Families & Community

The connections that build opportunity.

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Michelle Gach grabs a couple slices of pizza before we get started. She has a story to tell, and it turns out to be a long one, covering the past 14 years of her life, with more tragic turns than most people see in an entire lifetime.

But that comes later. For now, we’re sitting in a room together: Michelle, two of her daughters, and two friendly pit bulls.

The room is mostly bare, exposed plywood on the floor, blue strips of painter’s tape along the baseboard, new doors still leaning against the wall. A project waiting to be finished.

While Michelle Gach finishes her pizza, her daughter Felicity begins to tell me the story of what happened on a Saturday in August 2014.

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Here's an overview of our most popular topics and stories this year:

Race 

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The Centers for Disease Control released new statistics Friday on drug overdose deaths in the U.S. The numbers may not be surprising to anyone who's followed our reporting, but they are still shocking. According to the CDC, 1,762 people died from drug overdoses in Michigan alone in 2014. And that's a 13.2% increase over 2013. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. went way up after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. And the backlash against American Muslims is on the rise again after the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations notes on its website "that it has received more reports about acts of Islamophobic discrimination, intimidation, threats, and violence targeting American Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslim) and Islamic institutions in the past week-and-a-half than during any other limited period of time since the 9/11 terror attacks."

Not surprisingly, the increased backlash is causing a lot of stress for Muslims in general and for Muslim religious leaders in particular. 

Steven Chrypinski / Michigan Radio

This week I saw two very different sides of the city of Flint.

On Tuesday, Genesee County community members gathered for a Michigan Radio sponsored community forum event to talk about the Flint water crisis. Most of them were concerned, angry, or a combination of the two.

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We are so thankful for the State of Opportunity universe. The whole team wishes you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

If you or someone you know is looking for a place to spend the holiday, we have some suggestions: 

Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons

There’s been lots of talk lately about refugees, mostly about whether to let them into the U.S. and how they’re being vetted. But there is a human side to this story about what it actually feels like to be a refugee. So today on State of Opportunity, we're going to spend some time with a refugee who's called Michigan his home for the past four years.

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Kent County Sherriff Deputy Patrick Stewart was on his lunch break last week. Lunch, in his case, was at 12:30 in the morning. He stopped at a fire house in the town of Cutlerville, on the outskirts of Grand Rapids.

"And I heard a very loud knocking, pounding on the door," he says. "When I got to the door, there was a frantic man there saying that he had somebody – his buddy – in the back of his vehicle, and had ODed on heroin, and was no longer breathing."

Stewart called for an ambulance, and started chest compressions on the man. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedic who came to help is actually Stewart’s wife, Amanda. She gave the man a drug called Naloxone. It works as basically an antidote to a heroin overdose, reviving someone who’s on the verge of slipping away. Together, the newly married husband and wife saved the man’s life.

That part of the story is remarkable.

Everything else about it has become far too common, says Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Young.

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Connections is a State of Opportunity documentary about the power of networks.

Some questions we tackle: How do you create a network when you live in poverty? What networking advice would you give to a teenager from a low-income family? In terms of mentoring someone you have no connection to: Why do it? When you're locked up in prison, away from everyone and everything you know and love, how do you build a new life for yourself when you get out? 

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If you don’t have a network, it can be very difficult to advance socially or in your career. One non-profit leader I spoke to called it a “crisis of relationships.” 

That’s exactly the kind of crisis Deondr’e Austin faced five years ago. He says as far as finding a legal job, it was hard. "As far as find anything else that was bad in the world, the network can find a lot of bad things."

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