Michigan Dreams

Michigan Dreams
Fall 2009/Findings Alumni Magazine

By Mary Beth Lewis and Leslie Stainton

Michigan Dreams

Michigan has been hit hard during America’s economic downturn. Like a slow-moving tsunami, trouble began arriving here years ago, as manufacturing (particularly the auto industry) downsized painfully. University of Michigan economists are predicting that 2010 will close a decade represented by nearly 950,000 jobs lost in the Wolverine State.

We wanted to find out how people here are holding up, particularly those with some connection to UM SPH. Tell us how your work and your life are affected, we said as we got in touch with alumni, faculty, and community partners. How about your dreams—are they derailed, or simply changing? What will rebirth look like for Michigan? What is the good news?

Two Findings writers talked to more than a dozen people—and we didn’t just call the stories in. We got out into Michigan’s cities and green open vistas, to spend days shadowing many of our interviewees at work: on a sun-drenched vegetable farm near Manchester, a guarded UAW building on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit, in hospitals, in the ravaged but hopeful neighborhoods of Flint, in the sacred native lands of the Upper Peninsula. It helped us better understand—and tell you more—about the state of our state, and what we can expect next.

MANCHESTER: Charlie Perez and Karina Rodriguez, Health Aides, Infórmate Teen Health Program

“My dad worked here in this field, and my mom, too, when she was pregnant with me. But I don’t want to be here my whole life. I’ve always thought I am going to be someone. I’m really good in school. I want to go to college and study political science, and I want to be the first Latino president of the United States of America. I would like to help a lot of people, because there’s a lot of people in need.” —Charlie Perez
“I want to finish high school and go off to a community college and study to be a midwife. I wanted to be an architect originally. But I had to be realistic, because who in the world was going to want to pay me to make some kind of house the way they wanted? So I was like, OK, nobody’s going to want to do that, the whole economy’s going. So I needed a job that I knew was going to be secure—and that’s how I ended up wanting to be a midwife.” —Karina Rodriguez
Karina Rodríguez, 17, Ben Rubio, 19, and Charlie Perez, 16, traveled from Texas with their families this summer to pick vegetables in Michigan. With SPH alumna Amy Frank, MPH/MSW ’04, and UM graduate Alexandra Lazar, of Migrant Health Promotion’s Infórmate program, the three trained to be teen health aides in their community.

FLINT: Bettina Campbell, Founding Director, Your Center and Your Blessed Health

“AIDS is the number-one cause of death among African-American men between the ages of 20 and 49 in Genesee County, and our 13 to 19 year-olds have the highest rates of HIV in the state. We have the second highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in Michigan, and we’re currently experiencing a syphilis epidemic. Our teen pregnancy rates rival the national rates, and that’s unacceptable. But we always have hope. We’ve seen the health department, the medical community, politicians, businesses, and everyday residents all come together to work on these issues. We’ve had town hall meetings. We’ve been able to train 44 faith institutions to be able to talk about health and sexuality, and as a result we’ve seen more young people come in to pick up condoms, people coming in to be tested, churches opening their doors to have testing sites, pastors inviting us to talk about it from the pulpit. So they are saying we get it, we want to help.”
A UM alumna (BS ’93, MSW ’95) and an SPH community partner, Bettina Campbell directs the faith-based Flint initiative Your Center, which focuses on sexual health and infant mortality. “It’s our responsibility as Christians,” she says, “to step up to the plate and do whatever we can to make sure that our brothers and sisters are on the same level playing field that we are.”

GRAND RAPIDS: Erin Schlemmer, UM SPH epidemiology student

“In terms of health care, Grand Rapids is really booming. The city is getting a lot of different health care centers and research going. Because of the contributions of several families, we’ve got state-of-the-art facilities like the Van Andel Institute, which does cancer research, the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center at Spectrum Hospital, and the De Vos Children’s Hospital. Michigan State University is also starting to build a big medical teaching and research complex in Grand Rapids. Even though Michigan is having a lot of economic problems, we are still a big leader in terms of health care research and quality of care across the whole belt of Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor and Detroit.”
Over the summer, Grand Rapids native Erin Schlemmer, a second-year M.P.H. student at SPH, completed an internship with the Michigan Department of Community Health, where she worked on HIV/AIDS surveillance. She enjoyed working for the state government, she says, because “you have the luxury of seeing overall trends and trying to help make decisions about where to focus resources.”

DEARBORN: Adnan Hammad, Senior Director, Community Health and Research Center for Arab-American Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS)

“ACCESS has been receiving and serving immigrants and refugees for almost 38 years, and it has never been as hard as it is now to help them. Last year we received 2,050 refugees, and we have been informed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement that we can expect 4,000 Iraqi-Chaldean refugees by the end of this fiscal year. Our focus-group meetings with refugees indicate that currently 70 percent of the refugees who come here can’t find work. They live with their extended families, because they cannot afford to live independently. They are really in need of everything, including mental health services, because you have human beings who are victims of torture and therefore victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Refugees are the future of the American dream, and we have to realize that. We have to allow them to integrate in the larger community by employing them, opening doors for them.”
SPH community partner Adnan Hammad grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp and came to the U.S. in 1994 to establish and direct the Community Health and Research Center at ACCESS, a human services organization committed to the development of the Arab-American community. “America gives people opportunities to make their dreams true,” he says.“I see myself as part of the American dream.”

