Tag Archives: nonprofits

The race toward economic and social stability

Businessman jumps over gap. Overcoming obstacles business concept

By Leslie D. Green | Special to Crain’s Content Studio

Economists suggest the speed of recovery from pandemic-related shutdowns shows the United States is on an upswing that could continue into 2021. However, presidential transition-related conflict and a third-wave surge in global coronavirus cases have economists, investors and businesses on edge.

Credit spreads, overall financial-stress indicators and the dollar have remained relatively tame, suggesting the equity market is mainly consolidating its outsized gains while anticipating clarity on the profits outlook. Indicators, including positive corporate earnings in the third quarter, have been pointing toward stronger U.S. growth—particularly since they rebounded faster than during the last recession. And the United States has been experiencing solid momentum in economic growth so far in the fourth quarter, bringing activity within the 90 percent to 95 percent range of pre-coronavirus pandemic action.

Yet, uncertainty remains. Business leaders question how the President-elect’s plans and policies, including taxes, health care and tariffs, will affect industries and their consumers. And, as more states implement and reestablish COVID-borne restrictions, worries over country-wide shutdowns and hopes for an additional stimulus are growing.

“We have seen a fairly quick rebound. But that last 5 percent of economic growth is going to be very, very difficult to reclaim. It will be a long climb—and probably not until 2022—until we return to the levels of economic growth we had prior to the pandemic,” said Matt Elliott, Midwest Region Executive for Business Banking and Detroit Market President of Bank of America.  

Elliott recently moderated a virtual roundtable conversation with metro Detroit business, academic and community leaders about the state of the region transitioning from 2020 to 2021.

collage image of roundtable participants

Top row, from left: Christina Brown, Consumer Research Insights Analyst, HMS Mfg. Co.; Matt Elliott, Midwest Region Executive for Business Banking and Detroit Market President of Bank of America; Ki (Kouhaila) Hammer, President and CEO, Ghafari Associates; Darienne Driver Hudson, President and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Bottom row, from left: Rip Rapson, President, The Kresge Foundation; Nicole Sherard-Freeman, Executive Director, Workforce Development & Detroit at Work, City of Detroit; Michelle Sourie Robinson, President and CEO, Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council; M. Roy Wilson, President, Wayne State University.

Nicole Sherard-Freeman, executive director of Workforce Development & Detroit at Work for the City of Detroit, said city administrators are encouraged by the recent bump in economic indicators but recognize that it’s unlikely to be the real story.

“We won’t know the real measure of impact of what’s happening with the economy for another 12 or 18 months,” she said. “That’s when we’ll start to feel the ripple effects of what happens when you close casinos and hotels and restaurants, and when Detroit’s small business community fails at a rate of about 40 or 50 percent.”

Going beyond economic figures and issues of financial volatility, roundtable participants also delved into the impact of this dramatic year and their concerns surrounding the future of COVID-19, supply chain shifts, racial justice and equity.

Down, Not Out

Increasing cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and Europe is a top concern for investors and business leaders alike though many businesses have been able to rehire workers and the number of unemployment claims is decreasing. Still, there’s growing, but cautious, optimism.

The City looks at residential employment, instead of unemployment, as the real measure of how economic development, economic stability and mobility are affecting Detroit neighborhoods. That number was close to 231,000 in February 2020, Sherard-Freeman said.

“But those numbers dropped in April to 165,000. It looked a lot like a 90-degree angle fall off a cliff,” she said.

With 208,000 residents employed as of late October, the city appeared to be bouncing back. Still, Sherard-Freeman said city leaders remain watchful.

While dips in the economy often hit contract labor first, that sector is also usually the first to rebound, said Ki (Kouhaila) Hammer, president and CEO of Ghafari Associates, which operates technical staffing company G-Tech.

“Before COVID, things were going just fine. Then the pandemic hit, and business in the G-Tech world went down by about 50 percent almost overnight,” she said. The company furloughed staff and cut employee hours, and clients began requesting billing-rate reductions.

Now, though, G-Tech is getting “requests for many engineers, in many different frames for different clients,” Hammer said.

Likewise, HMS Mfg. Co., which designs and manufacturers housewares for retailers, was doing well and focusing on developing innovative products for the home in the beginning of the year. The company paused that strategy when the quarantines started and businesses shifted to delivering essential products.

The company’s niche has helped.

“We did all right because we make everything that’s in the house,” said Christina Brown, consumer research insights analyst for HMS. “Now, we need to make sure we are making the right things for the home to ensure we support life looking a bit different.”

While COVID didn’t hurt HMS sales, it did complicate order fulfillment and supply chain logistics, and it altered company priorities.

“All of our business units focused on shifting away from new design into human protection—what our people need to get through the pandemic and what customers need from us,” Brown said.

In part, this means determining whether employees truly need to travel to accomplish their goals and developing more secure online platforms to help people feel more comfortable making purchases.

“This idea of pivoting and shifting toward the people is really critical for growth,” Elliott said.

Agility Is Key

Pivoting or evolving business strategies is really about resilience and resilience planning, Elliott said. This requires having a diversified source of revenue, planning for sustainability of revenue sources and business models, and ensuring your organization has a technology angle and technology support.

“Not every organization can make that sort of a pivot. But you have to if you’re going to be resilient,” Elliott said.

HMS, which has U.S. and global operations, found itself contending with different and ever-changing pandemic-related executive orders. Shipping also became more complicated for goods manufactured domestically and internationally. At the same time, production was complicated by executive orders requiring some businesses to shut down, Brown said.

Still, HMS shifted goals, optimizing what it manufactured to maintain retailer partner expectations while still protecting their workers. The company also began using its 3D printing capabilities to produce personal protection equipment (PPE), which it distributed to staff and frontline workers.

