Sunday, September 26, 2010

What's That Smell?

The headless goose! Below, Jac with some sort of
cord in her hand. Does the beach need to be plugged in?
I've known it for a while, but I am a beach snob.

When I arrived at Metro Beach Saturday morning, I quickly realized that this beach was not made up of the sandy dunes I had enjoyed during my youth; I should've worn my rubber boots. Along the shoreline, thick clumps of some sort of putrid plant growth mingled with inches of muck. The wind was blowing, and with it, the stench of rot.

"Oh my God, what is that smell?" I asked.

And it wouldn't be the last time I would whine about the odor, as my friend Jacquelyn Gutc, patiently waited for me to stop gagging.

We pulled our sweatshirt hoods up over our heads and grabbed some garbage bags. Strolling along the sand, we picked up strewn litter as part of the Adopt-a-Beach day, part of the larger International Coastal Cleanup Day staged by the Ocean Conservancy. In Michigan and three other Great Lakes states, Clean Water Action and The Alliance for the Great Lakes partnered for the project.

When we had found everything that we could along the beach, we started climbing along slabs of concrete riddled with rebar. Clutching to the rocks, I ambled down to the shore and dug out a goose decoy while Jacquelun laughed and took photos of my backside.

"No butt shots," I told her.

"I'm getting a bit of everything."

Other than a bottle of Jack Daniels, a few flip flops and other refuse, the oddest thing I found was the decoy lodged deep beneath the muck. My guess is that it had floated away from someone's lakeside home. The trash had found it's way from fishing boats, homeowners and parkgoers.

Jaquelyn and I were both disgusted by what seemed like needless waste. Was someone so tired during a jog that a water bottle had to be thrown along the rocks, instead of recycled?

While we were happy enough to rock climb, we do wish we had been better prepared for this type of beach. And because we didn't have anything other than our gloved hands to pick up trash, we decided to keep a bit of rebar to use as a way of grabbing more litter. But instead, it ended up in one of the garbage bag, eventually puncturing it. So instead of two half bags full of crap, I was lugging one very heavy bag. I have to give it up to Jac though, when we switched off, she didn't look nearly as winded as I had.

After about an hour and a half, we headed back to the group, and tossed our bag in with the rest. A group of students and other volunteers had collected more than a dozen bags. Looking through some of the items others had found, the biggest find seemed to be a vehicle tire. This garbage breaks down on the shore and goes back into the water.

Our beach captian, Julie Blazejewski of Clean Water Action, said the beaches have been getting worse.

"It's getting trashier," she said, "just in the last two years."

She said it's not just more trash, but the unusual nature of it as well. Her goal with Clean Water Action is to get the word out to people, but with less funding, they've cut back. Now, the goal is to work with politicians to push clean water bills.

This is an event that I plan to attend in the future, but maybe I'll try something in the Port Huron area. In the meantime, I sincerely hope that people will make a better effort to keep our state gems a cleaner, healthier place for the future.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beach Bum

Above, view of the beach from Little Presque Isle in Marquette. Below,
one of the quieter beaches in Marquette. You would've ditched class, too!

Summertime in Northern Michigan revolves around the Great Lakes. For me, turning 16 meant that I could drive myself through the winding country roads that would lead me to Sturgeon Bay.

Between my two summer jobs, I lived at the beach. I usually arrived to the golden dunes around ten in the morning. My goal was to be there first. Many times, a few bird-watchers would beat me. But for the most part, it was just me.

By around noon, a few friends would arrive, and a few hours later, I was packing up my gear to get ready for work. On my days off, I spent about eight hours languishing in the sand, gobbling up books and listening to the waves.

In college, at Northern Michigan University, I was surrounded by beaches along Lake Superior's coastline. I was lucky enough to live only a few blocks from a local hot spot. Many nights, after waiting tables, I would walk a few blocks with Rob as we watched the lights from freighters. It was a perfect place to relax. I even ditched a couple of classes every fall to soak up a few more UV rays before the dreaded winters covered the dunes.

The Great Lakes feel like home to me. Being so far from them has been the hardest adjustment for me in my new home in metro Detroit (and of course, the traffic).

But this weekend, I will be able to give back to the Lakes that have given me so much. A co-worker told me she heard something on the radio about beach clean-up efforts. I looked up the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and sure enough, all along beaches this Saturday, volunteers will make efforts to clean the shoreline.

I will be helping out at Metro Beach in Mount Clemens with my friend and the husband (he doesn't know yet). The beach is on Lake St. Clair, which flows into Huron.

If you love and appreciate all of the beautiful lakes Michigan has to offer, check out the list of events by visiting

Friday, September 17, 2010

The "Mane" Event

Waterford Township fireman Mike Reiter
assists rider Jeramiah Maguran at a past
OATS "Mane" event.
The sky was gray and murky puddles formed in the mud from the recent downpours that pelted Southeastern Michigan. I had scrambled out of work and arrived at OATS (Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles) around 4:30 — a half-hour later than I had wanted. A handful of riders were already in the arena on horses. I took over with one, which freed Lynn Daniels up to instruct. The young woman I walked alongside was independent and easy to talk to. I started to relax. It was nice to be away from a cubicle and be near animals and people.

