Ypsi March for Love, Resilience, and Action receives Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation award

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation‘s monthly $1,000 mini-grant was formally awarded to the Ypsi March for Love, Resilience, and Action on February 6, 2017.

A group of Ypsilanti residents planned the march as a response to the inauguration of President Trump. The march was conceived to mobilize citizens to prepare creatively for the incoming Trump administration, to focus on local issues and build local resilience, to further alliances and express support across Ypsi, and as an option for local residents who were unable to travel to marches planned in Washington, D.C.

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Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present members of the Ypsi March for Love, Resilience, and Action team with their $1,000 grant.

On Saturday, January 21, the march route passed by Ypsilanti sites that honor abolitionists, women of color, and other members of marginalized communities. The march also featured a theatrical performance, booths and spaces for community and social service resources, voter education/registration, a cozy space for breastfeeding, a nonviolent security team, a women-only (trans-inclusive) space, and more. The march attracted a crowd of 1,200.

The march planning committee planned two other events as well. On Monday, January 16, marchers also gathered to support Ypsilanti Community Schools’ teens in their Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and art show commemorating Frederick Douglass. And on Friday, January 20, marchers were invited to make banners and signs, share music, and express their responses to the election at Bona Sera.

Awesome Foundation funds were used for art supplies, permitting for the January 21 march, publicity, food and beverages at the event, and renting space for the event. Given the time-sensitive nature of the event, grant funds were awarded early on January 8.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

Ypsi High Superhero Program receives Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation award

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation‘s monthly $1,000 mini-grant was awarded to Jermaine Dickerson of the Ypsi High Superhero Program on January 8, 2017.

The Ypsi High Superhero Program is a high school youth initiative in Ypsilanti that utilizes superheroes to improve character through creative storytelling and fictional character development. Superheroes are colorful representations of our dreams, hopes, and life experiences. The journeys they endure are often inherently reflective of our own lives. Whether it’s overcoming their fears to defeat a formidable enemy, or accepting the responsibility that comes with great power, superheroes, at their core, are human. This program uses these principles and converts them into life lessons for youth. These lessons will help build character and improve confidence while providing students with a platform to creatively tell their own superhero stories, where they are the heroes.

Awesome Foundation trustees present Jermaine Dickerson with his $1,000 minigrant.

Awesome Foundation trustees present Jermaine Dickerson with his $1,000 mini-grant.

The Ypsi High Superhero Program is currently offered as an afterschool program at Ypsilanti Community High School through Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) Bright Futures program. The program is created and led by Jermaine Dickerson, an Ypsilanti graphic designer, illustrator, and superhero enthusiast who believes there is much reformative power not just in art and design, but also in the very idea of superheroes. Apart from this program, Dickerson has done other superhero workshops and worked closely with the city of Ypsilanti and EMU on a variety of creative projects.

In addition to purchasing diverse comics books for the program, Awesome Foundation grant funds will be used to buy graphics tablets for each student to use during the comic book creation process, T-shirts with their superhero emblems, and printed copies of their comic books.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

Girl Scouts transgender inclusion summit receives Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation award

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation‘s monthly $1,000 mini-grant was awarded to Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan (GSHOM) on December 4, 2016, for a November conference on supporting the inclusion of transgender girls in Girl Scouts.

GSHOM is based in Ypsilanti and serves Girl Scouts in 34 counties across the Lower Peninsula. It has worked diligently to ensure transgender girls are welcomed into all Girl Scout activities. GSHOM has begun to develop facilities (non-gender specific bath and private changing areas at camps and regional headquarters) and changing signage to accommodate transgender girls in a way they will feel safe and well cared for.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan fund development specialist Chelsie Armstrong with a $1,000 grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan fund development specialist Chelsie Armstrong with a $1,000 grant.

The national Girl Scout organization has embraced this issue, and across the country, Councils are challenged with providing support materials and information for implementation that fit their local and regional needs. GSHOM has reached out to the national organization and others for support materials for staff and leaders to be able to advocate for and communicate around issues transgender girls face, and find real ways Girl Scouts can provide meaningful experiences in their lives. Resources specific to orienting and educating Girl Scout volunteers on ways to best transition girls into troops and other Girl Scout offerings need to be developed, and GSHOM seeks to springboard this development, creating much-needed educational sessions and leading from a grassroots position.

GSHOM’s initial effort was to engage Girl Scout leadership from across the country and local youth-serving organizations in education and planning sessions through a three-day “Supporting Inclusiveness in Girl Scouts” summit held in November. The summit included a keynote speaker, plenary session, and a series of workshops. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Diane Schroer, nationally recognized as a pioneer in transgender issues, delivered the keynote address.