Now, Brown said, “We are looking at different fulfillment options to optimize where the staff can be and what we can do from various locations. We are looking at doing things like shipping directly to the consumer, shipping larger volumes to our retail customers at a time to optimize fulfillment.”

While work with aviation, shipping companies and online retailers, such as Amazon, accelerated, many construction projects stopped, especially those in the Middle East, which essentially halted for Ghafari Associates, a global engineering, architecture and construction services company.

So, Ghafari shifted its focus from construction to designing more capital projects for the future. Because work in the Middle East is predicated on oil prices, the company is used to and prepared for shifts there.

“If the oil prices are up, they’re spending money. If oil prices are down, they’re not spending money, and everything shifts to a very slow pace,” Hammer said.

Adjusting Service Models

Nonprofits were among the most visible organizations to shift strategies and processes to both endure the pandemic and support those suffering through job and other losses.

In March, most of the region’s K-12 and post-secondary schools turned to remote learning. Whereas digital learning has kept students with adequate technology connected, schools have been paying the price.

By April, many colleges and universities began seeing decreases in fall enrollment—16 percent around the country—and drops in residence hall renewals. Consequently, they initiated layoffs and other budget cuts to help stave off hundreds of millions of dollars in predicted losses while also trying to mitigate the financial pain many students were experiencing.

Yet, Wayne State University is bucking the trend. The Detroit school has seen increases in some enrollment figures.

“We actually had a 5 percent increase in our first-year students,” said university President M. Roy Wilson, M.D., a trained epidemiologist.

The university also hasn’t taken the financial losses most universities have so far experienced this year because of shifting strategies a few years ago that included turning to a public-private partnership for housing and food services, Wilson said.

Still, with decreased consumer spending in 2020, property taxes left unpaid or deferred, high rates of unemployment and other hits to state budgets, college and university administrators expect state and federal budget cuts to affect their bottom lines in the near term.

“We’ve been fortunate, but we are going to be impacted financially,” Wilson said.

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan was beginning to witness more stable households and thriving children before the world was thrust into the pandemic, said United Way President and CEO Darienne Driver Hudson.

However, the board quickly released $2 million from emergency reserves to help nonprofits on the front lines of serving those in need and to provide collaborative and regional grants. Through ongoing and new corporate partnerships, the nonprofit also acquired the volunteers they needed to answer calls from distressed citizens.

“We were able to raise $37 million with the COVID fund. But the actual campaign we run annually plummeted,” Hudson said. The nonprofit, which has more than 740 corporate and community partners, shifted from using its resources to deal with decreasing donations to pushing much-needed resources into the community.

“That’s not a sustainable funding model for any of us, especially people who have fee-for-service models like our family service agencies,” Hudson said. “That’s a big question in terms of what happens next, how we think about those models.”

More than the economy’s finances, Rip Rapson, president of The Kresge Foundation, said the “dark matter of the economy” needs addressing. He described this as the fraying of the soft tissue of the community that is creating a health crisis throughout society.

“Unless people feel a sense of cohesion, a sense of confidence in their daily routines, unless they feel like they have the kind of mutual supports and community that permit them to succeed over the long term, all this falls apart,” said Rapson.

“Nicole’s comment about 40 to 50 percent of the small businesses in the city of Detroit failing is not something that gets put back together right away. This has enormous traumatic, personal, professional community implications.”

Wilson added that there’s also the issue of children missing out on the social and educational development they get from in-person learning. “As an epidemiologist, I’m worried about the pandemic and think we have to be very cautious,” he said. “So, I just urge everyone to think in terms of being as aggressive as we can be in driving the numbers down so that we can open up schools earlier.”

Which is why, Rapson said, philanthropy’s energies have been redirected. “Philanthropy can step in and underwrite every one of those 50 percent of businesses who fail, or they can do any number of other things. But it can’t do everything,” he said. “So, this deconstruction of what it takes to be healthy and vibrant and sustainable over the long term is at risk.”

Understanding, Addressing Disparities

Pivoting in philanthropy, Rapson explained, requires a deep commitment to trying to figure out the infrastructures of social and racial justice that are needed to carry the country into a different rebuilding process.

“There’s no question that urban centers of America are going to have to rebuild. Whether it’s housing, small business development, transportation or infrastructure, this is going to be a different world, and municipal government is only going to have so many tools at its disposal,” Rapson said.

“It’s sad, but I think it took the pandemic to remind people that you can’t talk about health without talking about disparities. You can’t talk about housing without talking about disparities. Just tick through every single indicator,” Rapson said. “People don’t want to deal with it. It’s complex. It means sort of undoing systems and kind of rejiggering them.”

When it comes to rebuilding the city of Detroit, Sherard-Freeman pointed out that it won’t happen with $15-an-hour jobs as the ultimate goal.

She and colleagues at the City are exploring what prospects they have to benefit the region. Beyond FCA building and bringing 5,000-plus jobs to Detroit and the opportunities through suppliers considering a move to the city, Sherard-Freeman said there’s more they can do.

She cited closing the gap on public education and building a workforce that becomes an attractive economic value proposition for industries outside of the auto industry, like health care.

But this means understanding the impact of COVID on the healthcare industry, on communities of color and on industries that don’t yet exist, Sherard-Freeman said.

Rapson added that understanding the open space possibilities and neighborhoods around FCA is as important as determining what to do about the city’s transportation, education and health-related issues.

“What it means is that we have to go back to basics, but the basics are sort of predicated on issues of racial disparity and justice. How we think about a next-generation housing program in the city, how we think about a next-generation small business program or commercial quarter redevelopment program has everything to do with issues of identity and race and history and legacy and opportunity. So, in some ways we’re looking at what we’ve always been looking at,” Rapson said. “But I do think that there’s sort of a bright light that has shined in our direction, and we have to take advantage of the moment.”

