AC3 podcast episode 1

AC3 Board members introduction of projects

January 18, 2021

Alger County Communities that Care Logo - Alger County outline with text AC3 United and Thriving

Vicki Ballas: Welcome to the Alger County Communities that Care podcast series. I am Vicki Ballas, Alger and Marquette County Community Nutrition instructor for Michigan State University Extension. MSU Extension is partnering with Alger County Communities That Care or AC3 for short, to provide informative and real conversations from our community. AC3 is a coalition of community members working together to keep Alger County united and thriving by providing programs and resources that promote a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults in Alger County. So today we have five board members and the AC3 coordinator from the Alger County Communities That Care group, also known as the AC3 and the CTC. So you may hear these acronyms thrown around today, but just know that they are one and the same. So welcome everyone. So let's start by having each of you introduce yourself and say what role you play on the board. So who would like to start? How about Linda?

Linda Remsberg: I am a Linda, Remsberg, I'm with Grow and Lead Community in Youth Development. We are based in Marquette. We worked throughout the UP and I especially love Alger County. My role with AC3 is I'm the chair of the data group.

MaryJo Ohalloran-Torongo: And Linda has been there since the very beginning And so have you a Vicki all a part of that initial start? Vicki: It seems like so long ago. Mary Jo: It was a long time. Linda: How long ago was it? Mary Jo: About 2013. My name is Mary Jo OHalloran-Torongo and I am the previous Coordinator for the Communities that Care and the program started, I received my training in 2013. We implemented the Communities that Care program in 2014. And as I indicated, Linda, as well as Vicki, and there are a handful of others that we're all involved in the initial get go. The real premise or the real.. what's the word....impetus behind the program was that we had had several youth die and drunk driving incidents. And there was a lot of being very sad about it. And then Deb Fulcher, who was the previous director to Alger Parks and Rec basically looked at me and everyone also was there and said, you know, are we going to just talk about this. or are we going to do something? And that's how it all started.

Vicki: Wow, that's right thanks for reminding us that. Marjorie did you want to go next? Sure,

Marjorie Moore: I'm Marjorie Moore and I'm not with any agency, I'm a community volunteer. And I serve as the Secretary of the AC3 board, and I think I'm chair of the Maintenance Committee as well.

Mary Jo: Yeah, (laughing) punishments begin when you're not there.

Vicki: (laughing) I think we volunteered you that day. Would you like to go next Bobbi?

Bobbi Ayotte: My name is Bobbi Ayotte. and I joined AC3 in 2014 and I'm currently the President of AC3 and also the chair of the Communication Workgroup.

Vicki: Ok and Bill.

Bill Torongo: My names Bill Torongo. I am the current Alger County Communities that Care Coordinator. So I'm the third Torongo to have the title AC3 Coordinator, but thankfully because of that I have some really great people, to look up to and helped me through this and to keep us on course, I'm glad I have all this support of members who are there in the beginning. And of course, my mother, who was also an original member.

Vicki: and I am Vicki Ballas and I am also a board member on the AC3 and I work for Michigan State University Extension and I'm a Community Nutrition Instructor, and I am the Chair of the Adult workgroup.

Vicki: So Bill as the coordinator of the AC3. Could you tell our listeners what this group is all about?

Bill: This program is equating that there's five different phases. And we are as a CTC supposed to move through those phases, so at the nitty-gritty. That's what it is. But really we just as a group, decide what the community needs. So anywhere between, you know, if we need Alger Packs, when the school closes were able to spring into action and do that. We worked on getting Botvin's in schools. We worked on bringing in prevention speakers or suicides QPR programming and everything like that so really we just have a great group of people who want to help the community. We have the flexibility to do that whatever way we see fit, more or less on with following through these five stages of the CTC program.

Vicki: Okay, that's awesome!

Vicki: So as a member of this group myself, I know that the AC3 has been involved in a number of local projects over the years and has a strong presence in Alger County, we're all very proud of the work that we have accomplished, even though we're a pretty humble group. So now is your time to brag a little, if you would. Can each of you speak to a project that really excites you or you feel it is some of the AC threes best work. And how does it impact your community?

