Carolla resigns from SJ school board

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Another trustee is leaving the St. Joseph Board of Education.

Corey Carolla resigned Tuesday after notifying the board of his decision. According to a district press release, Carolla resigned because he accepted a position that will take him and his family out of the area.

“It is with great regret that I will not be a part of this amazing team any longer,” Carolla stated in the release. “I will truly miss the professionalism, leadership and commitment to the district by my fellow board members, the administration, staff, parents and the students.”

According to Herald-Palladium archives, Carolla was elected to the board in November 2014 to take the seat vacated by Bill Chickering, who ran for a spot on the Berrien County Board of Commissioners.

At the time he was elected, Carolla was the senior director of business and community development for Kinexus – having been with the work force development agency since February 2012.

Superintendent Ann Cardon and Board President Amy Porritt-Peirce released joint statements in response to Carolla’s decision.

“I am sad to see Corey leave the Board of Education,” Cardon wrote. “We wish Corey great success in his new endeavors.”

Porritt-Peirce added, “We are sorry to see Corey leave the Board of Education and our community. We appreciated his insights on public education and wish him and his family the very best.”

Carolla’s term would have expired in 2018.

Finding another trustee

The board still has several applications from the last vacancy in January from when Tamara Patrick resigned as the board’s vice president. Cardon said they planned to refer to those applications to fill the current vacancy.

Like Carolla, Patrick also accepted a job that required her to move out of the area.

Instead of holding formal interviews like the board did with the previous vacancy, Cardon said trustees are reaching out to the potential applicants because the position would only be held until the November election.

The person appointed to Carolla’s seat will have the opportunity to apply for an open seat in the November election. Since Patrick’s replacement, Barry Conybeare, was named to the board in February, there are now two two-year positions and one six-year position up for a vote on the November ballot.

Cardon said the board wants to have the new board member sworn in at the April 11 board meeting.

There will be no April 4 study session, as it coincides with the district’s spring break.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 1, 2016)

Signaling awareness: Deaf employee teaches American Sign Language at Whirlpool

Graham Forsey, a business analyst for Whirlpool Corp. and co-founder of Awareness of Visible and Invisible Disabilities, teaches Sheila Thurman and Anna Romero a lesson Wednesday about American Sign Language at Whirlpool’s Riverview Campus. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Graham Forsey, a business analyst for Whirlpool Corp. and co-founder of Awareness of Visible and Invisible Disabilities, teaches Sheila Thurman and Anna Romero a lesson Wednesday about American Sign Language at Whirlpool’s Riverview Campus. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Since early February, a few Whirlpool Corp. employees have spent their Wednesdays in two-hour classes for something not appliance-related.

It’s called American Sign Language 101 and it’s taught by Graham Forsey.

Forsey is a business analyst at Whirlpool and co-founder of AVID – the employee resource group known as Awareness of Visible and Invisible Disabilities. Born deaf, Forsey has been coming up with ways to raise awareness for the deaf and the hard of hearing, including the ASL class.

It costs $50 to attend, which accounts for the material and textbook required. The book is for employees to keep, but Forsey said the price helps keeps participants committed to the class.

“The first class was very large and some of them realized there is a lot of work and time committed to it. It’s not as laid back as they thought,” Forsey said. “A lot of people are strapped for time. It does take time to learn, so the class dwindles until we get to the committed students.”

In the first class, participants took a deaf culture quiz. A lot of them were surprised by the results.

Anna Romero, GIS lead analyst, said she thought ASL was used on a global basis. She soon learned ASL is predominantly used in only two continents with different versions of the language used elsewhere.

“I actually downloaded an application on my phone to help me practice,” Romero said. “I work on the same team as Graham and work on a few projects with him, so I have been trying to practice a few words with him.”

The classes, which began Feb. 3 at Whirlpool and continue to May, do not involve any grades or credits. Participants either pass or fail.

