Monday, January 7, 2019

Wellington Ltd.

Geri and Laurie

 “We are always going to put people first, and in the way they need.” – Geri Horsley

If you are reading this, you probably know there is something special about our little town of Midland. A little larger than Mayberry and surely not quite as wholesome—the sense of community and family is strong here. It’s that unique appeal that brought Geri (pronounced Gary) Horsley back from a big job out east and it’s why we are lucky enough to have Wellington Limited in our little town today.

Wellington Limited is a true Midland treasure, nestled in Midland Plaza you will find high-quality gifts for both personal and business use. Need a YETI® or Polar Camel with your business logo? Trying to create a portrait on a piece of jewelry? Building a service program or custom award for your employees, corporation, or special occasion? Just need a unique gift? Wellington can help! It’s their customer-first focus that has been the cornerstone of their success and why they have been in business in this town since 1974.

Interview day was not the first time I’d met Geri, but only the second. When you meet him, you know he’s in it for the relationship not the sale. He even said that to me, that he didn’t want to seem cliché, but that people walk in strangers and he wants them to leave as friends. With a personality like his and his first-mate, Laurie Kramer—you cannot help but become a Wellington family member and you will be glad for it.

Geri likes nostalgia, you can feel it all around from the Horsley’s sign on the wall, to some of their most challenging pieces on display to his U of M memorabilia in his office. Getting nostalgic about the origin story of Wellington was a true pleasure for me and I think you’ll feel the same.
As Geri would say “Many, many years ago…” Horsley’s was a floral and gifts business run by the Horsley children (four in all) and their parents, it was the predecessor to what we now know as Village Green. He recalls helping to carry the cement blocks that laid the foundation of the building. Geri’s father worked at Dow and the entire family worked at Horsley’s. Geri would later head off to Ann Arbor to earn a business degree and, “after university,” spend time out east working for Alcoa and then in sales for a medical supply company. A phone call from his brother would lead to a brainstorm about a business venture for the two of them: What if we opened a smoke shop and specialty store for men? The vision was strong enough to bring Geri back to Midland, but as I already mentioned, it was also that Midland magnetism that played a heavy hand. And so, it began, a 600-foot corner of Horsley’s was carved out for Wellington Limited to be born. They carried top-of-the-line articles from Cartier, Dunhill, Marc Cross leather, and George Jensen pewter. Wellington held pipe smoking competitions at the old Holiday Inn—entire families came to watch. If you are curious, as I was, as to what a pipe competition entails each competitor held a pipe with exactly 3.3 grams of tobacco and whomever could keep the pipe lit the longest would be the victor.
Heat Stamper

As is often the case in our small town, The Dow Chemical Company became an important part of the Wellington story early on. In the 70’s you could smoke just about everywhere, even at Dow corporate. As the Chairman of the Board was retiring, a special project was presented to the Horsley men: we need this 18-karat gold Dunhill lighter engraved with the Chairman’s initials. There were no engravers locally at the time. Geri, as he will still do today, said he would figure it out and came upon a hand-engraver in New York City. Dow flew Geri to New York where he hand-delivered the lighter to a man in Manhattan, returned three-hours later to retrieve it and flew back to Midland. This is where Geri realized Midland needed engraving. They purchased a heat-stamper that they still have and use to this day (albeit less often than their laser and sandblasting machines).

Laser Machine
As is true for all businesses, they needed to evolve and grow. Wellington became a big retailer of travel accessories, carrying the Hartmann luggage line. When Dow AgroSciences (then located in Midland) approached Wellington for 50 attaché cases their corporate business began booming. It was this corporate focus that allowed Wellington to thrive. At one-point Wellington employed more than 30 people. Once the Horsley’s business was sold to Village Green, Geri moved Wellington to Dartmouth and Cambridge into an 1800 square foot space. They worked all day in the original space and built the new space by night. Fun fact: around this time, Wellington also had a shop inside the lower level of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island—it was the first shop of its kind in what’s now a multi-store boutique shopping space. Wellington spent 18 years at Dartmouth and Cambridge and later headed to Eastlawn Plaza where the Chinese buffet now resides; when their lease was up, they found out Walgreens would be built out front and decided to move on. They landed at their current location in Midland Plaza and have been there ever since.

