Sarah Alvarez

Public Insight Journalist

Sarah is the Public Insight Journalist for the State of Opportunity Project.

Sarah's job is to get readers, listeners and communities participating in reporting. Using a tool called the Public Insight Network she helps turn questions, tips, stories, and insight from the State of Opportunity community and beyond into content online and on the air. She also files legal and policy stories. She was formerly the Public Insight Journalist on the Changing Gears project.

Before her work at Michigan Radio, Sarah was a civil rights lawyer in New York and a consultant to social justice organizations in California. She graduated from the University of Michigan, Columbia Law School and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

She has a wonderful husband and three wonderful, busy kids and no time for anything else.


Families & Community
4:29 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

State of Opportunity special: The effect of violence on kids

Credit Jason Rogers / flickr

We sometimes think of violence as contained in certain communities, but violence is present in the lives of an estimated 60 percent of kids.

The effects of exposure to violence on children's development are profound. Kids in some homes and communities have very high levels of exposure to violence.  

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Families & Community
12:06 am
Wed July 30, 2014

Crime in Flint is down, but violence is still taking a big toll on young people

Officer Jesse Carpenter, left, and staff of the Haskell Youth Center in Flint.
Credit Haskell Center

The Haskell Youth Center is on the front lines of violence prevention in Flint. They don’t use a complicated formula; there are just plenty of positive activities and positive adults.

On any given day there are about 200 kids spread throughout the game room, the cafeteria, and a gym where the basketball games never seem to stop. 

Haskell is a refuge of sorts. Violent crime is pervasive in this city, with almost 800 such crimes reported since the beginning of the year. That’s pretty extreme. But just as true outside of Flint is the effect violence can have on young people.

"It feels like a storm that's always around – that won't go away," says 18-year-old Rico Colfer. He's been coming to Haskell since he was nine years old. He now works at the center when he's not in school, studying for what he hopes will be a career in graphic design. 

Colfer says his house has been broken into three times. He says the stress takes a toll on him and on those around him. "Every time it happens it hurts me because I see my mom cry," he says. "She works hard to get us the best stuff to have, and they just come and take it."

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7:42 am
Tue July 29, 2014

Paul Ryan signals change in tone on poverty. Skeptics raise collective eyebrow.


Paul Ryan is arguably the Republican Party's most amplified voice on poverty. He talks about it often in his role as chairman of the House Budget Committee and spoke famously on Vice Presidential campaign trail.

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Families & Community
4:43 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

How does Michigan stack up when it comes to child well-being? Are you sure you want to know?

Credit User: Guillermo Ossa / Stockvault

The Annie E. Casey Foundation looks at statistics that should tell us something about how kids are faring across the country and in Michigan.  

The foundation looks at things like poverty, teen pregnancy and health insurance coverage to name a few.

If it seems like these reports are always coming out, well, that's partly true. The sheer number of indicators to analyze means that reports trickle out throughout the year. 

Update: Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Yesterday, we looked at 2012's statistics for Michigan.

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11:01 am
Fri July 18, 2014

Getting rid of a juvenile record is now easier in Michigan, but you should still probably read this

Credit Stanley Forthright / flickr

Having a juvenile record can crush the job prospects of a young person exactly the same way having a criminal record does.

Last year it got easier to set aside a juvenile record in Michigan. Setting aside your record, sometimes called expunging, means it will no longer be public and won’t show up on a background check.

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Mon July 7, 2014

A Michigan library lives the "it takes a village" idea

Ypsilanti library branch library manager Joy Cichewicz passes out free lunches to the her young patrons. In this youth section, everybody is always in motion.
Credit Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

“I’m here all day,” eleven year old Charlie told me proudly.

Charlie and dozens of other kids have set up camp in the youth section of the Michigan Avenue branch of the Ypsilanti District Library. The space, a self-contained set of rooms down one flight of stairs just to the right of the main entrance of the library, challenges the idea of a library as a quiet and orderly place.

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2:19 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

Happy 4th of July from SOO

Lead in text: 
Safe and happy weekend to all of you! If you're in the mood to listen to something over the holiday we'd recommend the series Michigan Radio put together last Independence Day on the experiences of immigrants in the United States. We'll see you on Monday.
In 2004, Koffi Itito fled his home country of Togo, leaving behind his family and life as he knew it."I left to save my life," Itito said.While the West
Families & Community
6:08 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

What we know and often ignore about violence in Michigan

Credit Dennis Hill / flickr

Because I cover kids and poverty, by necessity I have a high tolerance for news and information others might categorize as depressing.

But I freely admit not all information is equal for me. Information about the effect of violence on children wears on me in a way most of my other work doesn't.

We're putting together a special about how violence affects kids in Michigan, so I've been looking at a lot of these kinds of stories and studies lately. Here are just a few of the themes I've seen over and over in my research. 

It's contagious

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Families & Community
12:06 am
Wed June 25, 2014

How Jackson, Michigan managed to reduce teen pregnancy and infant mortality with only $8,000

Members of Jackson's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative get together to congratulate graduating seniors and welcome new peer educators into the program.
Credit Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

At 3:30 p.m on a recent week day, I showed up to the College and Career Access Center in Jackson Crossing. It’s a strip mall, where right next to an army recruitment office sits what amounts to a storefront guidance counselor’s office. It’s accessible to anyone in the community, of any age.

Each of the county’s 13 school districts made a tough choice to give up their discretionary funds to pay for it, and hire a few college and career advisors they could share to help them reach their goal of getting 60 percent of Jackson’s residents to have a college degree or career credential by 2025.

When I showed up there were 16 people waiting for me, from the Superintendent of the Intermediate School District to the County Commissioner to the editor of Jackson’s newspaper. They were all there to tell me about what’s going on in Jackson.

“We roll deep in Jackson!” Kriss Giannetti explains. Gianetti is one of the founders of a group called Jackson 2020. Over the last three years they’ve been working together to tackle some of Jackson’s toughest problems.

While we talked, a steady stream of people walked into the center to talk to the college and career advisors or use a computer bank to our left. They were getting help with things like financial aid questions and career training. Recent high school graduate Courtney Reese was one of them. Reese is moving to Washington State this month to go to community college there, but she says she won’t stay too long.

“I’m definitely coming back here,” she says emphatically.  “We have a lot of self-pride. There’s people with "517" tattoos on them and they’re showing Jackson pride. And I just think that’s really cool. Especially with the reputation we have.”

The cavalry isn't coming

Jackson does have a reputation as a city with plenty of issues, or, as I heard said more than once “truths.” It’s not unlike most, if not all, Michigan cities trying to resurrect themselves from decades of economic depression.

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1:06 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

Ideas and stuff: Interesting things we're reading at State of Opportunity

Credit takomabibelot / flickr

There have been more than a few emails between the State of Opportunity team this week about research or articles with some version of "we need to share this," as the subject.  

Not all of it is made for easy sharing on social networks, so we've developed kind of a backlog that we're going to take care of right here, right now. 

It's not necessarily sunshine and rainbows, but I threw in some cheer at the end. 

How do you make a living on zero income?

One thing we've talked about since the beginning of this project is how many kids in Michigan are growing up in a household that earn no income. It might seem impossible, but it could be a reality for as many as 10% of the group of women who at one time got cash assistance, or "welfare." We've met several of these folks in our reporting.

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