Mary Jo: Ya know for me Actually, there's several of them, but needing to hone down the one, years ago and Bobbi can speak to this and so can Linda and Marjorie actually. All of you can now that I think about it. We began to really dream about what it would look like to have social workers back on the school. And we also dreamt about having internships in our county that we're going to be meaningful to our youth. Because if they were being sent to Marquette to do that. And we talked about even having school clinics. And this talk around the table. Just kept getting more and more energy and putting lots of not only effort but intention behind creating this. And before we knew it, we were meeting with superintendents and the CEO for Nenha Paper and the hospital and everyone else and putting together these opportunities to not only have internships, but then that morphed into the social work fund raising for social work and eventually working towards getting clinics in the schools. And I thought that that was a masterful piece of Strong intentions from lots of people, including our school superintendents. But I just think that that was something that I guess I'm really proud to have been part of.

Vicki: Ya me too. Marjorie did you want to say something?

Marjorie: Well, just that umm. I don't have a history with the group that that many of the rest of you do when we moved here full time in 2016 that fall we went to an All In the Barn fundraiser that AC3 was doing and I was just impressed with the volunteerism and how well that was run. And I snagged Mary Jo and said, who are you people? And why are you doing what you're doing. And she gave me a little bit of history about how it kind of came together, that is spontaneous need to support the youth in the community for the tragedies that have happened. And as a retired school principal, I know intimately how important how vital of the role of a school social worker is if kids have issues or their, their, life is a mess. They can't learn, you know, they, they just can't and that affects everything about their school performance. If a group is pulling together to do something to help kids, I'm all in. And this beginning of the school social workers into the districts I think was huge. We gathered data from the school social workers, not personal data obviously, but yearly or several times a year above the number of students, you see the types of issues that they're involved with. And it is just vital what their work has been to help kids in Alger County. So I can't claim credit for that, but I sure I'm proud of it.

Vicki: You sure can, we're all a part of this.

Mary Jo: And this feel like a good time to get our spark plug. Bobbi Ayotte to talk a little bit about stuff because I don't know if she's the whip and the chair, or she's the hugger or the Tasmanian devil in this? But, Bobbi.....

Vicki: I think she is all of those things. Bobbi did you have something to add?

Bobbi: I really wanted to touch on because this was kind of, in a sense, a big project. But for those of you out there that have been involved with a non-profit, we were able to go that route and we are currently a 501C3 nonprofit and it took us a while to get there. But as we were going through this process, we wanted to receive more donations and apply for bigger grants because we want it to exist and we wanted to overall help our youth and adults in Alger County. So I feel that was a big step in the right direction for us and it has led to grant opportunities and donations throughout the community. And I also agree with everybody else, social worker, there was a huge thing and started out kind of as a dream for us. And we said We need to get this done. We need to do this. We need to be the group. That kind of goes outside the boundaries a little bit and figure out how we get this, this here. As far as our fundraisers that we do, we do so many and it seems like we're being known across our County and other colonies as to what we do over here, I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret. We do have a lot of fun. Our group is fun. We have a different array of organizations, individuals, families, kids that are all coming to support what we do. One of my favorites of the fundraisers that we do is that pizza with a purpose fundraiser that is my all time favorite. Actually, when I was in my younger days, I worked at a pizza place in good old Negaunee and I was the manager over there. So having an opportunity to do this again in the kitchen where it feels like home and raising money for a great cause just is is awesome. And the support we had for the last four years we have done it is just out of this world, to say the least, were a great group. We're always looking for new members. I'm just proud of everybody or there support over the years.

Vicki: Bobbi, when you mentioned all the volunteers that we have, I just want to say that you have all become my friends. Very good friends. And I think we all kind of feel the same. We've all spent so much time together doing all these projects.

others all saying at once (chuckling): We love you Vicki! We love you man! Ya Vicki.

Vicki (laughing): I love you too!

