Families & Community

Families & Community
1:30 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Former foster care youth says system "makes you feel disposable"

Credit user Meggy / flickr

"It kind of makes you feel disposable, and that’s not a good feeling at all." 

That's how 22-year-old Jerry Caster describes his time in Michigan's foster care system. Caster bounced around from foster home to foster home starting when he was just 5 years old. He eventually "aged out" of the system when he was 19, and since then he's been alternately homeless or in jail. He wouldn't share with me why he was taken from his parents at the tender age of 5, except to say he suffered some serious trauma and as a result lives with mental illness. 

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Families & Community
1:20 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

"Rich Hill" is the most watchable movie I've seen about poverty

One of the subjects of the film, Andrew Jewell.
Credit Andrew Droz Palermo

We don't do a lot of movie reviews at State of Opportunity. In fact, we've only ever done one.

What makes the documentary Rich Hill worth watching is also what makes it rare and worth talking or writing about.

It is raw and not sentimental, but neither is it hopeless. The film won the top documentary prize at Sundance this year.

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Families & Community
8:21 am
Wed August 13, 2014

Offering a place to call home when home isn't an option

The Kids First building, an emergency foster shelter at D.A. Blodgett - St. John's in Grand Rapids.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Rosslyn Bliss leads the way across a boardwalk on a five-acre piece of land on the north side of Grand Rapids to a one-story light-brown building. This building is an emergency shelter for kids who’ve been removed from their home by the state. 

"We serve ... medically fragile children, we serve children with developmental disabilities, whatever they're struggling with, whatever child comes to our door, whatever their current state is, we take care of them," says Bliss. 

This campus is run by D.A. Blodgett - St. John's in Grand Rapids.

This building is exclusively for kids who’ve been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect and have nowhere else to go.

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Families & Community
3:10 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

What is life like for Michigan's rural poor families?

Lake County has an abundance of natural beauty but few job opportunities
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

What's life like for Michigan's rural poor? The folks over at Bridge Magazine have been looking into that question and the answer is far from rosy. We're talking incredibly high rates of child homelessness, poor health outcomes, and few employment opportunities.

The Bridge series starts with a profile of Lake County, arguably the poorest county in Michigan. 

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Families & Community
11:52 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Charter schools, college sports and juvenile lifers: Here's what to watch for this week

Credit Jeff Stvan / flickr

Let's start with some things you may have missed late last week:

The O'Bannon decision: Otherwise known as the case that could change college sports and higher education forever, this case is all about how much control college athletes should have over moneymaking enterprises that swirl around them.

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Families & Community
11:59 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Where is suburban poverty growing fastest in Michigan? Grand Rapids.

Credit Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

A recent research brief from the Brookings Institution takes a look at the startling rise of concentrated poverty in America over the past decade or so. 

The brief finds that the number of neighborhoods in the U.S. where at least 40% of residents are considered poor has risen by more than 70% since 2000. That is to say, poverty has become more concentrated in certain areas. That's significant because the Brookings researchers say people living in areas of concentrated poverty face a "double burden" – their own poverty, and the poverty of those around them:

The challenges of poor neighborhoods – including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities – make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations. These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

The problem of concentrated poverty has been spreading to places you might not expect: the suburbs. Brookings finds that the number of neighborhoods with at least 40% of people living in poverty has grown by 150% in the suburbs since 2000. That's about triple the rate of growth in urban areas during the same time. 

And there's one metropolitan area in Michigan where the rise of suburban poverty stands out: Grand Rapids. 

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11:46 am
Fri August 1, 2014

Doc McStuffins, a black cartoon character, has major crossover appeal

Lead in text: 
We've covered a lot of heavy stuff this week on the blog, so I figured today we could use a little levity. Doc McStuffins to the rescue! Doc is a 6-year old African American cartoon character who pretends to be a doctor to her stuffed animals and dolls. (The young girl's mom is a doctor, her dad stays at home.) In an age where princesses dominate the cartoon landscape, it's good to see a character who brings more than just a pretty dress to the party. Bonus points for being nonwhite. In the New York Times article, University of Chicago researcher Margaret Beale Spencer says children "are getting ideas about who they are from these objects. There are messages about one’s confidence, one’s sense of self in terms of what I look like and being powerful.” Good work, Doc.
Jade Goss, age 2, looks as if she just stepped out of the wildly popular " Doc McStuffins " cartoon. "She has the Doc McStuffins sheets. She has the Doc McStuffins doll. She has the Doc McStuffins purse. She has Doc McStuffins clothes," said Jade's mother, Melissa Woods, of Lynwood, Calif.
Families & Community
9:55 am
Fri August 1, 2014

"Flint," a piece by two young poets from, yes, Flint

Yazmen Brown (left) and JaCquell Price, college students and slam poets from Flint.
Credit Sarah Alvarez

At the beginning of our recent special on violence we did something we've never done before. 

Usually we begin those shows with music signaling that what you're about to hear is a State of Opportunity production, and then you hear a familiar voice, usually Jennifer White's.  That changed when we asked Raise It Up!, an award winning arts organization in Flint, if the young artists they work with would like to contribute a poem for the show. 

JaCquell Price and Yazmen Brown wrote a piece we thought was so perfect, we opened the show with it. Price and Brown call this piece "Flint." The words are below but really, there's nothing like hearing it. 

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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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