The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 grant to First Fridays Ypsilanti for the expansion of their monthly, multi-venue arts walk

FirstFridayAward2

The Trustees of the micro-philanthropic group A2Awesome today announced the award of their 24th $1,000 grant toward the creation of awesomeness in the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti area.

The cash award was given to Kayj Michelle and Elize Jekabson (pictured above) of First Fridays Ypsilanti for the further marketing and development of what has already been an increasingly successful series that brings visual and performing artists into half a dozen different venues in Ypsilanti’s downtown, including Beezy’s Cafe, Bona Sera and the Ugly Mug.

“Last fall, those of us on the First Fridays Ypsilanti (FFY) coordinating committee hit a wall,” said Michelle. “We realized that, if we were going to grow First Fridays into something really special, we were going to need to hire a graphic designer, launch a website, and have posters printed which laid out all of our various venues. Word of mouth has been great, but we’d gotten to point where we needed to formally promote what we’re doing downtown. With this grant, we’ll be able to do that… We’ll be able to better get the word out in the surrounding communities that Ypsi has this free, reoccurring, family-friendly event.”

According to Omari Rush, the Chair of A2Awesome, “The Trustees of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation were impressed with what Kayj and Elize, and the other First Fridays volunteers, had been able to do with no funding whatsoever, and we wanted to given them an opportunity to see what they could accomplish with a little seed capital. They have big plans on growing First Fridays, and we’re enthusiastic about helping them along that path.”

With this grant, A2Awesome has invested a total of $24,000 in the local community since its inception, making possible everything from an elementary education project involving bike-powered lighting systems to the launch of Ypsilanti’s Bona Sera Cafe.

“What’s really cool about this grant,” says A2Awesome Dean Mark Maynard, “is that Bona Sera played such an integral part in getting First Fridays off the ground in Ypsilanti. It demonstrates, I think, the cumulative nature of what it is that we’re doing. In some small way, the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation helped get Bona Sera off the ground, and, right from the start, they proved to be a positive force in downtown Ypsilanti. Among other things, they fought to launch First Fridays, and, now, over a year later, we’re in a position where we’re helping that initiative grow. And, in another year, I’m sure there will be even more awesomeness sprouting forth as a result of this investment. Awesomeness begets awesomeness.”

“What we’ve been able to accomplish with relatively small, targeted investments,” says A2Awesome member Tanya Luz, “is nothing short of amazing. Our community is full of motivated, talented and brilliant people who just need a little financial help to get their visions off the ground, improve our collective quality of life, and help move our community in a really exciting direction.”

Ypsilanti’s next First Friday event, which is scheduled to take place on Friday, March 7, will present art events at six separate locations. The Ugly Mug Cafe will be featuring artwork by Ezra Livingston and music by Avery Feral. Beezy’s Cafe will be hosting 826Michigan’s student creative writings and performances by EMU’s Forensics. Bona Sera Cafe will have artwork by Dan Hussong and music by Nicole P’Simer. B-24’s Espresso Bar will have art by Brad Ruff and Ashley Stamper, and music by Nick Zomparelli. FLY Children’s Art Center will be hosting a Creative Connections presentation by the Arts Alliance. And the Riverside Arts Center’s Off-Center Gallery will be holding a closing reception for their show, “Six Artists,” presented by Ypsi Art Incubator. Along with the closing reception, YAI will also be hosting a series of Pecha Kucha talks. All events, which are free and open to the public, will run between 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM. Performance times will vary by location.

[An interview with this month's winners can be found here.]

[Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation grants are made on a monthly basis. All people with great, inspiring ideas are encouraged to submit their proposals through the Awesome Foundation site.]

A2Awesome awards $1,000 to Ypsilanti’s Rutherford Pool

RutherfordPoolThe Trustees of A2Awesome are pleased to announce the award of their 12th $1,000 grant toward the creation of awesomeness in the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti area. The cash award was handed over to John Weiss, the chairman of Friends of the Rutherford Pool, the Ypsilanti-based volunteer organization responsible for operating and maintaining the City’s only public pool. “The grant,” says Weiss, comes at a critical time, as we’re just entering the final fundraising push replace our community pool, which was closed in 2011.”