Graham Forsey, right, a business analyst for Whirlpool Corp. and co-founder of AVID, quizzes Anna Romero on Wednesday during an American Sign Language class at Whirlpool’s Riverview Campus. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Graham Forsey, right, quizzes Anna Romero during an American Sign Language class at Whirlpool’s Riverview Campus. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Forsey has watched his coworkers/students go from learning the alphabet and low numbers to using phrases, classifiers and reading body language/facial expressions.

“My favorite part has been watching them try to sign from the book,” Forsey said. “They have exercises and I let them try it themselves. It’s been fun to see what they can do.”

The book each student uses comes with quizzes, tests and homework. This being the first time Forsey has taught the class, he said he plans to tweak the curriculum for the next set of classes in the fall.

“We have a waiting list of about 27 people, and my plan is to advertise the class and give the people on the list the first opportunity to take the class,” Forsey said. “I have some members who have family members that are losing their hearing. I also have one taking this class who is not a Whirlpool employee, but they work with children with autism and other disabilities.”

Bill Buhrfiend, a GIS manager, said he began to look for local ASL classes that he could take independently when he discovered he would be working with Forsey. He found there weren’t any available in the Twin Cities.

Buhrfiend would go on to discover AVID and the classes to be taught by Forsey. He said the hardest part about ASL has been to memorize all the hand gestures.

“It’s definitely a challenge. All the difficulties and challenges with learning a new language are there,” he said. “I can connect with Graham better.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 31, 2016)

Website lists Lincoln Twp. among safest cities in state

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — Two Berrien County townships are among the safest cities in Michigan, according to a list based partly on FBI crime statistics.

Compiled by BackgroundChecks.org, a list showcasing Michigan’s 50 safest cities for 2016 included Lincoln Township at No. 8 and St. Joseph Township at No. 36.

BackgroundChecks.org says it compiled the list using FBI violent crime stats and its own research data. It calculated violent crime rates based on 100,000 people. The state average, it said, is 427 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Lincoln Township Police Chief Dan Sullivan said he’s not surprised by the ranking based on the township’s population.

Lincoln Township is home to about 14,600 residents. According to BackgroundChecks.org, the violent crime rate is 54.4 and residents have a 1.2 percent chance of being involved in a property crime.

“It’s based on cities under a certain population. We don’t have the retail and a lot of other things that other cities have,” Sullivan said. “I’d say we have a homicide every two or three years, sometimes longer than that. We don’t have to deal with as much violent crime as other municipalities have to. Other than the I-94 corridor, we are largely a residential community.”

Sullivan credited the police department and the amount of cooperation the community has for the ranking.

“I’m proud of that achievement, but that’s not the whole enchilada,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot more that we do. The list is compiled by statistics that doesn’t take into account police working on all the crashes in the winter.”

The majority of the 50 listed cities are on the east side of the state.

Of the 50, 13 are in Wayne County and 14 are in Oakland County – both Detroit area counties. Marquette is the only Upper Peninsula city on the list.

St. Joseph Township also made the list, but further down.

At No. 36, St. Joseph Township is home to 10,000 residents. According to the website, both the township and its village of Shoreham are considered “bedroom communities to the nearby city of St. Joseph.” The violent crime rate there is 149.4, and the chance of being involved in a property crime in the township is just 1.4 percent.

The safest community in the state, according to the website, is Grosse Ile Township in Wayne County. The community of 10,300 residents covers several islands in the Detroit River. The violent crime rate there is 9.7 per 100,000 people and the chance of being affected by property crime is 0.8 percent, according to the website.

To see what other municipalities made the list, people can go to backgroundchecks.org/50-safest-cities-in-michigan-2016.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 30, 2016)

Above and beyond: SJ student puts on play for charity

Jacob Wells, left, spars with Cole Ingle during Monday’s rehearsal inside St. Joseph High School’s band room. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Jacob Wells, left, spars with Cole Ingle during Monday’s rehearsal inside St. Joseph High School’s band room. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Jacob Wells is going above and beyond for his 21st century literature class.