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The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

Global Water Dances receives Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation award

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation‘s monthly $1,000 mini-grant was awarded to Global Water Dances on November 6, 2016, for the upcoming Global Water Dances community dance event in Flint.

Global Water Dances celebrates water and life through the art of dance with an awareness of environmental actions. Global Water Dances has had a vibrant history for seven years. It has staged three worldwide events in 2011, 2013, and 2015, with a fourth event planned next year. One day, every two years, over 80 cities from around the world participate in the Global Water Dances event. From Beijing, China to Zadar, Croatia, choreographers take on local water issues through workshops, dance activism and dialogue.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Global Water Dances Flint team members with their $1,000 mini-grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Global Water Dances Flint team members with their $1,000 mini-grant.

Flint, MI will host its first-ever Global Water Dances event on June 24, 2017 at Riverbank Park. The event will be structured in four parts. The first section, “Ritual,” is an opening ceremony specific to each site. The second section, “Local Dance,” will be a dance created by choreographers from the area, using locally-based music, related to the river and recovery efforts. The third section, “Global Dance,” features simultaneous choreography done by all the performers worldwide to the same piece of music, connecting participants and audience globally. The fourth section, “Participatory Dance,” encourages audience participation in a simple movement sequence.

Shawn Lent, social practice dance artist and program director for the Chicago Dancemakers Forum, is organizing the event. Leading up to the event, Lent and other dance artists are conducting community dialogue workshops through the arts in Flint. Partners in Flint include Karen Mills Jennings and students at the Flint School of Performing Arts, Emma Davis at the University of Michigan-Flint, and artists Peggy Mead Finizio, Adesola Akinleye and Alisyn Hurd.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

ÆPEX Access receives Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation award

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation’s monthly $1,000 minigrant was awarded to ÆPEX Contemporary Performance on October 2, 2016. ÆPEX Contemporary Performance is southeast Michigan’s only professional music concert presenter focused on new classical music. The Awesome Foundation funds will be applied towards the ÆPEX Access project, a public art endeavor that augments ÆPEX’s typical concert presentations with free, simulcast viewing stations across downtown Ann Arbor. ÆPEX Access will debut this concept during an October 28th concert at Ann Arbor’s First United Methodist Church, and test it for future applications.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present members of  ÆPEX Contemporary Performance with their $1,000 minigrant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present members of ÆPEX Contemporary Performance with their $1,000 minigrant.

ÆPEX Access will use social media applications, such as Periscope, to broadcast this concert to at least three sites chosen for their physical accessibility and technological capabilities. At least one site will be outdoors, which will require new equipment and staff. However, ÆPEX will also choose sites that already have video and sound systems, and that are known for hosting viewing events, such as the theater at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

ÆPEX Contemporary Performance will promote ÆPEX Access, but also anticipates this initiative will generate spontaneous interactions with this concert. The goal of ÆPEX Access is making classical music performances more accessible to Ann Arbor’s art- and music-loving public. Not only will ÆPEX Access help the October 28th concert reach listeners beyond its venue’s physical boundaries, it will also intensify the listening experience for the live audience at the church, as they will know others across Ann Arbor are enjoying the same performance.

ÆPEX Access will yield a communal art experience impossible to achieve by traditional means. ÆPEX Access will give hundreds of people in the Ann Arbor community a chance to experience ÆPEX Contemporary Performance’s world-class concert production at no cost, simply by taking a walk, or by making a regular visit to their favorite local establishment. By making the world’s best newly composed music public, ÆPEX Access holds the potential to facilitate countless meaningful and unexpected art interactions for people across downtown Ann Arbor.

The Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System

This past fall, the trustees of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 grant to Michelle Leach, a recently graduated PhD from the University of Michigan, so that she could continue her development of the aquaponic food production system that she hopes one day to distribute throughout Central America.

Here’s how Leach describes the system: “Food insecurity is the constant companion of the poor,” she says. “Our solution, The Oasis, is a solar-powered inflatable aquaponics system capable of producing at minimum 300 pounds of Tilapia and 600 pounds of tomatoes, or other vegetables, annually. With a projected retail price of $100, and a business model that provides low-interest purchasing credit, our system is radically affordable and accessible.”

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[above: Artist's conception of the third generation Oasis prototype being built with assistance from the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation.]