The Rutherford Pool, built in 1971, with the expectation that it would last 25 years, was shut down in 2011, after nearly 40 years of service, due to significant structural and mechanical problems. “We only need $51,000 more to reach our goal of $1,020,000,” says Weiss, “and, if we can raise it by the end of April, we are hopeful we will get in part of a swim season this summer”.

At peak season, attendance at Rutherford Pool averages nearly 350 people daily, with some days over 500. Pool visits in 2010 totaled approximately 15,000. Unfortunately, last year, the pool was closed during what was Michigan’s hottest summer on record, leaving many of Ypsilanti’s most vulnerable citizens without a local option for relief.

“We haven’t traditionally contributed toward capital campaigns.” says A2Awesome Co-Chair Linh Song, “But, in this case, we really felt that we had to do it. The Rutherford Pool is vital resource for Ypsilanti. Ann Arbor cannot be awesome without Ypsilanti and this award reflects that.”

Weiss is hopeful that people will note the Awesome Foundation grant, and follow suit. “The timing of this gift came at a critical point, as we’re reaching the home stretch,” said Weiss. “The individuals who make up our area’s Awesome Foundation are some of our area’s most engaged citizens, and their support goes beyond the gift itself. They’re really helping to advocate and promote the Rutherford Pool cause broadly in our area.”

There are three ways to contribute to the Rutherford Pool campaign:

You can donate through Network for Good… By following that link, donors can contribute as little as $10, or as much as they like using their credit card, debit card or Paypal account.

Supporters can also click here to buy a small or large engraved brick, for a contribution of either $125 or $250.

People can also write a checks to the “Rutherford Pool Fund” and send them directly to the Ypsilanti Area Community Fund, which is housed within the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation:

Rutherford Pool Fund
Ypsilanti Area Community Fund
301 N. Main Street
Suite 300
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1133

[Those seeking more information about the Rutherford Pool project will find an interview with John Weiss here... And, as always, if you have a great, inspiring idea for Washtenaw County of your own that we could help make possible with a $1,000 grant, let us know about it.]

A2Awesome awards grants to support “Small & Mighty” local entrepreneur network, and distribute Michigan Prison Resource Guide

Since we last posted, we’ve awarded two more $1,000 grants toward the creation of awesomeness in the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti area.

The first of these two cash awards was given to local entrepreneurs Jean Henry (formerly of the Jefferson Market), Lisa Waud (pot & box), and Helen Harding (eat) to help support the continued growth of their grassroots entrepreneur network Small & Mighty. The second was given to Lois DeMott, the co-founder of Citizens for Prison Reform, to assist with the Washtenaw County rollout of their resource guide for individuals entering the Michigan prison system. “With the money that we received from the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation,” says DeMott, “we’ll be able to reach out to everyone who will be entering the Michigan prison system from Washtenaw County, with the offer to share our Resource Guide for Families, Friends and Advocates (PDF). It’s our hope that this will help prisoners, and those who care about them, to better understand the complex system they’re entering, and how to navigate it.”

A2AwesomeCitizensForPrisonReformThe Resource Guide for Families, Friends and Advocates is a 36-page handbook produced by prisoner advocacy group Citizens for Prison Reform. Founded in 2011 by Lois DeMott, a Lansing-area citizen and advocate who, upon the arrest of her son, who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, was shocked to realize just how little publicly available information existed concerning the inner workings of the Michigan prison system. Families of prisoners who suffer from mental illness especially needed resources and ways to advocate for humane treatment. This A2Awesome grant is the first to be received by the organization, which, in March, is scheduled to be featured in a documentary on juveniles in solitary confinement being hosted by Ted Koppel for NBC’s Friday evening program, “Rock Center.” This grant will enable the organization to proactively reach out to those individuals in Washtenaw County entering the Michigan correctional system, making them aware of the Resource Guide, and mailing hard copies to those individuals without internet access. The organization plans to expand the program to serve prisoners and their families statewide and hopes to generate interest from additional Board Members and volunteers.