Vicki: So the people that come and volunteer at all of our events, other than just our core group, all the students. I think that's one of the things that really warms my heart when I see them volunteering. Because I know from my own kids that when they volunteers as children, they will volunteer as adults. And so we're creating kind of like a side effort of creating volunteers for the future and I just see that a lot. And it always warms my heart to see those young kids volunteering and they do it year after year. And I started having relationships with them as well and getting to know them. And I've said to many of them, hey, if you ever need a job reference, you can use me because I see them working so hard and developing new skills. And it's just a sidebar, something I didn't expect to happen from all of the events that we put on. Linda you didn't get a chance to say anything yet.

Linda: I'd like to talk a little bit about the survey that we do, that I am really proud of that and I think that that's something that kind of sets us apart from other coalitions. So as we've talked about things here, you know, kids are really at the core of our mission with the organization to, to help them grow up to be, healthy, competent and caring and emphasis on healthy and make healthy choices. And one of the things that AC3 does is a youth survey every two years, we survey sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders across the county. The survey asked questions about their, their protective factors and those risk factors that that influence their behaviors. And then also the protective factors protects them against risky behaviors and such. So that the survey really helps us get a good idea of where kids are and what they're thinking, and what their influences are and such. And then we are able to be informed by that and to choose what we do in the community to affect that and to support our young people.

Vicki: And then Linda we have these surveys and we find out their risk factors and then we implement programming. And then the youth get tested again. And then we get to see, are we having any impact at all? Is what we're doing, you know, we're all proud of this and we think we're doing great work. But those surveys really help us determine whether we are doing the right thing and where we need to make changes. Is that correct?

Linda: Yeah. That is correct in part but it also just tells us well even if we're not seeing like a needle go up, up, up. It doesn't mean that we're not doing what we need to do. It just says that there's a real need for what we're doing out there so, so we can put programs in place that, you know, that will have a bigger impact on the particular risk or protective factors that we, that we see we need to influence. And you really have to be, have to have done the survey over a quite a number of years to really be able to say that there are trends. Some of the things that we've noticed from the survey and priorities that we've put in place are depressive symptoms, our kids are really high in symptoms of depression that we've been able to put in Social workers in the school really does have a direct impact on that. On perceived risk of drug use that kids don't perceive using drugs is very risky. That's another area that, that we prioritized and are really working on. And then one of the protective factors is opportunities for pro-social involvement. And that's something that we're really trying to put in place and that would be like Vicki what you talked about the kid's volunteering, those pro social opportunities like that. to help in the community in with something bigger than just themselves. Those would be the kind of pro-social opportunities that we would like to see for our kids.

Mary Jo: The one that we do in 2022. That will let us know a lot about how our kids have fared throughout this pandemic and online education. and really refers us on to think about what can we do during that time to help youth, their families, older adults, whoever they are, weather the storm because it's been difficult. I would think for the majority of people.

Vicki: Ya and how many years have we taken these surveys?

Mary Jo: I think our first one was 2014, so we had 14, 16, 18, 20 and as Linda indicated, they haven't all been, you know, peachy. We continue to see a rise in depression and anxiety. There's been a lot of thinking about is that because we're talking, we're educating kids so that they're able to identify it better, is it symptoms? We know that throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it's way above the national norm. So it's not just us, and as well in the state. so our youth are struggling with a lot of that. And, you know what that is, is it too much media? the phone? Is it what? what? and I don't know that we will ever quite be able to pinpoint the one thing? But our focus, I think, should be how we move everyone through this time.

Vicki: Okay, so we talked about the social worker. And I think that is one of our biggest projects we've ever done. Bobby, can you talk a little bit about what we did in the beginning for all the schools kind of what it cost, you know what were fundraising, Can you just put that picture together for us?

