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Education policymakers on MSU Extension resources: The FHE team goes to the Capitol

On Friday, May 20, representatives from 15 state legislative offices attended a coffee and donuts informational session at the state Capitol. The session was held by the Financial and Homeownership Education (FHE) team to educate the group about the post-foreclosure toolkits that Michigan State University (MSU) Extension provides. Toolkits were also distributed to all offices to advertise the effective and impactful resources that MSU Extension produces for families and individuals starting over after home foreclosure.

In a brainstorming and planning meeting between a few members of the FHE team and Eric Walcott, MSU Extension public policy specialist, the team discussed reaching out to legislators to market the “Starting Over After Foreclosure” toolkit. Eric, having previous experience working in the Legislature, suggested hosting an event to draw attention to the new resource. He shared that often state departments hold educational sessions to provide legislators and their staff members with timely resources and information.

The FHE team wanted to not only share the MSU Extension resource with the legislators and their staff members, but also educate them that they could use it to support constituents who call their offices with questions about personal financial recovery. Team members received the approval of Mike Kovacic, director of stakeholder relations for the college of agriculture and natural resources; Dave Ivan, their institute director; and MSU. They also secured the support of Sen. Darwin Booher, who co-sponsored the event. Then the planning began. Jean Lakin, Sarah Carter, Erica Tobe, Eric Walcott, Bill Hendrian, Scott Matteson and Mike Kovacic contributed to the planning of the event.

The event consisted of a short, half-hour presentation to legislators and their staff members, followed by a brief question-and-answer period. Each legislative office, whether or not an office representative attended the event, received a packet. The packet included MSU Extension FHE team information (including infographics of the results of their programs, a team roster and current program offerings), district foreclosure data (for offices that RSVP’d to the event), a free “Starting Over After Foreclosure” toolkit and marketing kicker cards to promote the resource in their communities. Bill Hendrian, Scott Matteson, Eric Walcott, LaShawn Brown, Beth Martinéz, Brenda Long, Erica Tobe, Mike Kovacic and Jinnifer Ortquist attended to host and answer questions.

The “Starting Over After Foreclosure” toolkit is a research-based, resource guide for residents who have experienced foreclosure, housing instability or both. It was designed to provide an educational support after traditional foreclosure counseling services end as a way to rebuild financial standing. Eight stand-alone units address core financial concepts (budgeting, credit and debt management, exploring housing options and more). One unit addresses emotional recovery after foreclosure and stress-management skill building. Visit http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/mimoneyhealth/startingover to access the resource. The material will be available soon in Spanish, and a series of noncredit online courses will be available to participants statewide.

“Staff members that I spoke with were very receptive of the material, interested in the information, and appreciated that it was free for the general public to use.” Erica said. “I think promoting this toolkit to legislators in the manner that we did was a good way to be accountable for the funds that we have received to support our work in this programming area, and provide them with useful information that they can use with the residents in their districts. In addition, it was a great way to market MSU Extension, and the work of our FHE team. We had several staff members attend the event, and they were able to connect with their respective legislative offices, and create connections for future programming opportunities! The legislative staff members that we spoke with were very excited to see the information presented and seemed to appreciate the short, succinct manner that we presented the material. I think most participants left the presentation understanding how they can use the information in the future and appreciated the applicability of the resource.”

If you have any questions about this event or the materials, please feel free to contact Erica Tobe, MSU Extension specialist, at tobee@msu.edu or Eric Walcott, MSU Extension public policy specialist, at walcott3@msu.edu.

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MSU Extension staff members receive NEAFCS awards

Many of our fellow Michigan State University Extension colleagues received awards at the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) annual session Nov. 5 at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Individual awards:

Joyce McGarry won a Continued Excellence Award, which goes to an NEAFCS member of at least 12 years. It recognizes active involvement in professional improvement programs, promotion of professional development and leadership. This is the highest honor awarded to NEAFCS members. Joyce has worked for MSU Extension for 17 years, concentrating in the areas of nutrition and food safety programming. She supervises nutrition staff in seven counties and provides leadership as co-chair of the Nutrition Physical Activity Work Team in the Health and Nutrition Institute.