The following excerpt comes from a recent interview between Leach and A2 Awesome Dean Mark Maynard:

MARK: Would it be fair to say that, while a lot of work has been done in the area of aquaponics, up until now, there hasn’t been a lot of scientific research in the field? I mean, a lot of people are building systems, but, to my knowledge, not a lot of trained research scientists, like yourself, have taken on the problem in a systematic way that might yield reproducible results, right?

MICHELLE: Yes, this is one my peeves. There are a ton of backyard hobbyists, who are producing systems that seem to work, but they lack controls. It also seems like a few commercial operations are doing well, but they guard their systems like trade secrets. The few scientists who have done work in the area are using systems which are incredibly complicated/expensive and unsuited for the developing world. No one is doing well-controlled research on SIMPLE systems. This is the hole I’m trying to fill.

MARK: You said this was one of your peeves. Are there others as relates to this new industry you’ve entered?

MICHELLE: Sure, I suppose. The idea that the solution to poverty is a ‘thing’ or device is also somewhat misguided. People aren’t poor because they don’t have an Oasis, or a water filter, or a solar panel. People are poor for a host of other systemic reasons, which include poor infrastructure, corrupt governance, non-functioning legal frameworks, etc, etc, etc. But an Oasis, or a water filter, or a solar panel can make poverty less severe while big systemic changes happen slowly. We can use ‘things’ to chip away at the effects of poverty, and in the process empower the poor to demand systemic change.

MARK: There are other aquaponic systems on the market. How is the Oasis system different?

MICHELLE: The Oasis is designed to be radically affordable and large enough to produce a substantial quantity of food. Other systems are either extremely over-priced or too small to make a dent in a family’s nutritional requirements.

MARK: How is the system being received by those currently using the prototypes in El Salvador? Is it, as you had intended, changing people’s lives for the better? Are they providing useful feedback?

MICHELLE: The systems are being very well received. While everyone to date has received their system free of charge, we only provided alevin (baby fish) and concentrado (fish food) for the first crop cycle. It is up to the families to purchase these items for subsequent crop cycles. So far no systems have been abandoned. We see this as evidence that the families find the systems valuable. We have had some trouble getting ‘straight’ feedback, though… Everyone is super polite to me, and I was getting suspicious that perhaps I wasn’t hearing the whole story. So I recruited a local person to do anonymous interviews. We got some good data, which we are still working to translate and compile, but our preliminary read through suggests everyone is happy with the systems. We did, however, identify some small issues to address that hadn’t been on our radar.

MARK: Can you quantify how impactful a system like this might be in the life of a family in El Salvador? Do you have anecdotal data from those you’ve been working with thus far?

MICHELLE: Very impactful. Whole tilapia sells in the market at $2/lb. Tomatoes are $0.60/lb. A family that produces 300 lbs of fish and 600 pounds of tomatoes, that sold every bit of produce, could cover their costs and still net around $900 a year. In a country where a family is lucky to bring in $500 per person, per year, this can have an enormous impact. (Hard physical labor nets $1 per hour, when you can find it.) And all this from a system which only requires 15 minutes of attention daily.

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[above: Michelle Leach and Oasis cofounder Jacquelyn Hernandez Ortiz in El Salvador.]

For the rest of the interview, which goes into more detail as to how the system will be tested and distributed, click here.

Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights teen mural is unveiled in Ypsilanti

This past Saturday, the teen group affiliated with the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) formally unveiled their mural at 410 West Michigan Avenue, on the side of Dos Hermanos Market. The mural, which was funded in part by a grant from the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, was conceived of, designed and painted by young men and women from mixed immigration status families. According to one of the organizers, the mural contains various symbols intended to convey their “feelings, past experiences, and current struggles.” [The teens who created this mural were assisted by Costa Rican artist Alejandro Chinchilla.]

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[The above photos, taken during the November 7, 2015 unveiling, were taken by Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustee Johanna Epstein.]

U-M undergrads win A2 Awesome grant to teach American history through the stories of inspirational women

This past weekend, the trustees of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 grant to Virginia Lozano, an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, who, along with her twin sister Beatriz, created an education technology company called Leesta in order to “inspire 8-11 year olds by teaching American History through the stories of women.” The grant will allow the startup to complete an animated module about the work of autistic inventor and activist Temple Grandin, bringing them one step closer to their goal of releasing their first series of interactive modules in 2016.

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[above: Beatriz and Virginia Lozano, pictured with representatives of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, after receiving their $1,000 grant.]

The following excerpt comes from a recent interview between Virginia Lozano and A2 Awesome Dean Mark Maynard:

MARK: So, before we talk about Leesta, let’s talk a little about you and Beatriz. Where did you grow up? What were you like a kids? And what made you decide to attend the University of Michigan together?