The responsibility is on everyone, Hudson said. “Even if you were not the person who built the system, or you are not perhaps the oppressor, or you’ve been victimized, everybody has a role to play, and everyone has a responsibility to understand how we can improve it,” she said.

For its part, the United Way Worldwide has changed its bylaws to include statements on diversity and against racial justice, which they are pairing with staff training.

Elliott said Bank of America thinks about diversity and inclusion as a core part of its business strategy.  “There is also an extremely strong business case for closing the racial wealth gap,” he said. “We can’t be a top 10 state for jobs and income if we don’t make progress on closing the racial wealth gap.”

Ghafari has always had internal policies promoting diversity and inclusion and standing against discrimination, Hammer said. However, not everyone on staff understands the perspectives of other cultures.

“We’re finding out we all need more education in terms of what we have to be aware of so that we don’t think that we’re doing such a good job when we’re not. So, we’re on our first journey, if you will, of pivoting after the whole situation with Mr. (George) Floyd,” Hammer said.

Michelle Sourie Robinson, president and CEO of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, said they’ve seen eloquent letters, commitments and pledges from corporations since the video of the death of George Floyd came to light.

But, she said, equitable education and simply the opportunity for minority-owned companies to compete for business are the best ways to close the racial wealth gap.

“Minority firms are often overlooked. But because of their ability to hire in some of these often-forgotten sectors, they have the ability to help close that gap in a more sustainable manner,” Robinson said. “We’ve seen some amazing organizations that are raising funds, but when you look at the fact that the average black family has about $3,000 in net worth, and you compare that to the average white family, which has about $147,000, we have some gaps to close.

“And we close those through economics. So anytime you support minority-owned firms, you are actually helping to do that in a fashion that is much more sustainable than most.”

Forging Ahead

Global manufacturing hit a 29-month high in October and appears to be dealing valiantly with shifts in demand and supply chains. USDA economists predict higher commodity prices in nearly every agricultural industry in 2021.

However, the country is not out of the woods.

Fundamental changes in the way we operate are as necessary to growth as are a second stimulus, a vaccine, a return to pre-pandemic employment levels and a peaceful transition of power at the federal level.

“Going forward doesn’t mean continuing the way we’ve been going,” Elliott said. “If you’re not being inclusive, we’re going to have problems. If your business isn’t resilient or planning for resiliency, we’re going to have problems.

“We all need to take into account how what’s happening now is impacting not just the business community, but also our children, our educational system and the fundamental building blocks of what our economy and society will look like as we head into 2021.”

This piece was originally printed in Crain's Detroit Business Book of Lists 2021 and on CrainsDetroit.com.

Women in Nonprofits: Why More aren’t in Positions of Power

Traveling to far-flung places and helping people with their basic needs was Julie Chase-Morefield‘s dream in high school. Her mother grew up impoverished and shared stories of standing in line to get federal food commodities. Now Chase-Morefield is president and CEO of the Lorain-based Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio.

Diana Natalicio‘s high school set low expectations for students simply because they were from low-income families. Girls were taught home economics or secretarial skills, while boys learned woodworking and machine shop skills. As the first female president of the University of Texas at El Paso, Natalicio provided new opportunities for both low-income and Latino students.

Anita Bradley dropped out of college and struggled with drugs after both her father and uncle died in a boating accident. Bradley endured one crisis after another, including a miscarriage, until she finally sought treatment. Years later, Bradley founded the Northern Ohio Recovery Association in Cleveland.

Yet, driven and successful women like Natalicio, Bradley and Chase-Morefield are habitually demeaned on the job.

While studies show that 45% of nonprofit CEOs are women, the illusion of gender parity dissipates with closer examination, said Patricia Deyton, a senior adviser for the Council of Women World Leaders, an adjunct professor at the Simmons University School of Business and the Harvard Extension School in Boston and former CEO of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay.

“When you look at the nonprofits with power—the ones with voice and the nationwide nonprofits—that’s where you see disparity in leadership,” Deyton said.

Women nonprofit CEOs earn 34% less than their male counterparts, said Deyton, who is also a senior associate at the Center for Gender in Organizations, a research group at Simmons University. And, she said, women hold just 18% of CEO roles at nonprofits with budgets over $50 million.

Such disparities make it difficult for women to lead, Chase-Morefield said.

“Women are collaborators who just want to make things happen without worrying about who gets the credit,” she said. “But that’s not the way the rest of the world is.”

As a result, Chase-Morefield thought she couldn’t have flaws.

“I felt I had to be much more serious and much more prepared than men because I was being judged on a much higher standard,” she said. “My predecessor had been male, and there was a little bit of a ‘good ol’ boys’ thing with the men in the community. It was frustrating. They wouldn’t take me seriously.

“People would even say, ‘You went into nonprofits because you couldn’t make it in the business world.'”

Women’s work? No, women’s values

Nearly 75% of nonprofit employees are women—not because they can’t make it in business but because the sector reflects women’s values to a greater degree, Deyton said.

Indeed, most staff and board members at Humble Design in Pontiac, Mich., are women—though not intentionally. Founder and co-CEO Treger Strasberg said the work resonates with more women.

Strasberg understands Chase-Morefield’s frustration.

“I’ve seen directly how being a woman has impacted my business,” she said. “Small meetings tend to be run by women-driven organizations. But when we get to the large organizations seeking large dollars, serious money, it’s a male-centric room.”

Strasberg has been studying homelessness for 11 years and even talked about affordable housing at the White House with Ben Carson, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “But I’ve been to meetings where there were 16 people, and I was the only woman,” she said. “And they turn to my husband, who is not an expert, for answers.”

Likewise, Diana Sieger finds she’s not always taken seriously or included in networking opportunities even after being appointed president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation more than 30 years ago.

“I don’t play golf,” she said, “But I survive.”