Gail Innis and Brenda Long both won Michigan and National Distinguished Service awards. The award is given to members of 10 years or more. It recognizes Extension family and consumer science educators for leadership, outstanding programs, and personal and professional growth. Gail began working for MSU Extension as a program associate in 1991. She describes her current position as educator in both the Children and Youth Institute and the Health and Nutrition Institute as “the best of both worlds” where she can draw on the resources of both to serve families across the lifespan. Brenda is a senior Extension educator and has been based in Ionia County since 2002. Her programming focuses on health, financial capacity and homeownership education.

Brenda also received two national awards for health insurance education, collaborating with eleven state partners. She took third place for the Florence Hall Award, which recognizes NEAFCS members who have been alert in recognizing emerging issues or new concerns and interests of families or individuals and have planned and implemented programs that benefit families or individuals. She took first place for the Marketing Package Award for an outstanding marketing package promoting a program pertinent to family and consumer sciences issues.

Lisa Treiber won a national and Michigan Clean and Healthy Families and Communities Award. The award honors outstanding educational programming efforts that utilize any of the American Cleaning Institute’s educational materials in the areas of food safety, emergency preparedness or response, safe and effective use of cleaning products, and others.

Team awards:

Teresa Clark-Jones, Gail Innis, Carolyn Penniman, Suzanne Pish and Holly Tiret took third place nationally and second place regionally and in Michigan for the Early Childhood Child Care Training Award for the “RELAX: Alternatives to Anger for Parents and Caregivers Workshop.” The award recognizes outstanding childcare professional training that addresses the needs of young children. Over 600 participants have taken this workshop throughout Michigan and in West Virginia and Texas.

Teresa Clark-Jones, Bill Hendrian, Jean Lakin, Brenda Long, Julie Moberg, Pam Sarlitto, Beth Waitrovich, Chris Venema, (all NEAFCS Members), Jim Buxton, Moses Cantu, Angela Miles Griffin, Lauren Hale, Khurram Imam, Sharon Jeffery, Scott Matteson, Vivian Washington and Rob Weber (all non-MEAFCS Members) won a national, regional and Michigan Extension Housing Outreach Award for “Michigan State University Extension Housing Programs 2013-14.” The award recognizes programming that enhances housing outreach to communities and special needs families.

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MSU Extension Macomb County staff members’ contributions acknowledged in State of the County address

In a recent Spotlight article of Nov. 7, I let you know about Michigan State University Extension’s role in aiding homeowners eligible for property tax assistance through the Step Forward Michigan Program. In that article, I quoted Ted Wahby, the treasurer of Macomb County, who praised the “productive partnership” between MSU Extension and the Macomb County Treasurer’s Office. He went on to say that the team effort resulted in more than $1.1 million dollars in back taxes paid and more than 175 families no longer at risk of losing their homes.

At the end of November, the Treasurer’s Office updated us that currently 204 Macomb County residents have been assisted with $1,203,512.42 in repaid delinquent property taxes.

On Dec. 4, Macomb County executive Mark Hackel delivered his third State of the County address to an invitation-only crowd of 1,200 county employees, residents, partners and policy makers at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township. During the address, Mr. Hackel recognized the impact that the partnership between MSU Extension and the County Treasurer’s Office had in Macomb County’s transformation by keeping residents in their homes with the Step Forward Michigan Program.

We were one of the few departments individually acknowledged! I was proud of Jean (Lakin) and her team!” said Debbie Safian, Macomb County administration support staff member and one of the invited guests.

Additionally, Steve Gold, director of the Macomb County Department of Health and Community Services, acknowledged the role that MSU Extension housing counselors played in this effort.

“MSU Extension staff provides direct educational services to literally tens of thousands of Macomb County residents annually. We think of education as paying off ‘in the long run,’ but the Step Forward Michigan Program is different: the benefits to our residents (not losing their homes) and the benefits to the county (not losing a million dollars in property taxes) have been immediate and dramatic. MSUE and the Treasurer’s Office can be justly proud of how much good has grown from their partnership,” he said.