DETROIT: Angela Reyes, Founder and Executive Director, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation

“Working for a nonprofit in Southwest Detroit these days is like living in the eye of a storm. Our neighborhood’s mostly Hispanic population feels it with higher unemployment, immigration problems, and an educational system that’s crashing and burning around us. The recent Chadsey High School closing, for example, is bringing rival gangs together at Southwestern and Western high schools. Gang mediation is a part of what we do, and we know gang activity is inversely related to economic prosperity. Gangs expand when adults fail to provide kids with what they need: jobs, value, respect, and a sense of belonging. So we work on social entrepreneurship with these kids, and redirect their leadership potential into more positive projects. We’re fortunate to have strong Latino men working with youths here, and we provide a safe haven, a place to belong, year-round. We know we’re making a big difference now and for the future.”
Angela Reyes earned her MPH from SPH in 1998, a year after she founded the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation from her living room, “because I was tired of burying children.” DHDC serves as headquarters for 45 staffers, hundreds of school-age children, and clients such as local women training in HIV prevention with coaching in self-respect, self-defense, cultural pride, and condom negotiation.

DETROIT: Sarah Mayberry, Senior Medical Producer, WDIV TV (NBC)

“We’re doing lots of pain-related segments—migraines, back pain, it’s all tied together with links to stress. This economy has hurt our viewers, no doubt about it. Whether they’ve lost health insurance or not, people are seeing doctors less. They rely on the information we provide, because there’s more fear at work of looking weak or missing days for sick kids. We’ve always received calls asking for help, but now the volume is higher and the problems are more serious. We publicize anything that’s free, especially health tests—that’s a huge priority. Some of my professors used to overlook television as a way to talk to the public about health issues, but people e-mail every day with questions that they’re embarrassed to ask their own doctors. I feel like I’ve found my place to make a difference—to give people access to what they want and need to know.”
Sarah Mayberry was already working general assignments at WDIV television in Detroit (Channel 4) when she earned her MPH from SPH in 2000. She has won several Emmy awards and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and continues to find the people she interviews “surprisingly willing to share their stories, because they want to help others.”

DETROIT: Luis Vazquez, United Auto Workers Health and Safety Specialist

Luis Vazquez“America has the UAW to thank for the eight-hour workday, decent vacation time, healthier workplaces, you name it. And not just in the auto industry—we’re in water-treatment plants, appliance companies, even ice cream factories. These days, we’re actually seeing an increase in the number of requests for safety training. That’s because it’s the proportion of experienced workers that’s decreasing, as they take buyouts. Companies bring in new hires at lower wages, and suddenly we’re back to square one, needing basic hazmat training for employees who have to learn how to read a material safety sheet to determine venting for a job. So much experience and know-how has been lost. There’s less money, resources, personnel—and stress is way up. In terms of safety, more stressed workers can mean trouble. We’re probably in a very dangerous time ...”
Luis Vazquez, who completed the MPH program in environmental health at SPH in 1989, has been working for 18 years under federal grants to improve worksite health and safety. In April, he worked with Detroiters for Environmental Justice to train 20 young Detroiters, all of whom reached technician level and half of whom immediately got jobs in asbestos remediation.

SAULT STE MARIE: Rick Haverkate, Director of Public Health, Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan

Rick Haverkate“There’s a lot of bad news coming out, sure. But we have good news to share. The socioeconomic status of American Indians has risen over the past generation. More American Indians are getting college degrees. For the first time ever, we have native physicians at tribal clinics. We finally have Indian people getting law degrees and working for tribes. And the health statistics of a lot of American Indians are rising. We’re surpassing the general population in areas like health screenings and quit attempts for smoking. We have really high rates of early entry into prenatal care. We’re partnering with places like the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association to create outreach and education programs that include American Indians and other minorities. During the economic good times of the past, I think a lot of minorities felt excluded from the American dream. But now, in the ‘browning’ of America, I think people see the possibility of being included.”

ST. JOSEPH/BENTON HARPER: Joe Wasserman, President & CEO, Lakeland Health System

“I think our community is a good example of how to do things right in terms of working with a distressed community such as Benton Harbor. The St. Joe River divides St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, but there’s been a lot of hands extended across the river to work together. This summer, a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course opened along the river, turning a formerly polluted industrial brownfield area into a magnificent course. A number of condo and hotel developments are being planned. There’s a new streetscape in downtown Benton Harbor, an arts district, loft apartments, restaurants, a dance studio, and those have been bringing people into the prime part of downtown. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. The economic downturn has caught individuals from all economic strata—it doesn’t matter whether they’re high school or college graduates or professionals. It’s impacting everyone. But I think there’s been a real sense of working together.”
In addition to his work with Lakeland Health System, SPH alumnus Joe Wasserman, MHA ’70, has served for many years on the board of Cornerstone Alliance, a nonprofit community and economic development organization dedicated to tax and job-base creation in the communities that comprise Northern Berrien County, Michigan.