Sieger credits the respect she gets in boardrooms to her outspoken nature.

“I would be the only woman sitting around the table, and I wanted so desperately to be taken seriously,” she said. “But I was never shy about advisedly expressing my opinion, and that worked in my favor.

“I remember sitting in a meeting, and the men were denigrating Hillary Clinton in pretty unsavory terms. I said, ‘I want you to go home and say that to your wife, your daughter and your granddaughter and see how they react.’

“From that time forward, I didn’t hear those kinds of comments.”

The takeaway, Sieger said, was not to allow herself to be minimized, to address it then and there and to learn how to sit down with a business leader and hold her own.

“I take the attitude that you may not like me, but you’re going to respect me,” she said.

Nonetheless, Sieger acknowledged that being a white woman in leadership is a truly different experience from being a minority female leader.

“Women say men treat us as if we’re invisible,” she said, “but African American women and Latinx women are truly invisible people.”

Case in point: Helene Gayle, M.D., noticed throughout her career that she could be the only leader in the room and still be discounted by male colleagues.

“Luckily, I came into my roles in the times when being the first woman was not the uphill battle that it was 20 or 30 years ago.

“Still, I have had male counterparts that were my direct reports, and reports of my direct reports, who got more attention in meetings than I did,” said Gayle, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, former president and CEO of CARE and a physician who worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on HIV/AIDS and other health issues.

As a minority leader, NORA’s Anita Bradley finds she must do more than her male counterparts to get the outcomes for the people she’s serving.

“I have brought in more than 20 million federal dollars,” Bradley said, “but it’s not easy.”

It’s what you know—and who, too

The ability to acquire essential funding, Bradley said, comes down having access to a larger social network. That’s something that men and white people in general tend to have because they are invited to serve on more boards of directors.

“Clearly, being on boards provides connections, knowledge and experience,” Deyton said.

Likewise, Cassie Nielsen, president of Talent for VMG Partners, recently told Yahoo! Finance it “makes economic sense” for women to serve on boards as they make 70-80% of consumer purchasing decisions.

“Yet, because women are underrepresented on boards of directors, those boards lack a diversity of decision-makers, which allows unconscious bias to play out,” Deyton said.

Sieger of the Grand Rapids Foundation said boards of trustees also help build a good network of female leaders and other support and are easier to get on than boards of directors.

It took a while to get her foot in the door, but Eva Garza Dewaelsche, president and CEO of SER Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress Inc., said sitting on several boards has allowed her to penetrate a normally all-male group of leaders. Dewaelsche sits on the advisory board of Comerica Bank, is a member of the New Detroit board of directors and is a Detroit police commissioner.

Unfortunately, she said, she has received more help from men than women.

“I would like to be able to say that women have opened doors to opportunity for me, Dewaelsche said. “But that hasn’t been the case for most of my life because they are not in leadership roles or were not when I started 25 years ago.

“Women have to place themselves in situations where they can have that opportunity—where they can be leaders. I take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way to learn how to be a leader.”

Whatever the reasons for the inequality, women’s work should not be diminished, Deyton said. “Women at work in this country’s more than 900,000 charitable organizations are making huge contributions to the fabric of our society.”

This story was originally published at FordFund.org/our-stories. Read more about these incredible women:

Compassion Becomes a Career for Women in Nonprofits
http://FordFund.org/our-stories.Bringing Dignity to the Struggles of Others
From Roots in ’60s and ’70s Grow 3 Advocates for Social Change 

2019’s most Notable Women in Michigan

Talented women do business all over the globe.

Specifically, Michigan women are relentless, approachable, focused, and community-oriented. They defend high net-worth clients, navigate restructurings, lead mergers, invent new products, secure patents, manage plants, harness the power of technology, enhance brands and save lives.

My client Crain’s Detroit Business honors Notable Women in Michigan. Find out who made our lists:


You want these Notable Women in Law on your side. They set legal precedents, relentlessly pursue justice and win big cases for their clients — all while mentoring the next wave of women in law and finding ways to give back.

These Notable Women advance secondary and higher educational offerings, empower teachers, encourage students and contribute to their community.

Crain’s Notable Women in STEM are inventors and healers. They are leaders who innovating our future in mobility, infrastructure, health, information technology, energy and more. They are building up the next generation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Crain’s Notable Women in HR are the people behind the people. In this special report, we honor outstanding women at Michigan companies who recruit, attract, retain and engage the people who make businesses successful. They motivate excellence, make or break company culture and help manage the rapid change every business must navigate today.

Crain’s Notable Women in Real Estate have brokered some of the region’s biggest deals, financed major projects, grown portfolios and changed the face of neighborhoods and communities across metro Detroit. They are designers, architects, construction managers, teachers and unquestionably leaders in what has historically been a male-dominated field.



Handing out hope

Boy with his "Avengers"-themed hand prosthetic.
This story was originally published on FordFund.org.


Inventor Gino Tubaro shows you are never too young to change lives

Atomic Lab founder and inventor Gino Tubaro proves youth isn’t an impenetrable barrier to invention, entrepreneurship or community service.

“From childhood, I started to imagine what I could invent with my ideas,” Tubaro said.

At 12 years of age, the Argentinian invented a device that could recognize the difference between an appliance and fingers and would prevent electrocution by interrupting the current if fingers were touching an electrical outlet. His invention earned him AR$500 pesos and significant recognition from the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations agency that promotes innovation and creativity that benefits all countries.

Encouraged, Tubaro continued inventing. His creations include a wearable device that recognizes letters in written text and translates them into braille in real time.

From prototypes to prosthetics

At 16, Tubaro decided to construct a 3D printer from the spare parts of paper printers. The idea was to use the machine to prototype his inventions and try to create a company. The company would also sell the 3D printers Tubaro built.