Greening Michigan Extension, Financial and Homeownership Education (FHE) educator Jean Lakin leads the team of Sarah Carter, Natalie Ciampichini, Helena Fleming, Rob Weber and AmeriCorps member Alicia McMiller.

Jean remarked in an email to the team, “Needless to say all of the hard work that each and every one of you do each day for the Macomb County residents facing foreclosure IS recognized and appreciated. Not only by the residents that you work so tirelessly for but also by those on campus and in the county who support us and understand that we are making a difference here in Macomb County. It is an honor to work with each one of you every day and we all THANK YOU for your dedication to the Step Forward Michigan project.”

I agree with Jean and having our staff and their program singled out in the State of the County address by the Macomb County executive is pretty special. Thanks for everyone’s contributions to this great partnership!

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Extension staff members help residents through property tax assistance

In a July 26, 2012, Spotlight, I told you about the Step Forward Michigan Program. The U.S. Department of the Treasury established the Hardest Hit Fund in 2010 to aid families in states hit hardest by the economic and housing market downturn. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) oversees distribution of the fund in Michigan where it’s known as the Step Forward Michigan Program.

In January 2013 through the Step Forward Michigan Program, the MSHDA added property tax assistance to their Loan Rescue Program. Homeowners that have endured a qualifying involuntary hardship that has caused them to fall behind may be eligible. Without this assistance, these homeowners, which in many cases have paid off their home mortgage, would have lost their homes due to tax foreclosure.

Our Michigan State University Extension counseling and support staff provide ongoing help to homeowners in getting questions answered, helping with the application process and correcting applications so that Macomb County residents have the best chance for assistance. Greening Michigan Extension, Financial and Homeownership Education (FHE) educator Jean Lakin leads the team of Natalie Ciampichini, Helena Fleming, AmeriCorps member Alicia McMiller and Rob Weber.

Extension educator and District 11 coordinator Marie Ruemenapp said, “Macomb Executive’s Office staff and the treasurer are just ecstatic with what MSUE (Jean and her staff) have been able to do.”

“The very productive partnership between MSU Extension and the Macomb County Treasurer’s Office is really what has driven the success of this program in Macomb,” said Ted Wahby, the Macomb County treasurer. “As we reach out to delinquent taxpayers, we know we can count on Jean Lakin and her team of housing counselors at MSUE to guide people through the application process. Our team effort has resulted in more than $1.1 million dollars in back taxes paid, and more than 175 families no longer at risk of losing their home.”

Read more in this Macomb Daily article: http://www.macombdaily.com/government-and-politics/20131003/treasurers-program-collects-900000-saves-hundreds-of-homes

Macomb is not the only county taking advantage of the Step Forward Michigan program and of the help given by MSU Extension staff.

Denine Kamprath, deputy Monroe County treasurer said, “We feel that this program is a wonderful opportunity to help people that have hardship situations be able to get ‘caught up’ on the back taxes that they owe, and to keep them out of the foreclosure situation. Hopefully, by getting this assistance, they will be able to stay on track and avoid falling back into this pattern for the future. . . . Thanks for all your continuous help with our residents.”

In Monroe County, according to Deputy Treasurer Kamprath, with support from MSU Extension staff members Terry Clark-Jones and Pam Sarlitto, 18 residents have been assisted and a total amount of $113,533.94 in back taxes has been collected as of October 2013.

MSU Extension is an MSHDA-certified housing counseling agency. We have been assisting Michigan residents in applying for the tax foreclosure Step Forward Michigan funds since Jan. 15.

Other Financial and Homeownership Education work group members across the state involved in helping Michigan residents through the Step Forward Michigan program besides those mentioned above include Jim Buxton, Scott Day, Sharon Jeffery, Mike Krauch, Brenda Long, Julie Moberg, AmeriCorps member Vicki Newcomb, Christine Venema, Beth Waitrovich and Vivian Washington.