You know I love origin stories for business names. Where did “Wellington” come from? Geri and his brother wanted a strong English name (as was their heritage). They started with Churchill’s—one of the strongest and most well-known English names, which was already taken—so they selected Wellington. The first Duke of Wellington (an original writing of his hangs in the store), was an impressive figure serving twice as Britain’s Prime Minister and a decorated military man.

We talked for longer than I’d planned but it wasn’t labored conversation. It was friendly and casual. Geri and Laurie ordered in pizza and salad, treated me to that lunch. They also laser engraved a few Let’s Go Midland articles for me to take (so nice!!!). We chatted through their upcoming deadlines—busier this time of year than usual. We talked about the ‘right now’ world we live in and how people sometimes pop in and expect things to be engraved immediately like some other shops can do. I, myself, am certainly guilty of this ‘right now’ expectation sometimes: Not willing to wait; Waiting too long and making it someone else’s problem; Not willing to venture outside of my house for a truly unique gift. Of course, sometimes Wellington can oblige a last-minute request, but other times they have an order of 100 for a corporate client in line ahead of the last-minute customer. A friend recently told me about a great experience with her own last-minute request for a Bible engraving—the team came in on a day off to complete the gift.
Wellington Gifts

Geri speaks fondly of Midland, when I asked what has kept Wellington going for these 44 years? He said “Friendships; staying true to Midland; and loving this community the way we do.” As for competition besides the Internet, competition isn’t something that Geri worries much about because they don’t say ‘no’ very often. If they must, Wellington will work hard to find a local business that can say ‘yes.’ They aren’t afraid to help other businesses, keep it local and make it easy for the customer (we—at Let’s Go Midland—LOVE this!).
Wellington Letters

Geri is complex—he’s got a keen business sense and a bias for results for his customers that is unmatched, but he’s also a super sweet man. He said, “I have to get romantic for a second” saying that Laurie “has completed life.” The Northwood grad who once worked at Horsley’s entered his life years later and became his love and partner in business. You can sense a quiet satisfaction in the almost 45-year journey and as he prepares, in the next few years to retire, his daughter Natasha and son-in-law, Scott, will take over. The Horsley legacy and Wellington Limited will continue to thrive and grow in Midland—full of love for their craft and for this community. The meaning of the Wellington surname is “a prosperous estate”—I daresay it’s certainly held true for this small Midland business.
Geri Heat Stamping

Whatever your gift-giving needs, Wellington can help; from the Baggallini line to travel accessories or small leather goods to beautiful vases and scenic framed photographs, Wellington provides more than just engraved products. Wellington also tries to use as many Michigan and United States artisans as possible in their vast offering of merchandise; they carry many unique Michigan-made gifts including Petoskey stones and other products native to Michigan. So, next time you need a gift (engraved or not) make sure you check out Wellington Limited at 1900 South Saginaw Rd., Suite K, Midland, MI 48640, Monday through Friday from 10AM until 5:30PM, they are open for a few hours on Saturday for last minute gifts, just drop in between 10AM and noon. They are closed on Sundays. Follow them on Facebook at @wellingtonltd or visit their website Have a question? Call them at (989) 631-5270 or shoot them an email at Tell them Let’s Go Midland sent you.
Article and Photography By Joslyn Chulski

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Shine of Midland

"Create a business that will impact those who work for it."
-Mark Haskin, Owner
"We help our customers, because it truly is good to help, it's not a sales tactic."
-Brad Lackie, General Manager

Brad Lackie, General Manager      Mark Haskin, Owner

Taking a bit of a different twist this time around, Let's Go Midland sought out a highly esteemed franchise in our town. We found out that indeed some franchises are "small businesses". Many start out as just that, a dream in one community that eventually branches out to others. And while we may not be huge fans of the big box stores, we are huge advocates for success, and when a small business alights into other communities, we are big cheerleaders for that growth! So, lets talk about Shine.