VIRGINIA: Beatriz and I were born in California, but grew up in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Since childhood we’ve been very close, and have loved collaborating together. We were always curious and enjoyed learning about how things worked. From an early age, art came naturally to us. We also both loved math and science, though. Having similar interests, we were both drawn to Michigan’s engineering program, which is amazing. Our time here at the University, though, has allowed us to find other, and individual, passions, like social justice and storytelling. And, the more time we spent working toward our engineering degrees, the more we realized that we enjoyed figuring out how people work more than we did mechanics.

MARK: Would it be safe to assume that, in your formal education, prior to arriving at the University of Michigan, you probably learned very little about the lives, work and contributions of women… especially women of color… in American history?

VIRGINIA: Absolutely. And that’s one of the main reasons we came up with Leesta. Outside of school, we had strong women as role models. Growing up, we heard stories about the hardships my mom and our grandmothers had overcome as women in Mexico, but we didn’t see that strength reflected in our textbooks, especially when it came to Latinas in America.

MARK: When did the idea for Leesta first occur to you? And what made you decide to invest the considerable time and effort to pursue it?

VIRGINIA: The general idea came from thinking back on our own history education, and trying to name women that we had learned about in school. Beatriz and I could not name one American Latina that we’d learned about. And, after posing similar questions to our friends, who come from different cultural backgrounds, we started hearing the same things from them. Like us, they couldn’t name women in American history that they related to. Then, there was this defining moment when, about two years ago, Beatriz and I came across a beautifully animated ad for Coco Chanel. We thought, “Imagine how engaging traditional education could be if the same multimedia visual tools that companies use to sell their products were used to teach in classrooms.”

MARK: Your plan, as I understand it, is to formally launch Leesta with animated profiles of ten American women. Who are they? And how did you come to choose them?

VIRGINIA: Currently, we’re working on four of the ten profiles. They tell the stories of Bessie Coleman, Dolores Huerta, Temple Grandin, and Grace Lee Boggs. The selection of the other six women is still in the works, but we’re always open to nominations. Our selection process began by gathering nominations from a broad audience, which included teachers, children, and faculty at the University of Michigan. Once we had our list of nominees, our team then began to research these women’s lives. And we also began reaching out to them personally, when possible.

MARK: Can you walk us through one of your first modules… What would a kid encounter, if he or she would open the interactive timeline you’ve created for Dolores Huerta, for instance?

VIRGINIA: Leesta is created to be a supplement to traditional history education, where children will learn about topics they are familiar with, but from new perspectives. In the case Dolores Huerta, children will learn about the Great Depression, but more specifically what that experience was like for a Mexican-American girl growing up during a time of Mexican Repatriation. Each module features an interactive scroll design with an audio narrative, that allows the user to experience the life of the woman from childhood until adulthood. An integrated point-winning system is implemented throughout the site, which allows the users to answer questions to unlock certain activities, like recipes and outfit changes…

For the rest of the interview, which details Leestas plans for the future, and how they intend to use their A2 Awesome grant, click here.

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[above: The Leesta team.]

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awards grant to Ypsilanti’s Festival of the Honey Bee

On the weekend of September 4, Ypsilanti will be celebrating its third annual Festival of the Honey Bee, thanks in part to a grant by the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation. The $1,000 award was given earlier this summer to event founder Jamie Berlin, who will be using the funds not only to grow the collaborative, multi-faceted, city-wide festival, but to produce goods which can be sold during the event, thereby making future festivals more of a possibility. “This grant,” according to Berlin, “will set us on a path to financial independence.” If you would like to know more about the importance of honey bees, how the festival came about, or what you might encounter should you attend this year’s event, check out the recent interview between Mark Maynard, the dean of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, and Jamie Berlin.

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Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awards grant to the Washtenaw ID Project for the establishment of an ID Scholarship Fund

Last month, the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 grant to representatives of the Washtenaw ID Project for the establishment of an ID Scholarship Fund that will provide financial assistance to individuals in need of the County ID that cannot afford one. To find out more about the Washtenaw ID, which was created to ensure that all residents of Washtenaw County have meaningful access to a government-issued ID that validates their identity and residency, and why its so incredibly awesome, visit WashtenawID.com.

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Pictured above, surrounded by the Trustees of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, are Keta Cowan and Janelle Fa’aola of Synod Community Services, who received the grant on behalf of the Washtenaw ID Project.

[For those seeking more information, an interview with Cowan, conducted by Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation Dean Mark Maynard can be found online.]