“After I had my machine, I wanted to go to forums and talks and showcase my projects,” he said.

With one Facebook message, Tubaro’s plans changed and so did the lives of many.

Argentina resident Ivana Gimenz didn’t have the $10,000 it would cost to buy a prosthesis for her son, Felipe Miranda, who was missing a hand since birth. She messaged Tubaro on Facebook to ask if he could use the printer to construct a prosthetic for Felipe.

“It was a challenge,” said Tubaro, who now is studying electrical engineering. “I am not into medical or biotechnology, but I always love to design things.”

Tubaro based the prototype on a photo of Felipe and the knowledge that he would have limited movement.

“The first one was really, really bad,” Tubaro said. “It broke really easily, and we had to make a lot of improvements.”

After getting direction from medical professionals, Tubaro and his colleagues figured out how to make it. A few months later, Tubaro sent the prosthesis by mail, as the inventors weren’t able to travel the 500 kilometers to deliver the device.

Before long, Tubaro received photos of Felipe using it to hold a fishing pole and perform other valuable activities. Elated, the young inventor uploaded a video of Felipe and his new hand to the internet.

Worldwide recognition

The video was a hit. What’s more, his new company, Atomic Lab, gained notoriety.

In 2015, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) honored Tubaro as one of its Innovators Under 35. In 2017, Tubaro had a private meeting with then-President Barack Obama in Argentina.

“We didn’t know at the time many people would want them,” Tubaro said. “But tens of thousands of people saw the video we uploaded. After, many people wanted the prosthesis. They sent requests through Google forms.”

Alliances amplify efforts

Gino Tubaro has since been able to deliver no-cost prosthetic limbs to children and adults who need them in Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil with the help of partners that include Ford Fund, Disney Mexico, the History Channel and prison inmates.

“We teach people in prison in Argentina how to 3D print and assemble the prosthetics,” Tubaro said. “The project changed people’s mindset, and the numbers of people going back to prison has decreased because they feel better with the work they are doing.”

The History Channel donated $60,000 to the Atomic Lab Limbs project in 2016. The funds went toward supplies, tools, virtual teaching sites and research and development.

For Disney Mexico, Atomic Lab designed 60 brightly colored, superhero-themed prosthetics that movie stars distributed.

“The kids were really excited,” said Tubaro, who taught himself English by watching television. “They started to not only be able to grab things, but they also said they felt like superheroes.”

Social media nets automotive partnership 

A major boost to the nonprofit came after Tubaro tweeted that his nonprofit needed a vehicle to increase distribution. He hoped to work with automobile companies. Ford was the first to respond.

“After going to many other motor companies, the only one we felt cared more about the community than selling the car was Ford,” Tubaro said.

“He shares the same vision of Henry Ford,” said Joe Avila, community development manager of U.S. and Latin America at Ford Motor Company Fund. “He’s committed to making people’s lives better, which is what the Ford Fund is all about.”

Avila met Tubaro in late 2017, when the young inventor returned from speaking at the London School of Economics. There, Tubaro discussed Project #Argentinatón, Atomic Lab’s mission to deliver as many prosthetic limbs as possible to Argentinians in need.

“It was a no-brainer for us to partner with him,” Avila said. “He’s a social entrepreneur.”

Young boy trying on prosthetic,

Atomic Lab employed a donated Ford Ranger and Gino Tubaro’s solar-powered 3D printer to make and deliver prostheses at no cost to clients. Hook-and-loop tape makes the prosthetics adjustable, and plastic keeps the weight light.

“We found a shared vision with Atomic Lab: Improve people’s lives by applying innovation and ingenuity to make accessible for them what they need to achieve it,” said Carlos Galmarini, institutional relations director of Ford Argentina.

Road to success

To start, Ford loaned the nonprofit a fully equipped Ford Ranger for the planned cross-country journey. Ford also provided extensive modifications – “options” – exclusive to the assignment.

“It’s a big pickup,” Tubaro said. “And we created a 3D printer that (essentially) floated at the back of the truck so it would not get any physical interaction while the pickup was on the road.”

Essentially, Avila said, they used the method for stabilizing the printers that the military uses to transport bombs. “If they hit a hole or something, the printer would not move and would not deviate from the printing process.”

That wasn’t their only vehicle modification. They attached a dome, cables and solar panels to the exterior to power the 3D printers.

“It takes five or six hours to print each part for the prostheses. The idea was to print them over the 500 kilometers between each town,” Tubaro said.

They also produced common parts in advance of the journey. Volunteers at Ford’s Pacheco Stamping and Assembly plant in Buenos Aires helped assemble prosthetics for delivery.

Using the Ford Ranger, Ford Fund and Ford Argentina helped Atomic Lab deliver nearly 200 prosthetic limbs around Buenos Aires. In all, Tubaro and his team were able to deliver more than 1,000 prosthetic devices to people in outlying towns. They also reached those in remote areas that even “post mail” cannot reach.

“My favorite part was the delivery,” Avila said. “You go to the house to deliver to young girls, young boys and adults, and it’s very hard to contain emotions because you are making their lives better.”

Avila said Tubaro didn’t just drop off the medical device and leave. “He also answered any questions. He would open the truck and bring the children and explain how everything worked. He would tell the kids what motivated him. He would print a small gift and tell the kids about following their dreams and encourage them to be entrepreneurs and invent things. The kids would be so excited.”

At the end of the journey, Ford donated $40,000 and the Ranger so Tubaro’s vision could grow. Now, Atomic Lab is working to partner with 44 countries to deliver more prostheses to those who find cost a barrier.

Next, Tubaro said, he wants to improve on the product with robotics and artificial intelligence. These technologies could improve the user’s ability to grab and hold objects.

Leading by example

Oftentimes, youth have great ideas but don’t know the next step.

