Urban Outreach Initiative Moment

Did you know that Urban Alliance (UA) does street Outreach every week in the three core neighborhoods of Kalamazoo? Neither did WMed medical student, Letty Thottathil. Letty found herself at UA as part of her Active Citizenship Program at WMed. The program is designed to better connect future doctors with the public they hope to serve, in a non-medical context. Like Urban Alliance, Letty is deeply committed to giving people a 2ndchance (and a third, and a fourth….) and was eager to learn what UA is all about.

Letty first volunteered to help decorate for our annual Thanksgiving Dinner, and then came and served at the meal itself. Her reaction? “I couldn’t believe how many volunteers were there!” The experience motivated her to try out weekly Outreach, and she’s become a fixture there. Director of Outreach, Esto Juarez, says of WMed volunteers, ‘They’re awesome. They’re so faithful! We need to do a story on them.’

Connecting with our friends on a personal level has impacted Letty greatly. While she continues to serve with the Urban Outreach Initiative team, her next experience at Urban Alliance will likely come as a Coach in our Momentum Urban Employment Initiative programming. We’re so excited that Letty is a part of our family and we can’t wait to see what’s next with her.

Momentum Urban Employment Initiative

When Dave first met Scottie, he didn’t really know what to expect. He was familiar with Momentum and its vision, and he was eager to join the ranks of Momentum ‘Coach,’ but now his preconceived notions were running headlong into reality. Scottie was working to escape the fires of life, and he’d brought another with him: his fiancé, Lacey. Only a few months before, Scottie and Lacey were living in the woods near a remote section of the railway near Jackson, Michigan. Homeless, hopeless and struggling with drug abuse, the couple knew they needed a change, and they decided to come to Kalamazoo to find it.

While helping Lacey enroll into a GED program, Scottie noticed a flyer for something called ‘Momentum’ that talked about job training and overcoming barriers. Scottie went to open enrollment, filled out an application, interviewed with staff and was admitted into the program. Looking back he admits he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into. ‘I didn’t realize they were going to have me look so deep inside myself.’ As part of the program, Scottie now found himself sitting across the table from his ‘Coach.’ A self-described private person, Scottie soon found himself confiding in Dave, sharing things he’d never shared before. He even remarked to Lacey, ‘I don’t even know why I was sharing that stuff. I never do that!’ 

All the while, Dave listened, without judgment, also growing in the process. His role was to encourage, and support and listen. Before long Dave, Scottie and Lacey were all meeting together because they quickly passed from the Coach/student relationship into a budding friendship. Everyone grew through the process. Scottie was hired by a wonderful local employer at a life sustaining wage. Lacey was growing in self-confidence each and every day. Dave was astounded by how much both Scottie and Lacey were overcoming. They were becoming different people, right before his eyes. And he was becoming a different person too. Less than a year removed from desperation, Scottie and Lacey secured stable housing in which to raise their soon-to-be-born child. Their story is a testimony that life transformation happens. Their story is an example of what happens when people are given another chance. Their story gives a glimpse into what can happen when we work together to demonstrate to people that they matter. As the passage goes, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Will you join us in our efforts? Will you believe in the power of belief? Will you take the risk to have your heart and mind forever changed?

Urban Outreach Initiative. “The Pursuit of Happiness: Cory’s Version”

By  Nancy Servoss, UA Volunteer 

Cory sat in the Urban Alliance office, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. For the next hour I listened as he dispelled my thinking. Cory, I found out, had recently left a dead-end comfort zone because he cares so deeply about being sober and watching his little boy grow up.  

Several months earlier, he was at the end of the proverbial rope and almost didn’t make it into the Momentum office. The church-like setting with the steel framed side door didn’t exactly lure him in. “I almost walked away,” he admitted. However, sheer desperation propelled him into what he perceived as an ominous setting and that’s when things changed. Quickly. Within two weeks of starting Momentum, he sensed it was the right place for him. Deep down, he knew he had to bring hidden personal issues to the front and deal with them. And so he did.    

Cory has worked to overcome many barriers. With only a bit of hesitation, he told me about two felony convictions and a history of drug use. Poor choices took him down some dark roads. During the six-week Momentum program, he faced his past and slowly recognized future possibilities. This was especially difficult because, right after he started, his son’s mom died. Almost overnight, Cory became a full-time dad to three-year old Max.  

