Street Talk: Program showing promise


The past year was a record-breaking time for the Muskegon Area Promise, with 84 percent of students returning to Baker College of Muskegon or Muskegon Community College this fall.

The two-year, countywide scholarship also attracted 241 new high school graduates. They joined the 174 returning students to bring the total number of Promise Scholars to 415. Officials say families will save more than $1 million this year alone.

Larry Hines of the Hines Corporation said he is pleased to see the program exceeding the expectations of local investors.

“Back in 2015, when my business and others provided the initial funds to get the promise off the ground, we did not anticipate how fast it would grow and how big it would become,” he said.

Another investor, Jim Teets of ADAC Automotive, said, “The kids have worked hard to earn the promise and deserve our support and pride.”

Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendent John Severson said the high numbers are a testament to the work of local schools, the high quality of the two local colleges and the scholarship’s value to local families. In 2018, 27 percent — or 500 high school graduates — qualified for the promise with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Muskegon County is one of 15 established Promise Zones in Michigan, making it eligible to capture a portion of the State Education Tax based on the growth of local property values. Over the last two years, the promise has captured $1.3 million in tax dollars to fund scholarships. Severson is quick to point out that these dollars began flowing in 2017 because of the financial backing of businesses and community members.

“We had to have significant private funding in place before we could launch the promise,” he said.

Scholarships are funded through a mix of private, corporate and public investments. Hines Corporation, Nichols, ADAC Automotive and the Alcoa Foundation contributed the first $100,000-level investments. These were followed with identical gifts from Quality Tool and Stamping, Verplank Trucking Company, the Dan and Sheryl Kuznar Family, and the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. A total of more than $1 million was raised within the first year.

“All of these resources work together to secure future scholarships and provide for sustainability,” Severson said. “Members of the 11-member Promise Zone Authority Board monitor the budget monthly to examine expenses and consider the need for additional donor support. We are always looking for new partners to position us to expand the scholarship and meet the increasing demand.”

Challenging times

As the year comes to a close, many of the nation’s workers may be looking for ways to advance in their current positions or find new employment.

For the 33rd consecutive year, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas will suspend normal business operations for two days so its staff of professional job search coaches can provide free career advice to callers from across the country.

The firm’s national job search call-in will be held 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Dec. 26 and 27. The telephone number is (312) 422-5010.

Job coaches will be available to answer questions regarding:

  • Military to civilian job searches
  • The job search for new college grads
  • Retirement
  • The job search for those over age 55
  • Explaining a career gap
  • Résumé writing
  • Interviewing
  • Career advancement
  • Transferring skills
  • Switching industries
  • Turning a temporary position into a permanent one
  • Finding a job after incarceration

The two-day hotline is the only time the general public can take advantage of Challenger’s job search expertise. The firm’s services typically are available only to those who were laid off and are receiving outplacement benefits from their former employer.

“The hotline is a fantastic way to jump-start your career, especially if you feel stuck. Sometimes all you need is a little push in the right direction,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president, Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“With (national) unemployment at 3.7 percent, many employers are desperate for qualified talent. Even if you are currently employed, now may be a good time to think about new, potentially better opportunities. The hotline does not place callers with new employers, nor can our experts review résumés or point callers to specific opportunities. However, our coaches can give callers time-tested strategies. The hotline affords anyone the opportunity to get some guidance from our experts in the job search.”

P.R.I.C.E. is right

In preparation of the holiday shopping season, the Kentwood Police Department is again partnering with local store owners to prevent retail theft with Operation P.R.I.C.E., an educational program that has helped area retailers reduce crime during the holidays since 2014.

As part of the program, Kentwood Police educates store employees on how they can discourage shoplifting and how to identify potential crime, as well as what to do when a shoplifter is caught. The partnership between police and storeowners also provides increased police presence in stores and on the streets.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2018 National Retail Security Survey, shoplifting was the top source of inventory shrinkage for the fourth year in a row, outpacing employee theft. Operation P.R.I.C.E., which stands for Preventing Retail Theft Through Initiative, Collaboration and Enforcement, has had a proven track record in helping local businesses decrease incidents of retail fraud.

Kentwood Police Chief Tom Hillen said the key to the program’s success is the focus on collaborating with business owners and employees.

“At the end of the day, we are working toward the same goal: reducing crime in our community,” he said. “By proactively engaging with business owners and employees, and having open communication early on, we are able to equip them with knowledge and skills needed to help prevent crime. Being able to increase police presence at their shops also helps discourage theft.”

Participating retailers will have posters and signs displayed declaring their partnership with the Kentwood Police Department. Shoppers also will see police officers in and around the community’s prime retail destinations, such as Woodland Mall.

“Operation P.R.I.C.E. has been well-received by retailers and shoppers at Woodland Mall,” said Tony DeLuccia, Woodland Mall general manager. “Beyond the increased police presence in and around the mall, store owners have appreciated the education police provide on how to spot potential shoplifters to keep theft down during the busy holiday season.

“We’ve found the proactive approach of the program combined with the mutual respect between officers and retailers to be empowering for employees. The personal connections made with officers help employees feel more comfortable calling for assistance when they notice suspicious activity.” 

Operation P.R.I.C.E. was launched in 2014 by the Kentwood Police Department in an effort to curb retail theft along the 28th Street corridor. It has since grown to include more than 70 businesses in the city.

“The apparent decline in retail theft during the holiday season is a result of proactive policing activities from the P.R.I.C.E. task force,” Hillen said. “Retailers are becoming familiar with how to file a police report, how to spot theft and what legal actions they can take. These education efforts, along with the visibility of retailers’ partnerships with us, are helping deter potential offenders.”

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