Bobbi: So to go back a little bit so how this social worker started as like Linda mentioned, we got the data back and realized we need to do something bigger. We reached out to all of our schools, our public schools, Superior Central and Munising, and also Burt Township, and started the conversation about a school social worker. The conversation went on for quite some time and we felt that as AC3 and the work that we were doing, we needed to shed some light on the different things going on in the schools as far as depression, anxiety, suicide, going off all of our data. And we wanted to work with the schools to get a social worker. It was a process we thankfully, through our fundraising efforts, we were able to give $30,000 to split amongst our Munising and Superior Central along with Grand Marais. And then I'm pretty sure we have been able to do this donation for the schools for the last three to four years. And I know they appreciate it because what is happening now is schools are hiring a social worker, for instance, superior Central, after we had a social worker in their school, they now have hired a social worker and we are still making a donation to them. Munising also has a social worker now that is through a grant through LMAS. And they also have a part-time social worker in their school. And Burt Township is partnering with MARESA and they're able to get a social worker in their school once a week. So it has just been a joint effort. It's awesome. I know these kids really appreciate it and so do the staff appreciate the social worker being there, being present, being able to work with our students. It's just all around good. And also working with the social workers, we get some data that they give us data back each quarter. That then in turn we can use for applying from more grant funding.

Vicki: Ya and speaking of that grant funding and our that we became the 501C3. And one of our members Kappy Lang is a retired lawyer who really helped out incredibly to get us through that huge process which I wish she was here today with us. But unfortunately, she's not.

Marjorie: I was looking back through our notes Vicki, we became a non-profit in 2018 and then we became a 501C3, as Bobby mentioned, that helps a lot in applying for grants and it helps in just donations and fundraising. We just had the 906 day, the online fundraising. And then people could donate via PayPal and worked for your taxes, it could be a taxable donation. Linda: And people can still make those online donations.

Mary Jo: Being a 501 is that there's a real independent spirit here in Alger County and we don't like reigns on us. I don't think anyone really does anyways. And there was some incredible excitement about let the wild horses run. And what can we do? And when that was allowed to happen. And especially with becoming our own non-profit, it just kind of meant like we could do anything.

Vicki: Ya, all the money stays here.

Mary Jo: It just was a real exciting thing and it, and it can be even more Alger County focused. Not that we weren't to begin with. It just gave us that real go ahead to start doing those areas, those gaps, whether it was around substance abuse, career fair, multiple different things, bringing speakers in, everything, and we were just like, why not? And to me that's very exciting.

Vicki: I remember you starting the meetings in the beginning saying no rules, if there were no rules what would you do? And this is what we did. All right. So our big fundraisers have always been Pub with a Purpose, It's All in the Barn, Pizza with a Purpose, and now because of COVID we haven't been able to do those fundraisers. We did do Pizza with a Purpose using all the safe protocols and those are our big ones. So our fundraiser All in the barn, Margery, I didn't realize that that's when you joined us and why? Because of our event at the barn....

Mary Jo: Is that the year we had the rainbow?

Marjorie: It must have been because it was quite, quite important. It really made an impression on me. I don't know if it was you Mary Jo or the rainbow, but we will go with you.

Mary Jo: I was just going to say that All in the Barn is really a celebration of Alger County. We were trying to show case a lot of what happened at the southeastern part of the county because we're all a bunch of farmers out here, but we can eat and we have great farms. And we thought, let's showcase that. What does that look like to have an Alger County celebration? So although it's a it's a fundraiser for us, it becomes more, in a lot of ways, a gift. That's how I kind of look at it. Again, back to the community.

Vicki: It really is. It's such an enjoyable event. There's music, and there's a really fun pie auction. There's an area for kids to play and explore. I have to really put a plug in for that meal that is serve there being a Community Nutrition Instructure. I gotta just rave about that wonderful farm to plate meal that is served at the All in the Barn event. It is colorful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that we purchase from local farms. Local gardeners and even the Munising Public school hoop house has donated produce. We don't serve pop there which is my favorite thing, we do only herb flavored waters and coffee and tea, all are healthy beverages. We really tried to keep that healthy farm experience. I think for everybody because a lot of times we get away from that especially living in the city. The food is great, the music is great, the people are great and we get to raise money for a great cause. Linda: The weather is always good on that day.

