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.]