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Staff is right on the money ‒ and the media ‒ during Money Smart Week

Our Michigan State University Extension staff are shaking up the airwaves assisting people with financial issues during Money Smart Week.

A group of our colleagues staffed the phones and talked to about 60 people during the Fox 2 News Detroit morning show April 22 from 6:30 a.m. to noon. Participants included Extension educators Terry Clark-Jones, Mike Crouch, Jean Lakin and Wanda Roberts and Extension program instructors Pam Sarlitto and Khurram Imam.

Jean said, “The problems people called about are far too complicated to solve in a quick conversation. But educators were able to direct people to the correct professionals ‒ housing counselors, attorneys.”

In addition to answering the phones, each staff member appeared on air at least twice to discuss financial management questions with Murray Feldman, Fox 2 News.

Kelly Masters, a consultant who was hired by the Federal Reserve to coordinate Money Smart Week events in the Detroit Metro area, set up the opportunity. People from partner agencies also staffed the phone lines.

In this economy, people need all of the help they can get and that’s where MSU Extension comes in.

Jean said, “Our job isn’t done. Based on the volume of calls, financial issues are definitely something people are struggling with, and we’re here to help people work through those issues.”

In addition, MSU Extension educator Erica Tobe was one of four presenters April 20 at a special live broadcast presentation with WTVS, a Detroit PBS station. The show, presented in a lightning round/game show format to an overflowing audience, educates consumers on protecting, saving, managing and growing their money. It will air July 20 at 8 p.m.

Jean described both of these events as “out-of-the-box ways to promote financial literacy.”

It’s how our colleagues usually perform and the way we get things done – out of the box.

Educators throughout the state are doing similar programming, and I’m afraid to start mentioning them for fear I’ll forget someone. If you’re doing a Money Smart Week activity, please tell us about it in the comments below.

Money Smart Week is a public awareness campaign created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago that was designed to help consumers manage their personal finances more effectively. It runs April 20–27. Events will take place throughout Metro Detroit, Michigan and the United States.

Listen to this Oakland County podcast on Money Smart Week featuring Wanda Roberts: http://www.oakgov.com/podcast/Pages/Episode.aspx?EpisodeId=194

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Extension staff members win NEAFCS awards, present at conference

Michigan State University Extension staff members won several awards at the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) national conference in Columbus, Ohio, Sept 27. The Michigan Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (MEAFCS) will recognize the educators at the membership meeting at Fall Extension Conference.

The Health and Nutrition Institute Food Safety Team was first place national winner and first place Central Region winner for Food Safety. The award recognizes outstanding educational programs conducted for families, school nutrition workers, food industry employees or managers, church workers preparing meals, home care providers, and other groups or individuals preparing or serving food.

The MSU Extension Food Safety Team received first place national winner award and first place Central Region winner for Food Safety at the NEAFCS national conference

The MSU Extension Food Safety Team received first place national winner award and first place Central Region winner for Food Safety at the NEAFCS national conference Sept. 27, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of UNL Extension Kathleen Lodl, MSU Extension staff members Eileen Haraminac, Lisa Treiber, Joyce McGarry, Beth Waitrovich and Jeannie Nichols and NEAFCS President Amy Peterson [not present Christine Venema, Pat Joyce (retired), Jan Seitz (retired)].

 Evaluated on program objectives, program accomplishments, program impact and support materials, the team received a score of 98 out of a possible 100.

Jeannie Nichols led the team that includes Eileen Haraminac, Pat Joyce (retired), Joyce McGarry, Janet Rathke, Jan Seitz (retired), Lisa Treiber, Chris Venema and Beth Waitrovich.

The team applied for and received a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development grant allowing them to provide statewide programming in 2011. They taught face-to-face workshops around the state and developed an online training at msue.anr.msu.edu/programs/cottage_food_law.

The workshops and online training taught Michigan residents about the new 2012 Cottage Food Law and the importance of food safety practices when preparing and selling cottage foods in Michigan.