Since I can't make it to the OATS "Mane" Event on Sunday, I wanted to be sure I could at least help out beforehand, because Nancy Heussner, owner of OATS, said volunteers are scarce in the fall.

The event is a once-a-year shindig, starting out with a pancake breakfast. About fifty to sixty riders have registered to take part in the horse show, and spectators are encouraged to partake. Vendors and games will be available as well. All of the riders go home with trophies. The hardware is refurbished — whether it's from a past bowling or baseball championship, Nancy makes it special for the riders.
After about twenty minutes, the second batch of riders arrived. I was matched with a gentleman who was much more nervous than the previous rider. Nancy handled it like a pro, though. She's like a mother — she loves you, but she doesn't put up with crap. When the rider got agitated, she started asking him about dinner, the horse, anything to relax him. When he said he was tired, she reminded him that we hadn't even started yet.

We took the horses and riders to the outdoor arena — the fresh, cool air was refreshing. I was glad I'd grabbed some old shoes, because it was swampy outside. After about an hour, we headed back in, and I watched as more experienced volunteers untacked the horses.

I stayed a bit longer and chatted with Nancy while I attempted to take notes with my now cold, uncooperative fingers, for a small print article. She spoke emotionally about how hard this month has been, and I found myself fighting tears. She talked about how this month reminds her of people who had supported OATS, who are no longer alive. It was hard to watch this rough 'n' tumble woman get emotional. I doubt she told me everything, and who would? I'm still a reporter with a notepad in my hand. What impresses me though, is how she focuses on the riders. No matter what may be happening in her personal life, she keeps it professional for them. It was only once they were gone that it fully started leaking through.

OATS is such a special place, and it's in part, because of Nancy's passion. To learn more about that passion, check out the "Mane" Event, which begins at 8:30 a.m. with a pancake breakfast. followed by the horse show at 9:30 and lunch at 11:30. The event will also feature clowns, music, train rides, games and vendors at Springfield Oaks Park, 12451 Andersonville Road at the Oakland County Fair Grounds. For more information, visit

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Weary Wednesday

After eleven straight hours at work yesterday, and a turn-around early shift today, it's been a hectic week. I was supposed to volunteer this weekend, however, an opportunity to do some more freelance work Up North came up that I didn't want to pass on.

So, last night, still clicking away, I called OATS (which was where I was supposed to volunteer this weekend) to see what I could do. OATS - Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles - works with individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Classes have begun in the evenings, and Nancy told me to come on over. My guess is that I will be doing duties similar to the last time I was there, which is buddying up with a kid and helping lead the horse. It will be good to get out of the office, and be around people and animals.

I've got my 'get-dirty clothes' stashed in my purse, and if I can get out of a meeting early, I might just make it on time.

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Save the Girls!

Patricia Nolf speaks about the PRT.
My alarm started ringing before seven on Saturday morning. After hitting the sleep button three times, I stumbled out of bed.

"I want to pick that thing up and throw it against the wall," I told my husband, who nestled deeper in between the sheets. As a teacher, he wakes up around five in the morning, so I'm betting he was smiling on the inside that I had to get out of bed before him for once.

Even as excited as I was to help out at the Pink Ribbon Trailblazers walk, run and bike event, getting up earlier than I normally do on a weekend did not appeal to me. But as I listened to the oldies on the car radio, my attitude changed.

Forty-five minutes later, I pulled into the library's grassy lawn in Oxford. I was surprised to see it already set up to resemble a Pepto Bismol ad. I had actually arrived five minutes earlier than what I was told. But not to fear, the auction was heating up and there was plenty to do. Donated items of golf gift baskets, fruit, jewelry and even bikes were on display for auction.

The Trailblazers goal is to provide free mammograms for underserved and uninsured women. The raffle and auctions all help raise funds. And in the past three years, the group has raised more than forty-thousand dollars. After helping women sign up for items, and attempting to start bidding wars, the program began.

While there were many survivors at the event, one woman's speech made me stop what I was doing. She spoke about how she had to decide if she was going to make house payments or health insurance payments. She chose her house. And when she got cancer, her twelve treatments of chemotherapy cost seven thousand dollars each.

A few more speeches followed, and then the athletes started stretching for the event. What I love about the Trailblazer event is that it is local. After volunteering in Oxford a few times now, the community involvement is inspiring. Husbands supported wives and women supported each other.

Talking to Patricia Nolf after the event, her enthusiasm is contagious. But it's when she talks about her own battles, that I really admire her efforts. Pat has battled breast cancer, and lung cancer twice, telling me, "It will come back." She states this matter-of-factly. But she doesn't worry about it. Instead, she keeps fighting. And what an inspiration that should be to us all. We may not always have control over our circumstances, but that doesn't mean we give up.

This year's event may be over, but donations are always accepted. Check out Pink Ribbon Trailblazers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Great Reason to Wear Pink

In high school, my best friend's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. One day, she crumpled in front of her locker and sobbed. With her boyfriend on one side and me on the other, we watched emotions gush out of her as others walked by oblivious to what was happening.