Cory smirked as he recalled the plea to “trust the process,” a phrase he heard frequently during his time with Momentum. He did learn to trust, but it came in small waves, as he realized his own resiliency within an environment that included people he respected, and trusted.

After completing the Momentum program last spring, Cory forged on and successfully finished a three-week Warehouse Management and Inventory Control Academy. He then secured a full time job at Sigma, a home, and a car. As we ended our time together, Cory told me, “Without Momentum, I may not have my son and I may not have landed in a good place. The universe came together on this one.”  

Urban Alliance Technical Center and Academies

2018 brought four academies, all offered in partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Community College, to the Urban Alliance Technical Center (UATC). Academies included Warehouse Management and Inventory Control, Production Technology, Manufacturing and Material Handling, and Computer Numerical Control (CNC). Western Michigan University also partnered with the Warehouse Management and Inventory Control Academy. Within a few weeks of the October Manufacturing and Material Handling Academy’s completion, all eight graduates were gainfully employed.

Through the generous donation of the Stryker-Johnston Foundation, we were able to outfit our technical lab with two new Computer Numerical Control machining centers, three forklifts, a coordinated measurement machine and a production line. Our current cohort of twelve CNC students are the first to be trained on the CNC machining centers. Join us for their graduation at the KVCC Groves Center on January 17th from 6-7:30 p.m. In addition, we are very pleased to share that we have been certified to be a member of the Haas Technical Education Center group.

Momentum Business Network Employer Spotlight: Sigma Machine

Here’s what Sigma had to say about working with Urban Alliance,

Sigma Machine is a family owned and locally operated manufacturer that specializes in the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry. We’ve been in business in Kalamazoo since 1955.

Sigma has partnered with Momentum since the very first graduating class. For us it just makes sense. We get to talk to potential employees who have gone through the program and have shown that they can overcome challenges in their lives. I know that Momentum grads have the “soft skills” that will help them be successful — things like good attendance, motivation and responsibility.  Those are things that I can’t train; people either value those things, or they don’t. To be honest, the folks that come through Momentum are usually my best employees. They know how hard they worked to get the job, and they are willing to work just as hard to keep it.

Now that Momentum is offering the academies, the people who come through have those “extra” skills that put them a step above my other new hires. They know what working in a manufacturing plant is going to be like. They WANT this kind of work and they are excited to be given a chance to be successful. Momentum is good for our company (finding new employees), it is good for our employees (helps them stay on the path to success) and it is good for the community.’ – Julie Allen, Sigma Human Resources.

Momentum Urban Employment Initiative

The Momentum Urban Employment Initiative, our most well-known initiative, continues to be a proven success. To date, 90% of our graduates have gone on to gain employment, with 74% maintaining employment beyond 90 days. 2018 was therefore focused on laying the groundwork for an expansion of Momentum from serving two core urban neighborhoods to serving three. Adding a third site in 2019 will allow us to run three cohorts of Momentum simultaneously, thereby increasing the number of students served from 120 per year to 180. 

Urban Outreach Initiative: Trunk or Treat

On October 31st, 2018, Urban Alliance’s Outreach Initiative hosted its 3rd annual Edison Safe Trunk or Treat in partnership with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center. This event is designed to create a safe space for families to enjoy all the excitement that Halloween brings, and most importantly, spend time with one another in a positive environment. Featured at this event was KDPS’ Bomb Squad Robot and Fire Truck, a photo booth, games, a local DJ, ample amounts of candy, and so much more. This year we were thrilled to serve nearly 500 of our friends within the community. We are grateful for the many volunteers and community partners that helped make this event a blast for all! 

Gov. Snyder Tours Job Program That Works

Transforming Urban Communities

Urban Alliance is more than jobs, outreach and housing. Our desire is to empower others to bring transformation to their lives. Please take a moment to watch this video of three individuals who have been positively impacted through the initiatives of Urban Alliance.

Thank You!

Thank you to all who have supported the efforts of Urban Alliance. Your support is positively impacting the lives of hundreds of individuals within our city. Transformation is taking place, and lives are being renewed.

Thank you!