The story of how the Shine company began, and propelled forward, is one that truly inspires many. Starting 20 years ago in West Michigan it is now thriving throughout the country with many franchises. This business truly is doing wonderful things and much of that is due to the company's amazing core values. Merely reading through these on their webpage (which we highly recommend) is truly inspiring, but meeting with the leaders of our own town's Shine, just added to the inspiration.

Shine came to Midland in April 2013. That is when those big lettered red trucks first caught your eye.  It all started when Jim and Mary Reif saw an opportunity to bring a beneficial business to Midland and saw potential in their son in law Mark Haskin to manage the business. Mark worked for Shine in Zeeland and enjoyed the outstanding values and atmosphere, as well as what the business had to offer. He and His wife Lauren were excited to see the business come to Midland and for a chance to live near family in Lauren's hometown. Mark now owns Midland's Shine and runs it alongside General Manager, Brad Lackie of Sanford.

When asked what makes Shine a unique business, great qualities were mentioned. Honesty, straightforwardness, hardworking, guaranteed, quick response, integrity, transparency and fair pricing. If you talk to anyone who has hired Shine in our community they will likely back up that these qualities are indeed true. I have had them in my home and I was stunned by their professionalism and kindness, and the price was indeed fair! Yet I would go farther to say that what makes Midland's Shine unique is that they know why these qualities are important and... they love this town. Mark stated that the service community at times gets a wrap for being unethical and to him it is important to flip that perception. Mark and Brad want people to feel greatly at ease and respected when Shine employees are on their property. They remind employees that customers are "inviting" Shine into their homes, not just their houses, and that is to be respected. Also, Shine prides itself in finding employees that truly care and have a heart to serve with compassion in all situations.

So who inspires Mark to keep going when Small Business get's hard? He says it's the original vision of the Shine company along with what it offers employees, a chance to grow themselves and provide for their families, amongst other benefits. Brad says the good days make it all worth it, when teamwork and positive energy are growing as well as simply knowing you are genuinely helping people, some whom cannot safely do certain things for themselves anymore.

Small business ownership is indeed a double edge sword according to Mark. In many ways it offers the flexibility to be available for your family, but some days it certainly encroaches on time outside the shop as well. Yet being a part of something that is so helpful to customers as well as impactful to employees, he humbly says, is a good feeling. Mark is quick to make it clear that it really is not about how he feels. He also commented their is a great opportunity in business ownership to strengthen the community by providing positive employment and the healthy franchise structure in this case, offers wonderful community support as well.

The difficulties of running a small business according to Mark is the many hats that often need to be worn such as counselor, financial planner, HR, marketing, equipment manager to name a few. Mark and Brad both seem to feel that the positives far outweigh any negatives however. Positive energy is a main core value to the entire Shine company and Mark and Brad exude that exact energy fittingly. They shared with me that true success for Midland's Shine comes from the crew leaders' dedication and their employees honest, servant hearts. Mark stated "(success) is not necessarily about marketing" in reference to how integrity and trustworthiness spread by word of mouth more rapidly advertising. Midland's Shine truly values what the customers value, clear honest communication and integrity. They instill in their employees to have a mentality of thinking what they would expect out of a window company if they personally hired one, and meeting that vision.

We often like to ask Midland's business owners what they like about Midland. Brad,  who is also very involved in his home town of Sanford, shared he enjoyed the small town feel Midland offers and the many "interwoven connections" the small businesses have. Mark agreed saying Midland has the unique quality for being a great town for small businesses to start and succeed because there is a wonderful "element of support" among a new generation of small businesses in our town. He also adds that Midland has a wonderful amount of resources that it can pour into itself with its many foundations.

It is indeed a great time of year to feature Midland's Shine because beyond windows, they do much more. They also do pressure washing, gutter cleaning, certain aspects of home detailing and... holiday lighting! Right now is a wonderful time to call Shine and get on their schedule to have your lights put up while there are still openings. Shine provides the lighting for you, consisting of various styles of high grade LED lights for your roof tops, trees and shrubs. I could not think of a better business to do the job personally.