Not being able to help someone you care for is one of the worst feelings I have had. Homework stresses, love quarrels, and teen angst are nothing compared to the "C-word."

Her mother, thankfully, did survive after multiple surgeries and treatments. And while I couldn't do much for her then, my next volunteer gig is for her and her family.

I will be helping out at the fourth annual fundraising event with the Pink Ribbon Trailblazers tomorrow morning.

I met Patricia Nolf during a volunteer stint in Oxford with the Downtown Development Authority in July. Dressed completely in pink attire, Patricia asked me if I would be interested in helping out. A breast cancer survivor herself, Patricia founded the organization and ensures that all money assists women in Oakland County.

Money raised goes toward providing free mammograms to uninsured and underserved women. The fundraiser this weekend is a walk, run and bike ride along the Polly Ann Trail in Oxford. Patricia and I have hashed around ideas for what I can do, including registration, giving drinks at rest points and working the auction.

Whatever my role, I'm excited to see athletes of all abilities come together for a common cause — and it gives me a great reason to wear some pink!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Do 'do-gooders' irk you?

A week ago, a friend told me about a conversation she had with one of our co-workers.

She had signed up to do some volunteering over the holiday weekend, and was rebuffed by a young man we both work with.

"Oh, are you doing that with Val?"

When she replied that she was volunteering of her own volition, she got an "Ohhhhh," accompanied by a confused look. 

Apparently, it's cool for me to volunteer because of my project and blog, but for others, why bother?

This reminded me of a study I recently saw reported on the blaring TV behind me at work. The results of the study indicated that people hate do-gooders because they make others look bad.

So I dug around to read more about the Washington State University study.

Here's an excerpt from the report:

"The studies gave participants — introductory psychology students — pools of points that they could keep or give up for an immediate reward of meal service vouchers. Participants also were told that giving up points would improve the group’s chance of receiving a monetary reward.

"In reality, the participants were playing in fake groups of five. Most of the fictitious four would make seemingly fair swaps of one point for each voucher, but one of the four often would make lopsided exchanges - greedily giving up no points and taking a lot of vouchers or unselfishly giving up a lot of points and taking few vouchers.

"The study revealed that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they 'raise the bar' for what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad, according to the study."

The study further indicated that while people disliked incredibly greedy people, they felt the same toward generous people.

I shouldn't be surprised by the study. It's like watching the kid who constantly raises his or her hand in math class (I was that kid in English class, but I detest math, so I'll pick on that student instead). I certainly don't see myself as better than my peers for volunteering — especially when I enjoy it — but I also won't care too much if I'm hated or not. I'm a journalist after all.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Boxing up Some Meds

Samika Hudson of Pontiac sorts through
medications. The box was so big, we had
to have it flipped so we could get through it.
There's nothing better than really enjoying volunteering, because not all volunteer dates are enjoyable. Gleaners never fails, though.

I popped into the warehouse a little after eight in the morning, and started boxing medications that would be sent to Gleaners partners. I spent most of my time checking labels (something that the food drive in Holly prepared me for) and started boxing them up. This wasn't exactly fast packing. At least two garbages were filled with expired medications in the two hours I packed.

While there, I met Samika Hudson of Pontiac who spends twenty hours a week helping out.

"I like it," she said. "It helps out the community, and I'll do anything for that because I'm a part of it. And the staff is wonderful."

A Rochester Adams student who is acquiring hours for National Honor Society was also helping out. In a different area, mothers brought their children to help pack.

The morning went by pretty quickly and was convenient for me to do before work at the OP. While there, I learned that Gleaners is ramping up its efforts. The Detroit Distribution Center is offering bus tours, so people can see where the food goes and who it helps. From soup kitchens to pantries, visitors will get an up-close look at who Gleaners helps.

Gleaners is also hosting a fundraising breakfast Oct. 14 in Troy.

To learn more about tours, visit, call Denise Leduc at 866-GLEANER ext. 404 or e-mail her at Contact Denise regarding the breakfast as well.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Can You Help Fight Hunger?

For some reason, I have three volunteer gigs scheduled throughout September, but I had nothing for this week. After spending yet another relaxed weekend in Northern Michigan, I came back to work feeling like a batch of scrambled eggs.

The upcoming holiday weekend didn't make it any easier to schedule volunteer time, either. I even asked for suggestions through Twitter. I received some suggestions, but none for this week. After searching online and even through the good ole' Oakland Press volunteer listings, I gave up and called Sarah Blight at Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. It's been a couple of months since I visited Gleaners, and I really enjoyed my time there. I'm looking forward to going back.

This is one of the nice things about having some places that can always use help, while offering flexible hours. Gleaner's is also sponsoring "September is Hunger Action Month: 30 Ways in 30 Days." The nonprofit is asking volunteers to help out, while offering easy-to-follow tips. It even has a calendar on its website full of events to help fight hunger, from golf fundraiser events, to texting donations. It only takes one dollar to make three meals. That's why even though food donations are always needed and appreciated, Gleaner's can get more food with cash because it can buy in bulk.

I've said it before: There is no season for hunger. Please check out the website and see how your time and money can make a difference in your community at