A2AwesomeSmallMightySmall & Mighty, according to the organization’s co-founder, Jean Henry, is “a collaborative, scrappy little nuts-and-bolts support group for entrepreneurs.” Begun in the fall of 2012, the loose collaborative of local entrepreneurs has already grown to 144 members, and hosts frequent events intended to help small business owners exchange ideas and learn from one another. “Within Small and Mighty,” says Henry, “we can comfortably share our ignorance and failures as well as our successes. We talk ‘learning curve’ all the time. I’m not sure that happens at most ‘networking’ events. Someone at a Small and Mighty gathering brought up the term ‘co-opetition.’ We are committed to each other’s success, even when we’re in the same field. We are focussed on positive relationships with each other, our co-workers, our customers, our community. Because it works. It makes our businesses better. Small businesses can harness a kind of reverse economy of scale when they work together — relationships based on trust and goodwill are more efficient — and a lot less expensive.” The $1,000 A2Awesome grant will allow Small and Mighty to build and cultivate an online presence, and to continue hosting events designed to foster collaborative, nurturing relationships between small, local business owners.

“I think these two grants, when looked at together, really demonstrate just how broad our collective interests are,” said Mark Maynard, the Dean of A2Awesome. “The important thing for us is that these small grants of ours can be leveraged to create a disproportionate amount of awesome, and these two projects are perfect examples of that. In one instance, we have highly motivated entrepreneurs who just need a little bit of seed money in order to formalize the incredible work they’ve already been doing to strengthen our local business ecosystem. And, in the other, we’ve chosen to invest in a group of people who are stepping in and filling a critical void that, at least historically, has been easy for people to dismiss.”

With these two grants, A2Awesome has invested a total of $11,000 in the local community since its inception, making possible everything from an elementary education project involving bike-powered lighting systems to be used for the growing of vegetables, to a history project intended to capture and share the images, stories and music of local jazz musicians.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish with relatively small investments,” says A2Awesome’s newly-elected Co-Chair Linh Song, “is really incredible. Our community is full of motivated, talented and brilliant people who just need a little financial help to their visions off the ground, making the lives of people in our communities even better.” (Song and Tanya Luz were elected co-chairs in January, taking over from Lisa Dengiz, who served as the chapter’s founding chair.)

[note: An interview with Small & Mighty founders Jean Henry, Lisa Waud and Helen Harding can be found at here.]

A2Awesome gives out another $3,000 in grants to brilliant people doing inspiring things in the Ypsi-Arbor area

On October 27, 2012, the Trustees of A2Awesome convened in the secret writing lab behind the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair store in downtown Ann Arbor, and handed out another $3,000 in cash grants intended to make life the Ypsi-Arbor area more awesome. The cash awards were handed over in brown paper bags to artist Trevor Stone, 826michigan’s Amanda Uhle, and photographer Bill Streety, for projects which they had submitted through the Awesome Foundation’s website for consideration. With these three grants, A2Awesome has invested a total of $9,000 in the local community, making possible everything from an elementary education project involving bike-powered lighting systems to be used for growing vegetables, to a drama program at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility based on the works of William Shakespeare.

A2Awesome Chair Lisa Dengiz had the following to say: “It’s really amazing how many people in our community have brilliant ideas that can be realized with as little as $1,000. When we started this chapter of the Awesome Foundation almost a year ago, we had no idea just how much potential there was. Our grants, among other things, have helped launched Bona Sera Cafe on Michigan Avenue, bringing a renewed sense of vibrancy to downtown Ypsilanti, and put exercise equipment inside Ozone House, improving the lives of local at-risk youth. That’s incredibly gratifying.”

The three individuals/groups who received awards were:

Amanda Uhle on behalf of 826michigan… With their A2Awesome grant, 826michigan will be able, for the first time in four years, to bring the students who participate in their after-school tutoring program at Ypsilanti Middle School to the internationally-recognized non-profit’s creative writing facility (which is secreted behind the Midwest’s leading robot emporium) in Ann Arbor. These field trips will happen several times over the course of the school year. “We’ve made a great deal of progress with these students in the school setting, but we want to go further, and create memorable experiences for them,” says Uhle. “We want to get them out of their schools, where they’ve already been for ten hours, and bring them to this special place that we’ve created. We want them to know that a place like this exists.”