Shine has been in town long enough that Mark and Brad enjoy telling stories of how regulars have touched their lives with things as simple as always having cookies available at the end of the job, to certain regulars requesting specific employees that they seem to have made a connection with. They also take to heart the many notes sent from customers thanking them for a job well done. This business gave me such a positive upbeat feeling, on the job and in the interview. Their genuineness and integrity was top notch. This is a business you need to check out, the prices are wonderful and the staff, even better. You will feel safe and respected with a business like Shine in your home. What a perfect addition they have been to the Midland community.

Article written by Hope Krotzer

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Live Oak Coffeehouse

Live Oak owners, Aaron and Renee' Deckrow

"Conversations over a cup of coffee can be life changing" 
-Renee' Deckrow

A vintage light bulb, a record player spinning with reminiscent music, a soft embracing chair and artwork from local masters of the trade. Historical nooks echoing with years of business in days gone by are now shifting to the laughter of friendships, the listening ear of family members, the glow of a laptop and progress being made. The ambiance of Live Oak Coffeehouse bids one to come, and feel they belong and can find solace inside. Never was there a shop that so truthfully proclaimed that its heartbeat is to "love people" so well. To me, walking into "trendy" locations has always been intimidating. I am not the type to sit in a coffee shop, I don't fit the prototype, whatever that even is. And then came a different vibe on our very own Ashman Street, an everybody type of place.

Art Deco Ashman Plaza has quite a history, originally the Knights of Columbus and known for serving some wonderful fish fries, it eventually became the HQ for many other places of business and entertainment. For example, KC Bowling came on the scene with the bravest of live pin setters. Later, Ashman Plaza became known as the "The Blue Light Building" in 1966, booming with wedding receptions and teen dances. The building is rich with history, always a place that brought people together from groceries, dance lessons, Coupie's Butcher Shop, boy scout meetings, a bike shop, retail shops and the Secretary of State. It is now alive again, restoring that glory with businesses that not only bring people together, but help them thrive in every aspect. You can go to Ashman Plaza to find help in building your business, receive professional counseling, get your hair and nails refreshed, learn life skills, get fresh air for your lungs, have a photo shoot, exercise your body, let your kids play while having some parent-community time, learn to paint, learn to use your camera, have a trivia date night or learn to crochet... oh yes, and my main reason to visit... drink coffee. Ashman Plaza has been redeemed, to say the least. Although the entire building is intriguing and full of businesses to explore, Live Oak was my main focus for this visit. I wanted to hear the "what and why" behind the captivating little shop that is more often than not brimming with people.

Owned by Aaron and Renee' Deckrow and opened in 2017, their hand on this building has gone from transforming the building, to touching midtown. Renee's vision of Live Oak was to create a space for "makers, dreamers and doers", to do their thing, meeting and growing together in a positive atmosphere. Also, to form a place for friends and family to have those special, critical, memorable moments. She states "conversations over a cup of coffee can be life changing" because "meeting over coffee is so approachable". Live Oak was created to be a gateway to those important conversations, a gateway to good things happening in the community and a gateway to the other life breathing businesses in the building, allowing the employees and owners to come together and encourage one other.

Sitting with Renee', anyone will walk away inspired. Her passions reach deeply into her soul and she is sincere to the core. She is a thriving business owner, and yet will be the first to sit down and compare notes and be real that the journey is not all roses. "Owning a small business is not for the faint of heart" she notes, "but it can be very worth it". When asking Renee' to share with other business owners what she felt was the most difficult about owning a small business, she remarked with a gentle smile, "all of it". She continued, "all life is hard. Work is hard, being patient is hard, relationships are hard. We have to really embrace that to move forward with any of it". The phrase "do what you want and you won't work a day in your life" is not the most realistic perspective, in Renee's opinion, although the sentiment holds some truth because it's wonderful to do what you love, there is still always going to be a grind to it. "Being willing to have difficult conversations with others you work with is not easy" she shares, "and neither is being at the mercy of public opinion". To be a successful business owner these are some of the things Renee' believes one will have to wrap their mind around, as well as always watching for trend changes in their niche.