Vicki: And the cows, the cows seem to perform for us as well. We really gotta put a plug in for the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center who lets us use their amazing big old fashioned barn to have that event. And it really sets the tone for it all . So okay. We've talked about our big ongoing projects at AC3 that we're known for. So are there any other projects that maybe our listeners haven't heard of that you might want to talk about? You did mention a few already.

Bobbi: Well I wanted to add in there another fundraiser because, you know, I like my pizza. We also do the Cooking Carberry's down a concert in the park, which we've done that for the last three years. And that has been just awesome, you got the music, you got the people. Your making pizza. They usually have a good crowd. and Cooking Carberry's they've been great. We've partnered with them on a couple other initiatives for people in need and they've just been a great partner too.

Vicki: And they're another fun group that does a lot of great things for our community. It's always a blast that evening.

Mary Jo: So some of the things that are above and beyond or are different is that we did purchase AA and NA books, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous books for the jail plus the workbooks from already promoted programs within the jail, to you know help, we do a calendar sale, which you can talk more about Vicki...yes I will. We have brought in three high profile speakers. One was Kevin Hines, David Clayton, and the woman, I can't remember her name but she does the documentary The S Word. But we beamed her in from California, which was really kind of fun, you know, had health fairs and as mentioned earlier career fairs.

Bobbi: So I don't know if you just mentioned Do it for Danielle with the teenagers where the documentaries, we also have been going to into the schools and doing the evidence-based programs Botvin's life skills, the Primed for Life. We were big into doing the QPR training, the question, persuade, refer in the schools and community. We also have done the Mental Health First Aid, Guiding Good Choices, Assist. We've done some education on human trafficking. You know, and like we mentioned before, we partnered with Family Fair Joe Norton over there was awesome during this COVID pandemic here when helping assist with the Alger Packs and getting us the food that we needed.

Mary Jo: Bill can speak to Alger Packs.

Bill: I've only been here a short time. I really only been apart of the two of two of our big fundraisers by this or one big fundraiser Pizza with a Purpose. And then I was also around for Alger Packs. And I think the thing that speaks to me the most about our fundraisers as the trust that are community puts in us. We raise so much money to be an instrument I feel for our community and implement and bring in speakers from California or provide books and and material to the, to the jail. It's just it it blew my mind on, to be honest, when I started and we went to Pizza With a Purpose and we raised a bunch of money. And like I said, the trust that our community knows that we're going to put this wanting to good use. And we're gonna do, some great with it, you know, whether or not that's Alger Packs when it's needed or whatever comes next. So I think it's just the members of our community, even Joe Norton at Family Fare. I mean, we were racking up some insane bills for food for Alger Packs and, you know, we were we were getting them at cost or even a little bit below cost and Family Fair contributed a bunch to this community too. And we were just the tool to get it out there. And so I think that's how most of us feel is that you know, we really are just a tool for out community. If it needs to get done, the AC3 will get it done. And so I'm just happy to be a part of a program like that.

Vicki: Yes, me too. Marjorie: Nicely said. Vicki: So are there any fundraisers or new projects that you would like to inform the community about?

Bill: We ought to talk a little bit about what it's gonna look like during COVID, but we do have on social development strategy. Which in a nutshell, is just making sure that people who are teaching our kids and not necessarily just teachers because, you know, our teachers do a great job, but making sure our coaches and, you know, even parents who have a lot of kids over are all sending the same message to kids, right? And so they really is a community training and we're hoping to launch it here sometime in early 2021. I'm going to start with a small group and train them in the social development strategy. And what that looks like and what it means. Outside of that, I don't really know of anything else we have other than calendars.