Spontaneous Art (Comprised of Natalie Berry, Chris Sandon and Trevor Stone)… With their A2Awesome grant, the Spontaneous Art team will set out on a Washtenaw County Tour. Performing regularly at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the group, which is known for creating humorous and approachable interactive performances for the public, rarely has the opportunity to share their work in the greater Ann Arbor area. With the A2Awesome grant, they will be able to engage people in Chelsea, Dexter, Saline, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. They hope their surprise visits to these communities, will not just bring joy and laughter, but create environments where sincere interpersonal connections can flourish.

Bill Streety / Ypsi-Arbor Unsung Musical Heroes… With his $1,000 grant, Bill Streety, a past president of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, will photograph and interview at least 40 area jazz and blues musicians, both young and old, as a way of documenting the musical activity taking place in our community today. The results will be self-published in book form (both digital and print), of which approximately 65 copies will be distributed to Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor school libraries. “With the shrinking educational budgets and the reduction in funding for the creative arts,” says Streety, “I see this as a way to preserve a piece of our shared history.”

And it’s kind of shaky, as A2Awesome’s Dean was eating cupcakes as he was shooting, but here are links to video of the three recipients talking about their projects, which, thanks to these mini grants, will soon be coming to fruition.

Spontaneous Art Awesome

Unsung Musical Heroes Awesome

826 Awesome

A2Awesome, which is composed of 13 individuals, including yours truly, is organized under the banner of the Boston-based Awesome Foundation. The stated purpose of the local Ypsi-Arbor chapter is to provide seed funding for innovative, inspiring, and awesome projects envisioned by fellow community members that might not otherwise evolve into being. The organization intends to make one grant a month for the foreseeable future. All grants will be in the amount of $1,000.

Those with creative, inspired ideas are encouraged to apply for a grant online. Grant deadlines are on the last day of each month.

Every month, chapter trustees contribute their own personal funds toward a $1,000, no-strings-attached grant to an awesome project that promises to make life better. In addition to Dengiz and Maynard, the group includes Dick Soble, Paul Saginaw, Jeff Meyers, Linh Song, Heather MacKenzie, Monique Deschaine, Hans Masing, Alice Liberson, Omari Rush, Tanya Luz and Larry Grant.

NOTE: AnnArbor.com’s coverage of this month’s awards can be found here.

Created in 2009, in Boston, the Awesome Foundation now has chapters in 57 cities across the globe. In addition to the Ypsi-Arbor chapter, there are Awesome Foundation outposts in both Detroit and Grand Rapids. Projects funded have included efforts in a wide range of areas including technology, arts, social good, and beyond.

A2Awesome awards $1,000 to Syncytium for the construction of an enormous geodesic dome

Today, the trustees of A2Awesome handed over $1,000 in cast to Amanda Sari Perez, a co-founder of Syncytium, which is an open group dedicated to creating large-scale, interactive art in the Ann Arbor and Detroit communities. The funds will be used to complete the construction of a 16 foot (radius) geodesic dome out of 1.5 inch thick electrical conduit. The structure, according to Perez, is intended to serve as a platform on which others in the community can express their creativity. “The dome will be deployed at A2 Maker Faire, Detroit Maker Faire, Figment, and Lakes of Fire – all of which are local events that support creativity and community, and celebrate the arts, and DIY building,” says Perez. “And I want it to be readily available for others in the Ann Arbor area, who have the space to host it, and creative ideas concerning how to use it.”

Among other things, Syncytium plans to stretch cargo netting across the inside of the dome and use it as a jungle gym, and cover it with lights, using it as a portable shelter for DJs performing in the Detroit area. “Other people,” says Perez, “may want to use it for parties, fundraisers, gatherings, or performances. They may want to hang hammocks or swings inside of it. They may want to cover it in some way, or leave it open.” Ultimately, according to Perez, she would like to see it find a semi-permanent home where it could exist as a giant instrument, filled with cords that would trigger sound, either electronically or mechanically, when tugged or clambered upon.