Yet the Deckrows are not people that dwell in the hard stuff. Renee' says her husband, Aaron, has been the greatest source of encouragement to her in the hard moments, always telling her to simply focus on doing the "next good thing". Perhaps Renee's most inspiring encouragement is to remember, "even dreaming is hard, but it is so important, it's like exercise". "Discipline is hard, but accept it and let it help grow you". Problems are "soil for a fresh idea" she says, and encourages that small business owners should take the growth of their businesses on their own shoulders instead of solely blaming trends, business partners, locations or employees. She states you can either run from the problems of business ownership or be flexible, come together and resolve them and be resourceful.


When asked what she loves about business ownership Renee' stated, she adores serving the community, this is seen in the way she and Aaron intentionally fill the building with businesses that breath life into people. It can also be seen in their ongoing of presence at community happenings, involvement in developing Midtown Midland Neighborhood Association, support of local food vendors,"Coffee Blitzs" that give exposure to other local businesses and organizations, and special events that bring community together like this fall's "Gather at Grove". Renee' and Aaron also cherish their employees deeply and know without a doubt that their employees are the heart of the business and the first to touch the community. Renee' also remarked she absolutely loves that Live Oak is a place for everyone. She is pleased that people can feel welcome and know when they enter the building, that no one is excluded. The environment truly is a mirror of their slogan to "Like Coffee, Love People". I noticed easily when I was there that it was a judgment free zone. Employees always greet everyone warmly, by name when they can, and serve with such positive energy.

Daniel Terhune, General Manager

Live Oak has been overseen by general manager, Daniel Terhune, from the start. Daniel abounds with the talent to run the show and is also a gifted expert of deliciousness. He is the sole creator of the menu at Live Oak, abounding with ideas from sandwiches, to "no-nonsense bars" all the way to creating the very syrups the coffee shop uses which make Live Oak such a very original experience. Day Managers Jazzmyn "Jazz" Benitez and Sean Bartley are gifted baristas who know the grind well and are known for their skill, likeability and hospitality. They, along with an average of 12 employees, make Live Oak thrive. Remembering names, remembering "the usual" and always smiling and serving with vivacious hearts.

Day Managers, Jazz and Sean

Getting lost in the inspiration of these business owners, I realize I have lacked really doing any "product" review. Which is fitting in a sense, as Live Oak is so much more about connections and people. But that said, with the same passion they have for seeing people connect, they are passionate to see that the people of Midland are connecting over products that are not only, worth while, but of highest quality imaginable. The skillfully made drinks are made with utmost consideration of the consumer, because the consumer is instantly friend, neighbor and family so their opinions and insight are richly valuable to the Live Oak team.

Along with their own delicious and original line of drinks and foods, Live Oak has a passion to link with other local businesses. Some businesses from our very own Midland, and others from throughout the state of Michigan. Great Lakes Potato Chip, Northwoods Soda, Mindo Chocolate Makers, GFB Bars, Fraser Tea, Esch Road Foods, Fruitbelt, Cultured Ferments Co., Creation Coffee, Katie's Kitchen, Cheeky Cheesecakes, Mittenprints, Simply Bloom and fresh produce, milk, and cider is used from local growers as often as possible as well.  We highly encourage you to seek out and support these other wonderful businesses as we know Live Oak would encourage it as well.

Among the lovely staff and products of Live Oak, there is another iconic characteristic we have all taken in, the stunning mural by Mark Piotrowski at MARKed ARTS. The mural alone has changed the feel of Midtown, as it reminds us of the importance of enjoying moments of rest in life in order to be restored so that we are ready to let our dreams grow. It is also a great reminder that the effect of our dreams sends ripples into the lives of others as we are reminded of in Mother Theresa's quote "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across waters to create many ripples."

When asked what she treasures about Midland, Renee' was quick to say there are so many great opportunities in a town that is small, in the fact that you can easily connect and see people you know whenever you are out, but there is also the "culture and aesthetics" of a larger town. She also enjoys the way Midland cares about the community with so many opportunities like wonderful schools and many great parks.

