanie Williams, M.D., who oversees the adult program.

“The typical BMT patient can spend up to a month in the hospital. They continue their recovery in a protected environment for another one to two months, and then return frequently for check-ups. Having to travel far and stay away so long after a transplant is emotionally difficult, disruptive and expensive for our cancer patients and their families.

“It has been a busy three years. We look forward to the future and to continuing to serve our patients both in Western Michigan and across the region.”

Sky highlights

The numbers are in, and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is reporting a record-breaking year for passengers for the second year in a row.

GFIA saw a 9.2 percent increase in passengers in 2015 compared with the previous year. That amounts to an additional 215,000 travelers that passed through the airport.

In 2015, a total of 2,550,193 passengers flew in and out of GFIA. The previous passenger record was set in 2014 with a total of 2,335,105 passengers.

In July 2015, 234,282 passengers passed through GFIA — the best month in the airport’s history.

November 2015 also was a historic month, when GFIA saw 205,088 passengers enplaned and deplaned — a 14.16 percent increase and the first year the airport served more than 200,000 passengers in the month of November.

Over the past three years, the airport has recorded its strongest growth in its 52-year history, serving more than 7.1 million passengers over the three-year time period.

Brian Ryks, GFIA executive director, called the passenger numbers “tremendous” and thanked business and leisure travelers for choosing to fly to and from the Ford Airport.

He noted the airlines are taking notice.

“The strong growth is also drawing the attention of our airline partners as we work with them to add seats and flights to both existing and new destinations,” he said.

Water world

The Flint water crisis has much of the nation talking.

While lead levels are undoubtedly higher in Flint now than in the rest of the state, prior to the crisis many areas in the state saw higher lead levels in children than those in Flint. Many of the cases are directly related to lead paint in older houses— not water, which should almost never be a worry, said Stu Yankee, regional manager at Environmental Testing and Consulting.

According to the Michigan Health Department’s 2012 Annual Data Report on Blood Lead Levels — which we can safely assume is well before lead levels in Flint increased — there were 5,734 children in the state with blood lead levels of more than 5 micrograms per deciliter.

An amount more than five is considered higher than normal and increases the risk of neurological problems in children.

A large portion of those cases were in the city of Detroit, but Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland all had children who tested with elevated levels.

In 2012 in Grand Rapids, 478 children tested positive with 5 to 9 ug/dL, while in Flint 99 children tested at those levels. In 2013 in Grand Rapids, 426 children tested greater than 5 ug/dL, with 47 greater than 10 micrograms.

In 2012, the 49507 ZIP code had the sixth-highest percentage of children testing greater than 5 ug/dL, at 14.9 percent of children. In 2013, 49507 was the top ZIP code with 157 children testing above 5 ug/dL.

In 2012, the 49506 zip code was 14th.

Flint is at major risk now and should garner the attention of Gov. Rick Snyder and President Barack Obama for a good while, no matter who is to blame. But lead risks occur every day and must not be ignored.

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