The key is to make strong connections, said Sibrina Collins, executive director of the Marburger STEM Center. Part of Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, the Center holds business pitch competitions for high school kids from faith-based organizations and an annual Shark Tank Entrepreneurship summer camp.

Keith Young, founder of Ecotek Lab, a Michigan-headquartered, science-based research cohort for youth in Detroit, Baltimore and Orlando, sees common traits among young inventors – from their uninhibited creativity to the barriers of entry they face.

“Kids are all looking for the same thing, an opportunity to explore,” Young said.

Young, who advised enterprise systems for Fortune 500 companies as a consultant for Deloitte, started looking at the quality of education his own kids were getting. That’s when he developed Ecotek, what he calls “a YMCA for scientists” to create patentable products in myriad fields, such as material science, citrus greening and life science.

Young said youth who don’t have a STEM Center or organization like Ecotek should look for mentors at maker groups or tech accelerators.

Gino Tubaro, now 23 years old, hopes to be an inspiration to those around him by launching his own mentoring organization.

Gino Tubaro video chatting with a client.

Inventor Gino Tubaro uses video chats to shorten the distance between himself and clients when he cannot visit in person.

Tubaro’s League of Inventors incubator lab would teach kids – ages 6 to 16 – how to 3D print, use a computer numeric control (CNC) machine, code, laser cut, design and more through hands-on projects and workshops.

“It’s his vision that more people like him will do these things around the world,” Ford Fund’s Avila said.

As a result, Ford Fund created and developed the first Ford Fund Entrepreneurship Ambassador Award for Tubaro. The award will include a $25,000 donation to Atomic Lab and a visit to Detroit on June 16, 2019, where the young inventor will be keynote speaker at a special event. He also will be part of a judging panel and engage in the Ford Fellowship program that will bring about 20 entrepreneurs from around the world to Detroit.

“Young people say, ‘He’s young like me, he still has to finish college,’” Avila said. “Gino is able to connect his dream with his passion and his skills. He’s saying, ‘Follow your passion. If you don’t have skills, develop them. Create something, invent something.’”

Business communities can help end the addiction crisis

Crain Content Studio, the marketing-storytelling arm of Crain’s Detroit Business, worked with Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation to convene, moderate and report on a roundtable discussion among experts in education, medicine and government about the problem of addiction among young people. The discussion took place on Jan. 16, 2019 and was originally published on crainsdetroit.com on March 11, 2019.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency when 11.4 million people reported misusing opioids and 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses.

In Michigan, 1,941 people died from opioid overdoses that year, a 13.9 percent increase over the number of opioid deaths in the state in 2016, reports the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Addiction is rampant in our society. According to the Center on Addiction, one in four Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 is addicted. Still, substance abuse experts are waging an uphill battle against the stigma surrounding addiction, describing a deep-seated culture of shame and fear that prevents parents, schools, and business leaders from engaging in meaningful dialogue on the subject.

The Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation in Detroit is trying to erase this stigma and change the culture and conversation around addiction and recovery.

As part of its efforts, the Foundation partnered with Crain Content Studio, the marketing-storytelling arm of Crain’s Detroit Business, to unite parents and experts from government, academic, and medical fields to discuss prescription drug addiction and how businesses can play a part in ending the crisis.

“Most of our initiatives for adolescents and young adults tend to be in mental health and in opioids and addiction. We strive to be a catalyst for change,” said Lawrence J. Burns, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation. The $120 million independent nonprofit partners with more than 40 organizations to further its efforts to help children and young adults.

Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation has partnered with Detroit Red Wings announcer Ken Daniels and Lisa Daniels, who formed The Jamie Daniels Foundation in memory of their son, who died of an opioid overdose in 2016. The Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation will help The Jamie Daniels Foundation with fund development, financial management and generating awareness about opioid abuse. The Daniels’ foundation provides resources and support to the increasing numbers of people battling addiction.

Wreaking havoc on families and businesses

Ken Daniels once saw a billboard that rang all too true. It read: “The brain isn’t the only organ impacted by addiction. It also breaks hearts.”

Daniels and his family are well acquainted with the heartbreaking consequences of youth drug addiction, a widespread problem as devastating as it is complex. Jamie Daniels was a smart kid. He did well in school and had a family and friends who loved him.

And yet at age 15, Jamie deliberately faked symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and failed clinical tests to obtain a prescription for Adderall, the stimulant drug used to treat the condition, said his mother, Lisa.

Though she harbored grave doubts about her son’s diagnosis and need for Adderall, Lisa followed professional recommendations, carefully dispensing the medication to Jamie at the prescribed dosage. “I thought I was in control of it,” she said.Source: National Institutes of Health-funded study by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan


Percent of the estimated 3.6 million U.S. high school seniors who misused prescription and over-the-counter drugs in 2018:
5 percent: Sedatives, such as Valium and Xanax
4.6 percent: Adderall
3.4 percent: Opioids, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin
3.4 percent: Cough/cold medicine
0.9 percent: Ritalin, a stimulant used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Source: National Institutes of Health-funded study by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan

While attending Michigan State University, Jamie began abusing opioids as well as Adderall and other drugs. 

Jamie eventually completed two stints in rehab with his parents’ support. He moved into a sober living home in Florida and was under a physician’s care for depression and anxiety, conditions common in people suffering from addiction.

Until he was convinced by an acquaintance to switch to a less reputable recovery facility and doctor, Jamie was clean and on the road to recovery.

Less than two weeks after making the switch, 23-year-old Jamie died from an overdose of heroin laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times stronger than heroin.

“There is a hole in my family’s heart that will never be filled,” said Ken Daniels. “And in the time we’re sitting here, we’ll lose eight more people (to addiction). So, we have to continue to talk about it. We need to talk about this in the home. We need to talk about it in the schools and at work; and hopefully in the long term, we can end this crisis.”