Live Oak is a place made by dreamers, for dreamers. A place deeply inspired by world changers, for world changers. As a gorgeous tree filters the scorching rays of the sun to expose the healthy warmth of a place to gather safely in the shade, Live Oak and Ashman Plaza have begun to do the very same for the town of Midland. Providing a place to rest, relax and dream as dreams take flight. And although we are proud to claim that Live Oak's roots grow down into our great city of Midland, its branches are soon to be reaching to our neighbors in Uptown Bay City too! What a great opportunity for another great town to be blessed by the presence of positive small business!

Don't mind if we do.

#meetmeinuptown too!
Live Oak currently can be found at 711 Ashman Street in Midland
(989) 423-1800

Article by Hope Krotzer
Photography by Michelle Delzer and Hope Krotzer



Thursday, August 30, 2018

Red Threads Custom Apparel Printing

“People filled with the Spirit of the Creator,
   should have the best creations.”
     -Josiah Blackmore

Josiah Blackmore is a no-nonsense kind of guy, I gleaned that within our first few minutes together. It’s easy to understand when you hear his dream and how he got to where he is today—he’s keenly focused, on a mission, and I have no doubt his dream will come true.
Josiah is the owner of Red Threads, a screen printing, vinyl heat pressing and embroidery print shop. You might think someone with a company like this simply aspires to be the biggest, the best, and the most profitable. He does, but here’s why: Josiah’s purpose in life is to spread the Word of God. He wasn’t necessarily trying to be the best at screen-printing, but, as hard work and dedication would have it, he just is.
Josiah was brought up in a Christian family, but he struggled, as many young people do, with his purpose and faith. He regularly went to church but wasn’t a steward. In his late teens and early twenties, he got into some trouble and wasn’t sure what was next in his life. He was searching for answers, building a worldview and he came upon the revelation that God and the Devil are both very real. It was a visit to Chicago with a friend that changed things. They were watching a Christian documentary when God came to Josiah and said “you have never lived for me a day in your life. That ‘Christian’ life you’ve been living is not a Christian life—dude.” Josiah felt that this served two purposes: to show him he was living a lie and that what came next in life would be greater and more exciting. He felt the darkness move away and light come in. The next seven days he said were a ‘euphoric and peaceful experience.’ Josiah dug his nose in his Bible and that Book confirmed that what was happening to him was exactly what it said would happen. This was his spiritual birth. At 21 Josiah became a Christian. He was ready to give his life but now he needed orders, he wondered if he should be a pastor or build mud huts in Africa.
One day, he felt compelled to cover a shirt in the Word of God. As he described it “it was big, loud and dorky” and, as a result, he received questions and comments and it opened conversations. An idea was born. What if he could cover a shirt in God's Word in all languages? And that is the passion project. Someday shirts covered in the Word will be sold all over the world in different languages. He showed me a pilot run of a shirt with the book of John. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. It’s so tiny, you can’t easily read it, but people will say, “what does your shirt say?” This is the goal. He painted a picture of people at Dow wearing a nice button up that from afar looked patterned, but it was covered in the Word of God. He sees an opportunity to have a higher quality Christian apparel company in the market and Red Threads will be that provider. As he put it “people filled with the Spirit of the Creator, should have the best creations.”
Josiah admits he has been blessed by the kindness of others—several times thousands of dollars of equipment was donated to him to help him get started or to expand. For six months he worked rent-free and then a year-and-a-half low-rent thanks to INCUBA8LABS. He had to learn to run a business, first, and thankfully, it laid on his heart to start this business in Midland. This has been a tool for character development and to perfect the craft; and, as it continues to grow he can focus on pursuing the truly global vision. Josiah did not know much about printing until he attended the "University" of YouTube. Yep, Josiah is self-taught. His dedication to a quality product is second to none. He has developed a network of professionals and mentors to continue to learn and grow. In fact, he said if your prints crack after 25 washes, you need a new printer. He had me feel a sample shirt and it was soft, almost like the print was sewn in by the garment maker; not plasticky like we are used to.
Midland is a haven for small businesses, this has been a huge blessing because they support each other and make up a significant portion of Red Threads client-base. Josiah lit up when he described one such customer—rare and amazing—this client even gave he and, his wife, Abbi a wedding card.
Red Threads is unique in this business because of their dedication to customer service. They are focused on bulk orders and when you spend that kind of money, you expect a lot. Josiah is determined to rise to meet, or exceed, that expectation. Customers sit with Josiah at the very table where I interviewed him, and they work together to bring their ideas to fruition on the computer screen.
Why the name Red Threads? Josiah’s favorite color is red, and this is an apparel-based business after all—clever. But, really, it’s because Jesus is the Red Thread, mentioned in every book of the Bible—without Him, there would be no Christianity.
As we were wrapping up, office manager, Abbi Blackmore and Chief Marketing Officer, Chili (pictured below), arrived. This dynamic trio will surely thrive, and you should watch it happen by following them on Facebook or by visiting
Red Threads is located at 616 Haley Street and can be contacted at 989-600-8540 
Article and Photography by Joslyn Chulski