Vicki: And I can talk about that because that's the Adult Work Group. We're currently selling calendars to raise money, to purchase gas cards and bus tickets to help community members get to medical or drug rehab appointments. The models on our calendars are all local folks that are 80 years old or older. Now we are honoring our local elders and fundraising all at same time. Calendars are $15 each and they can be purchased at Putvin's drugstore in Munising, and at the Alger County Commission on Aging office. So feel free to contact them if you would like a calendar. When it's not COVID season, we always have a party to celebrate our models to honor their contributions to our community. And we have a gathering and we have food, we invite their families, they come to celebrate them.

Mary Jo: Valley Spur donates the space for us.

Bill: I don't know if you touched on this Vicki but the money we raise from these calendars, we used to buy gas cards to get people to any sort of treatment they may have in Marquette or even further. And so it really does like you know the theme as, you know, our money stays in Alger County and we we put it where we need it, so you know, if someone needs to get to Marquette and they don't have the funds to do so we have gas cards to get them there, we've even help with people getting to Mayo Clinic and down state to the University of Michigan. So like everything we do goes to a good cause.

Vicki: Absolutely.

Marjorie: Just that's one thing that impressed me about this group initially is at every single penny goes to the purpose it was intended for. We don't raise funds for salaries. We don't raise funds for expenses. Every thing is accounted for and it goes to what it's supposed to go to. I find that pretty impressive.

Vicki: I'd also like to say that this podcast is something new we're trying. We hope to use this platform to discuss many topics such as depression and anxiety, suicide, health, and other pressing issues within our community. And so we're hoping that this podcast can be just another tool to help our community. So our next podcast, we'll be with Melissa Nord Carlson. She's a mental health specialist, the Coordinator of the E3 Program at the Munising middle and high school. So she's a social worker that is there and three students and we're going to discuss teen mental health topics.

Mary Jo: Oh yeah!

Marjorie: nice!

Vicki: So now did we miss anything?

Mary Jo: This is not a closed group. This is an open group. We want to invite people in. Ya know you hear things like so and so is an attorney. So and so's retired this or whatever. It's a lot of different people and everybody comes with something to add. The more we can have of people with that energy and it doesn't take as much as you think. And when you get caught up in excitement, which I think we do a really good job of creating. I would like to invite anyone and everyone to contact us about what they can do to get involved.

Vicki: So where can they go for that?

Marjorie: The website is HTTPS colon slash slash Alger CTC.org all lowercase alger CTC.org.

Vicki: And the Facebook page is, Alger County Communities that Care, AC3. So yes, we we're always in need of volunteers. We have a lot of work groups under the board, sort of speak, and so we need a lot of help.

Mary Jo: Please join us. Ya, we're fun! Come as you are!

Vicki: If you want to donate, where should you go and what should you do to donate? Who wants to speak to that?

Bill: So if you would like to donate you can go to our Facebook page at Alger County Communities that Care. There's a PayPal button on the top of the page, just click select how much you want to donate, and that's nice because you can pay with a debit or credit card, you can also just email us at Alger county CTC @ gmail.com, if you would like to mail a check or work something else out. Ok, anything else? Bobbi: And stay tuned for our quarterly newsletter coming out in January.

Marjorie: If you're interested in getting that newsletter, give us your email address. We're happy to send it out to you.

Vicki: We also have a quarterly community meeting we would like to invite all of you to and our next one is January 20th, and Marjorie would you like to tell us a little more about that?

Marjorie: It will be a virtual meeting. We meet at 3:30 in the afternoon and Bill sends out a link to join us. In the past, some of these have included training for NARCAN, or presentations on human trafficking, for example. So it's usually more than just a kind of a boring business meeting.

Vicki: Yeah, those meetings always are rather educational and very interesting. Thank you. So that is the end of our podcast. I want to thank the Alger County Communities that Care members for coming out today and having this conversation. Everybody have a wonderful day. Thank you.

Vicki: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Alger County Communities that Care, promoting a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults. We hope you tune into our next episode. For more information on AC3, visit us online at Alger CTC.org. Funding for this podcast comes from the US Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

Vicki: MSU is an affirmative action equal opportunity employer committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs. And the materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or veteran status issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work acts of May eighth and June 30th, 1914 in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension are biased against those not mentioned.