Young adults aged 18 to 25 comprise the largest segment of the population misusing and abusing prescription drugs, such as opioids.

But drug addiction doesn’t just impact families. Opioid addictions, specifically, cost businesses, educational and social institutions, criminal justice systems, and health care organizations billions of dollars yearly.

Altarum, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit health research institute, estimates the economic burden of opioid addiction:

  • $800,000 per opioid overdose death in lost earnings and productivity
  • $1 trillion in costs to individuals, businesses and governments since 2001
  • $215.7 billion in health care costs for emergency and ongoing care from 2001 to 2017

In addition, employees with substance-use disorders miss an average 14.8 days of work a year — almost 50 percent more days of work than the typical employee average of 10.5 days, according to the National Safety Council. And about 70 percent of U.S. employers in construction, entertainment, recreation, and food service industries employ twice the average number of workers with substance use disorders than employers in other industries.

Equal-opportunity killer

Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation and its more than 40 partners are strategizing ways to end the addiction crisis. Solutions include ending the social stigma associated with addiction and recovery.

Despite the availability of accurate information, the perception persists that addiction is the result of an inherent character flaw, moral failing, or conscious decision and affects only a certain segment of society.“Nobody goes into their first use thinking, ‘Someday I’m going to be an alcoholic,’ or ‘Someday I’m going to abuse drugs,’” said Brian Spitsbergen, director of Community Relations for Growth Works Inc., a Plymouth-based facility that provides substance dependency and abuse treatments and solutions for adults and youth.

“There’s no one path to recovery that’s going to work for everybody, because every person is different and every brain is different,” Smith-Butterwick said. “So we are trying to do as many different things as we can to reach as many different parts of the population as we can.”

In 2017, Michigan lawmakers enacted opioid-related legislation that includes requiring the Michigan Department of Education, with direction from the Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission, to provide school districts with models for how to instruct students on the dangers of prescription opioid abuse.

The American Medical Association classifies addiction as a disease, and its task force reports that people who misuse and abuse opioids suffer from a chronic medical condition, like type-2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

Dennis Martell, director of Health Promotion at Michigan State University, added that addiction is not an epidemic.

“It is endemic,” he said. “It’s part of our culture. It’s always been around.”

Spitsbergen, who has been sober for more than 32 years, agreed. “Ten percent of the population will meet the criteria for a substance use disorder in their lifetime,” he said. “It can happen to anyone. That’s the persuasive power that addiction has. It isn’t about the gutter.”

There could be two middle school-aged children who go to the same church and same school and have the same family life, Spitsbergen said. But their responses to their first experience with alcohol could be completely different.

“Because of things that might happen in their brain state, their lives might never be the same,” he said.

The stigma surrounding addiction is so prevalent that parents often don’t participate in potentially beneficial events, said Robert Shaner, superintendent of Rochester Community Schools. He noted only 125 parents attended a recent information session on vaping, opioids and other dangerous drug trends provided by the parent-teacher association for his district, which has 15,400 students.

“People almost treat addiction like they don’t want to ‘catch it,’” Shaner said, adding that some parents think, “‘If I’m not around the people it happened to, it’s not going to happen to my kid.’ Nobody wants to say they’ve got it, and no one wants to say they’ve been treated for it. This is a non-partisan, equal-opportunity killer that we have to attack as a community.”

The challenge of easy access

“There’s no pain greater than losing a child,” Shaner said, adding that the heaviest burden a school administrator must bear is to help parents bury their children.

“Over the past six years, we’ve done this because of opiates well over a dozen times,” said Shaner. “Recently, we had five graduates from one high school lose their lives to opioid addiction. They didn’t start as street junkies; they didn’t start out looking to be addicts. Some of the addictions were caused by self-medicating because of mental health issues, some started because of athletic injuries, and for some it was having access to the drugs.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says most teens find prescription and OTC drugs in their home medicine cabinets or on a kitchen shelf. And among those 12 and older who misused opioid pain relievers:

  • 40.4 percent got the drug from a friend or relative for free
  • 35.4 percent received a prescription from a doctor
  • 8.9 percent bought the drug from a friend or relative
  • 6 percent bought the drug from a dealer or stranger

Students as young as middle-school age hold “bowl parties,” said Carmen McIntyre, a physician who serves as associate chair for community affairs for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

“Everybody’s supposed to bring meds out of their parents’ medicine cabinet,” she explained. “They just take a few pills from each bottle so (parents) don’t notice anything. And then they put them all into this big bowl to share.”

McIntyre said children attending these parties also steal Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, though in her experience children panic and flee the scene rather than stick around and help the youth who overdosed.

When he was a high school principal, Shaner made a point of talking about drugs with his students. “I would say—and I don’t consider this a scare tactic—‘If you love your parents, don’t do these things. You don’t want them to feel that pain, if you truly love them.’”

One of the programs that Shaner, a former law enforcement officer, has helped implement in his district is a prescription drug drop-off program at parent-teacher conferences.

Prescription take-backs are a proven means of reducing the supply of unused, prescribed narcotics, preventing them from circulating among household and community members. Such programs allow members of the community to safely dispose of unused medications at designated locations staffed by law enforcement.

The prevention efforts of Michigan Opioid Prescribing Network, known as Michigan OPEN, include educating medical professionals, law enforcement and others on how to hold opioid collection drives in a manner that encourages participation and does not make community members feel uneasy or like criminals. So far the organization has helped organize drives in 60 cities, getting about 3,000 pounds of pills and 40,000 to 45,000 opioids off the street, said Chad Brummett, associate professor and director of the Division of Pain Research at the University of Michigan Medical School and co-director of Michigan OPEN.