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Every Day Life and the Rural Community Health Worker Network Training Center

Jessica Murrell, Shannon Lijewski and Andrea Burton

"Training opens a person's eyes to how they can help others so generations to come, people can live on their own wings.” 
- Shannon Lijewski
Founder and CEO of Every Day Life and The rCHWn Training Center

There is something to be said about good steady bridges. They get us from where we are, take us over an obstacle, to where we long to be, or more importantly where we need to be. Here, right in our very own county, are men and women working to be bridges in many different ways, each way just as important as the next. They are Community Health Workers, or CHWs as you will hear them called.

In many urban communities CHWs are becoming very well known for the work they do, but in a predominantly rural county like Midland, Michigan, many people often don't know that CHWs are starting to make effective connections in the neighborhoods and communities outside the city limits as well. There is an overwhelming need for bridge builders in the country.

CHWs come in many forms. A workforce that started predominantly in the medical field is now seen as successful and effective in many other facets. A CHW is an individual who helps to bridge the gap between community members in need and the professionals that can help meet those needs. For example a CHW could be a liaison between a medical professional and a community member. They help the community member navigate through the questions the doctors or nurses would ask in a way that may be more understandable and less intimidating. And now CHWs work way beyond the medical field. As Shannon Lijewski explained, just as there are different types of doctors and teachers, there are different types of CHWs. Some help with integration into society after an addiction, some help with those who fall victim to human trafficking or abusive relationships, yet others are first responders, equine therapists, school paraprofessionals, and faith workers. Many CHWs are busy neighbors who simply see a need to break a cycle in their
very neighborhood and help with community gardens, visiting neighbors, food pantries and little free libraries.

Community Health Workers know the culture of the area they work in, usually because they too live in that exact area and have for quite some time. They understand the lingo, the nuances, and the socio economic norms for the area very well, better than many doctors, judges, parole officers and DHS workers would, who are usually from different areas and circumstances. Also, a rural community health worker would pick up on things that an urban CHW might miss in the same situation, and vice versa. Even in a town as small as Midland, the cultural differences from Center City to the county lines can be vast. Community Health Workers are known for carefully using a nonjudgmental approach. This way of connecting with people breaks down barriers so those that are receiving assistance feel little to no intimidation accepting the help offered to them. CHWs don't provide a hand out, or a hand down, they provide a hand over to their very neighbors, simply helping, connect and educate. And what can fuel their fire to do so, besides their already tremendously beautiful hearts, is incredible, quality training.

More than 10 years ago Shannon Lijewski, started her consulting firm "Everyday Life". A name thought up as she and her husband Keith discussed the importance of helping people in their community navigate through the ins an outs of the very place they all live, work and play... in their every day lives. Shannon grew up the child of an entrepreneur father who strictly hired parolees in order to better their lives and a mother who was a corrections officer, it was in her blood to have a passion to help break cycles and help people see their full potential. Seeing a great need that was going unmet in rural areas, she also began the Rural Community Health Workers Network (rCHWn)Training Center. The training center is located in the village of Sanford within Midland County.