According to A2Awesome Board Member, Linh Song, Perez’s dome project was chosen as this month’s recipient, because “It’s the kind of thing that could continue to foster awesomeness for years to come. Not only will people be able to play on it at Maker Faire, which is awesome in its own right, but it’ll exist as an easily-transportable cultural asset that could be used in hundreds of different ways. We’re excited to see how it inspires people. The potential is endless.”

A2Awesome awards $1,000 to Bona Sera for the opening of an Ypsilanti cafe

We met this morning and awarded our third grant, in the amount of $1,000, to the incredible women behind the Bona Sera Supper Club… Here’s our press release:

The Trustees of the micro-philanthropic group A2Awesome today awarded their third $1,000 grant toward the creation of awesomeness in the Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti area. The funds were handed over, in a brown paper bag, to a representative of the Bona Sera Supper Club, an underground organization that has, over the past three years, raised over $20,000 for area nonprofits, by hosting clandestine dinner parties in secret locations across Southeast Michigan. The money will allow the organization to acquire a Food Establishment License, and move forward with plans to open a 50-seat cafe in Ypsilanti’s historic Kresge Building, and the intersection of Michigan Avenue and North Washington Street.

This new, “above ground,” for-profit cafe, according to Bona Sera’s founders, who call themselves Bad Fairy and Wonder Woman, will not only create jobs in Ypsilanti, and draw more people downtown, but allow the organization to continue its charitable work as well. “We have grown the underground side of our business to the point where we really needed to start operating out of a licensed, commercial kitchen, and this will allow us to do that,” said Bad Fairy. “The kitchen of the new Bona Sera Cafe will also be available to other local food industry start-ups for affordable rates,” said Bad Fairy, “as a way of encouraging and supporting other entrepreneurs.”

According to A2Awesome Board Member, Monique Deschaine, Bona Sera was chosen as this month’s recipient, because “It’s the type of endeavor that blends everything The Awesome Foundation appreciates—creative, talented people doing something unique that benefits our local community and has potential for growth. Awesomely delicious!”

This is the third grant to be awarded by A2Awesome. The first grant was given to Nathan Ayers, of Ann Arbor, who is presently using his award to build two bike-powered vegetable grow racks, which will be used in the K-12 science classes that he teaches in Ann Arbor and Detroit. (According to Ayers, his intention is to create a closed loop system to demonstrate the principles of permaculture – a design and engineering philosophy based on ecology, which has as its objective the creation of sustainable food, energy and community infrastructure systems.) The second grant was awarded to Ozone House, for the creation of an in-house gym facility for the at-risk youth with whom they work.

A2 Awesome, which is composed of 13 individuals, is organized under the banner of the Boston-based Awesome Foundation. The stated purpose of the local group, according to chairwoman Lisa Dengiz is, “to provide streamlined seed funding for creative folks and projects that bring spirit, wonder and awesomeness to our local community.” The organization intends to make one grant a month for the foreseeable future. All grants will be in the amount of $1,000.

Those with creative, inspired ideas are encouraged to apply for the grant online. Grant deadlines are on the last day of each month.

“If we’re going to solve the problems that are facing us as a community, we’re going to have to be creative, and we’re going to have to do it ourselves. A2Awesome is looking for investment opportunities where a relatively small amount of money can be leveraged to make really meaningful positive change over time,” said Mark Maynard, a trustee of the group.

Every month, chapter trustees contribute their own personal funds toward a $1,000, no-strings-attached grant to an awesome project that promises to make life better. In addition to Dengiz and Maynard, the group includes Dick Soble, Paul Saginaw, Jeff Meyers, Linh Song, Heather MacKenzie, Monique Deschaine, Hans Masing, Alice Liberson, Omari Rush, Tanya Luz and Larry Grant.

Created in 2009 in Boston, the Awesome Foundation now has chapters in over 30 cities across the globe. In addition to the new Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti chapter, there are Awesome Foundation outposts in both Detroit and Grand Rapids. Projects funded have included efforts in a wide range of areas including technology, arts, social good, and beyond.

[Photo caption: A2Awesome Trustees Heather MacKenzie, Monique Deschaine, Larry Gant and Mark Maynard, present a bag containing $1,000 to Bona Sera's secretive founders, Bad Fairy and Wonder Woman.]

All people with great, inspiring ideas are encouraged to submit their proposals here.