The experts say there’s considerable work to be done to reduce overdose deaths and prevent and treat addiction, but they can’t do it without the help of business leaders.
“If you’re thinking about something that takes away from your (company’s) bottom line, mental health and addiction are exponential problems,” Shaner said.
Roundtable participants shared their expert advice.
1. Advocate for more mental health services and counselors at schools: The largest percentage of prescription drug abusers are young adults aged 18 to 25 who are also beginning their careers with area businesses. “We all know K-12 education is important in solving the (opioid) problem, so we ought tobe funding it and supporting it in the right way,” Shaner said.
2. Sponsor youth peer programs: Eric Hipple, a former Detroit Lions quarterback and director of Outreach for the After the Impact program, suggests businesses underwrite programs that take a deeper dive into the problem of drugs and facilitate conversations and peer support among youths.
3. Support organizations that help: Provide meaningful support to nonprofits working to prevent and treat addiction. “Politics trump data, but business trumps politics,” said Martell.
4. Provide job training: People in recovery can’t return to the workforce without skills, said Smith-Butterwick. Helping recovery organizations incorporate job training would help recovering addicts support their recovery financially.
5. Make educating workers a priority:Hold human resources-developed programming on identifying, preventing, and treating opioid abuse.
6. Teach coping skills: People who develop a substance use disorder may begin using as a means of easing physical or emotional pain.Teaching alternative coping skills, such as meditation, can help promote healthy living.
7. Partner with insurers: Commit to offering employees robust, extended mental health treatment and addiction recovery services and challenge insurers to craft a benefit plan that reflects your commitment.
8. Become recovery friendly: Be mindful and welcoming of employees who suffer from addiction and/or are in recovery when planning social events. “They can’t tell anybody in the office, ‘I’m in recovery’ because it’s not comfortable,” said Smith-Butterwick. She recommends planning company events that don’t include alcohol.
9. Support employees in recovery:Workers often fear they will lose their jobs if their drug use is discovered. Instead, encourage and facilitate confidential addiction referral and recovery services for employees.
10. Engage in a community of businesses approach: Brummett emphasized the advantages of businesses combining resources as a community to financially support nonprofits dedicated to preventing and treating addiction. “Unfortunately, state and federal dollars will dry up, and we will still have issues with opioids, pain and mental health,” he said.

Prevention efforts

The number of medical professionals overprescribing potentially addictive medications drastically increased in the 1990s. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed at U.S. pharmacies tripled from 76 million prescriptions in 1991 to 219 million prescriptions in 2011.

McIntyre said one of her patients died from an overdose two days after another physician — who was aware the patient suffered from addiction — injected her with the benzodiazepine Valium and gave her a prescription for 120 Valium in pill form.

McIntyre also cited her own experience with a pharmacy dispensing 100 Vicodin to her following a dental procedure. She pointed out to pharmacy staff that her dentist likely prescribed 10 Vicodin, not 100, but said the pharmacy refused to take back the medication after it had crossed the sales counter.

Brummett said regularly prescribing opioids following dental procedures “just doesn’t make sense.” The more doses doctors prescribe, he said, the more patients take, regardless of whether their pain is reduced.

Those aged 13 to 30 who filled an opioid prescription immediately before or after having their wisdom teeth extracted were about three times as likely as their peers to still be filling opioid prescriptions long after they needed them, according to a Michigan OPEN study.

“If you think about surgery (alone), the two factors that determine whether and how many opioids a person is going to get are the surgery they’re having and the surgeon caring for them,” explained Brummett.

Not prescribing opioids to the 80 percent to 90 percent of people who don’t need them could significantly reduce exposure and access to the drugs, both primary and secondary, Brummett said. Consequently, in 2017, Michigan OPEN released the first evidence-based prescribing recommendations in the country.

Health care providers in and outside the U.S. don’t know how much of the prescribed drugs patients actually use, he said. “Unless you ask people, they don’t tell you. The only metric you have is whether or not they refill.”

Brummett said having conversations about prescribing recommendations helps create a culture of opioid stewardship that opens the door to progressively more detailed conversations, such as how to deal with chronic users, including the 6 percent to 10 percent of patients who undergo surgery and begin taking opioids as a result.

McIntyre added, “We don’t need to just talk about prevention, we need to talk about developing as normal human beings. We have to start teaching people that after surgery, (you’re) supposed to have pain. Part of the purpose of pain is to slow you down so your body can heal.”

To learn more about combating addiction and ending the opioid crisis, visit The Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation at chmfoundation.org.


Homeless veterans find help in community of tiny homes

The 10 months Richard Butler spent in Vietnam were the scariest of his life. For solace, he turned to drugs.

Richard Butler smiling.

Richard Butler

“That was the only way I could see myself making it through. And if I didn’t make it through, I was planning to be too numb to realize it,” says Butler, 64, who served in the Marine Corps from 1971-1974.

Addicted, things got worse when he returned home. “I made a lot of bad life choices and I had a lot of friends who were in the streets doing nonproductive stuff,” he says.

Butler wound up robbing banks and spending “quite a bit of time” in prison. He also entered drug rehab three different times. Eventually, he found himself homeless.

However, Butler isn’t alone.

Homeless veterans by the numbers

• 181,500 veterans are in state and federal prisons and local jails
• 40,000 veterans are homeless, a 40 percent decrease since 2012
• 11 percent of homeless adults are veterans
• 20 percent of the male homeless population are veterans
• 51 percent of single homeless veterans have disabilities
• 50 percent suffer from serious mental illness
• 70 percent are dealing with substance abuse


Sources: Veterans Bureau of Justice, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and National Coalition for Homeless

Most homeless veterans are loners, male and single and suffer from mental illness and/or alcohol and drug abuse. Thankfully, organizations such as Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin in Racine are creating solutions to end homelessness among veterans.

Veteran village

Jeff Gustin, co-founder of Veterans Outreach, is part of the solution.

Read the full story at FordBetterWorld.org.