Teresa Clark-Jones led the Financial and Home Ownership Education Team, made up of mostly Greening Michigan Institute members, that took third place in the Central Region for Communications – Internet Education Technology. The award recognizes excellence in Web-based programs or Web pages.

In addition to Teresa, team members include Connie Costner Borg, Dr. Lisa Cook, Kathy Hale, Jean Lakin, Wanda Repke and Erica Tobe.

The team created www.mimoneyhealth.org with education information related to financial literacy for the public to access. On the website, consumers can take the Financial Health Survey, in which each survey participant determines his or her financial health index score and receives resources to help increase the score.

Extension educator Carolyn Penniman won a Distinguished Service Award. The Distinguished Service Award is the highest award presented by the NEAFCS. The award recognizes members for leadership, outstanding program efforts and personal and professional development.

Carolyn has been part of MSU Extension for more than 14 years, providing education in parenting education, food safety, training for foster and adoptive parents, and financial literacy. She’s participated in international Extension training and led the Poverty Reduction Initiative for Charlevoix and Emmet counties. She used a United Way grant to provide two poverty simulation workshops and develop a Money Mentor program.

Besides winning awards, MSU Extension staff members were busy presenting sessions at the conference, lending their expertise to their colleagues. Health and Nutrition Institute Extension educator Suzanne Pishpresented a session at the conference from RELAX: Alternatives to Anger, an anger management program for young people, parents and caregivers.

MSU Extension staff members presented on the Cottage Food Law at the NEAFCS national conference

MSU Extension staff members presented on the Cottage Food Law at the NEAFCS national conference Sept. 27, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Pictured left to right: MSU Extension staff members Joyce McGarry, Rita Klavinski, Lisa Treiber, Jeannie Nichols and Beth Waitrovich. Photo credit: Eileen Haraminac.

In addition, Extension educators Joyce McGarry, Jeannie Nichols, Lisa Treiber and Beth Waitrovich of the Food Safety Team presented a session on the Cottage Food Law. Extension educator Rita Klavinski provided technology support at the conference.

Congratulations and thanks to all of our award winners and session presenters!

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Step Forward Michigan Program assists homeowners struggling to hold on to their homes

Michigan State University Extension educator Jean Lakin would like to bring a great resource to the attention of Extension educators across the state. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), one of our partners in the Financial Housing and Energy work group, part of the Greening Michigan Institute, has a program that benefits citizens across Michigan who struggle with underwater mortgages and unemployment.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury established the Hardest Hit Fund to provide targeted aid to families in states hit hard by the economic and housing market downturn. Michigan received $498.6 million in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to operate the Hardest Hit Funds program. In July 2010, Michigan was the first state to award and disburse Hardest Hit Funds. The MSHDA oversees the distribution of the funds in Michigan. The Hardest Hit Funds program operates under the name Step Forward Michigan Program.

Extension educators can direct clients needing assistance to apply online at http://www.stepforwardmichigan.org/. More than 25,000 Michigan homeowners have initiated an application. If financial literacy is outside your normal area of expertise, feel free to refer to Jean or one of her colleagues on the Financial, Housing and Energy work group.

The Step Forward Michigan website also offers a toolkit for partners to help get the word out to homeowners about the program through the use of the program’s logo, Web ads, posters and cards, newsletters and social media posts. Any educator can use the kit.

Jean said, “We currently have MSHDA-certified housing counselors in Macomb, Washtenaw, Lapeer and Ionia counties. However, Step Forward Michigan is an excellent resource for Extension educators in any institute in any county to provide to residents as we know the economic and mortgage crisis has impacted all of us.”

Jean co-leads the Financial Housing and Energy work group with Extension educator Terry Clark-Jones. Extension Health and Nutrition Institute educators Christine Venema and Brenda Long are also involved in the Step Forward Michigan initiative.

In related news, a national foreclosure settlement will allow the MSHDA and MSU Extension to expand our financial education and counseling services for homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure or those who may have recently gone through foreclosure. We’ll have more information on this opportunity in the future.

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