Although she is the founder and CEO, Shannon is incredibly humble and runs the business with a view of her employees as complete equals. Along with Shannon, the team at the rCHWn Training Center consists of Andrea Burton, Director of Training and Outreach with a Bachelors in Marketing, and Jessica Murrell, Creative Marketing Director with a Masters in Business Administration. As a team they fit like a "perfect storm" as Shannon refers to them. The wonderful thing about networking, even with your own employees, is that you all can work together incredibly well when you are each contributing in the areas you are talented in. They all bring their own incredible strengths into play which makes a thriving and effective small businessThe rCHWn Training Center started in April and is the only known rural CHW training center in the nation. The need for such a place in our community and country has been confirmed by their 400% growth rate from April to July alone. 

 The Training Center offers a very high quality training, preparing CHWs around the state and the nation to effectively work in their communities and make a difference. Training is a 6 week course, 2 days a week, a schedule that offers CHWs time to process what they are learning, but also allows them to continue a somewhat normal work week at there places of employment. Training focuses on many skill sets and aspects such as "motivational interviewing" and "nonbiased thinking". The training truly empowers people who at times are doing the work of a CHW and are not aware of the position they are already play in the community.

So what sets apart this Training Center from others? Mostly the great balance of diverse talents available in the team. Jessica mentioned, rCHWn and Every Day Life is a great place to work, everything is always new, every day something positive happens, and although they are not faith based in their actual training, employees are free to talk about God and pray about situations they encounter. The Training Center is hugely inclusive, drama free, safe atmosphere for employees, trainees and members of the community. As Andrea says "it is not about your knowledge, but about the connections you make. This is a workforce where individual experts grow with maturity so they can be equipped to respond to situations effectively without creating more trauma".

Director of Training and Outreach, Andrea Burton, is a very highly sought after trainer. People from near and far have come to receive training especially from Ms. Burton. She is one of only 10 individuals in the entire state that have completed the core competency to be a trainer. Andrea has received additional training through Michigan ACEs Initiative giving the rCHWn Training Center recognition as a "Community Champion". She is also a recipient of the Shining Star Award from the United Way of Midland County. Her training sessions are known to be full of her engaging charisma and confidence, but most of all for her passion to help others see how they can influence their communities effectively. Her passionate message to fellow rCHWs throughout the country is that "training is available, necessary and valuable". She desires to help those in other communities realize they are CHW's. 

As often time happens for CHWs, Andrea did not realize that she was doing the work of a CHW until Shannon pointed it out to her, then through training she went beyond her potential in understanding and effectiveness. Andrea has always had a natural passion to help others. Working on the truancy team for Bullock Creek Public Schools, she could see clearly that so many issues rural community members deal with, go much deeper than many people realize and her desire to do more grew continuously. She is now the visionary and creator of a program of The Rural Community Health Workers Network Training Center known as C.O.R.E (Community Outreach Resource Extension). The program's proof of concept site is based at Midland Missionary Church, a local church in the Lee Township area. This program has many successful facets to help in the community, including a community garden, food pantry and little free library.

The rCHWn Training Center just recently gained its non profit status and is currently building up their board of directors. Shannon Lijewski currently serves as the interim president, Keith Lijewski, also a CHW in the community, serves as treasurer, and Jessy Bordeau serves as secretary and is a passionate community advocate that is willing to stand up for those under served in the community. A goal is set for a future board of 10 members with at least 51 percent of directors being CHWs. It is important to the team that the board is constructed by those who know the heart and work of a CHW. A steering committee will also soon be organized.

If you are a CHW, are interested in the work of a CHW or even just wanting to stay connected to how CHWs are growing and the differences they are making, you're encouraged to become part of the network!
To do so please visit

The Rural Community Health Worker Network Training Canter in Sanford, MI is available as a free space for all CHWs to work and gather. This is an incredible resource as many CHWs do not have budgets to allow investment in personal offices or work spaces, and the aspect of being together with other CHWs is powerful.

To learn more about Every Day Life and the rCHWn please visit
or their Facebook Page
Center location
 344 E. Saginaw, Sanford, MI 48657

Article and Photographs by Hope Krotzer