For his senior project, the St. Joseph High School student is putting on a play. It’s a lot more work than most other projects in school, but it serves a bigger purpose.

Wells is directing and acting in the play “Peter Pan” because of something he did during his Thanksgiving break in 2014.

The St. Joseph senior and his family spent that holiday weekend volunteering at Give Kids The World Village – a resort in Central Florida for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The experience had a big impact on Wells.

“It was amazing, unlike anything I’ve seen before,” Wells said. “My favorite part was seeing the kids smile and seeing how happy they were to have these things. It was a lesson to not take things for granted.”

The 70-acre nonprofit resort gives families access to Florida’s biggest attractions – like Disney World and Universal Studios – for a one-week, expense-paid vacation.

Wells first heard about the resort from a movie called “Letters to God,” in which a young boy fighting cancer wants to give kids the world.

During his time at the resort, Wells participated in a pirate party for some of the kids. Now he’s using his play to dress up as another pirate – Captain Hook – to help give kids a chance at happiness.

“I went into this not wanting to play a part,” he said. “Every (Captain) Hook we had had some issues and couldn’t do it because of time. I decided I would take on the role, and it has been a lot of fun.”

Playing the part

The cast is comprised of about 20 students from different schools, including St. Joseph, Lakeshore and Christ Lutheran. One of the volunteer actors is even home-schooled.

Wells read through a few shows and chose “Peter Pan” because of its familiarity to audiences and its appeal to all ages. Wells said he wanted to take a classic show and make it his own. With the help of his grandfather, who built a lot of the props and set pieces, Wells got creative.

After months of work and getting the project green light from his lit teacher, Wells started his search for Peter Pan and Wendy.

Through the meetings, writing the show on paper, drawing out the scenes, listening to different types of music, Wells formed an idea of how he wanted the show to look.

“This was all before casting started,” Wells said. “We had costume meetings. Light and stage meetings. We began planning for all the different aspects of the show.”

Using his self-made company, J Wade Productions, Wells is at home behind the camera. Wells said he plans to attend Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., to study film direction.

“It’s been my dream since sixth grade,” he said.

Lights, camera, action

Marissa Dunn, a senior at Lakeshore High School, said she heard about the play at the beginning of the year.

Dunn, who is Wells’ cousin, was offered the role of the older version of Wendy. She accepted the part once she found out who the play would benefit.

“I thought it was really great. These kids need something to look forward to and this would be a big help,” Dunn said. “This (play) is for somebody who doesn’t always get to laugh and enjoy themselves.”

St. Joseph junior Dakota Shapiro, a friend of Wells, also told him he would help with the show.

Shapiro watched the Disney version of “Peter Pan” as a kid and said it’s been a cool experience to play a character.

“I like the sword fights, they’re pretty fun,” said Shapiro, who is portraying Peter Pan’s friend, John. “It is nice to be a character because this is not something I normally do.”

Wells has gotten help from everyone, including the school.

Administrators allowed Wells to use the school’s sound and light equipment, allotted him the space to rehearse, and also secured the auditorium for the May 14 show.

Tickets are selling for $10 for the 7 p.m. show, with all the proceeds going to the charitable organization.

Wells said their goal is to raise $10,000 – which would allow two families the chance to take part in Give Kids The World.

“It’s been great being able to entertain the community and knowing it is going for a good cause,” Wells said. “It’s going to bring awareness to this place. It’s going to help so many people.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2016)

Car, driver found below bluff in St. Joseph

Emergency responders work to remove a women from dense brush after she drove her car off the St. Joseph bluff along Lakeshore Drive on Monday. (Mark Parren | HP Correspondent)

Emergency responders work to remove a women from dense brush after she drove her car off the St. Joseph bluff along Lakeshore Drive on Monday. (Mark Parren | HP Correspondent)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — A Benton Township woman was rescued Monday after driving off the St. Joseph bluff along Lake Michigan in what police believe was a suicide attempt.

Benton Township Deputy Chief Carl DeLand said the 45-year-old woman was reported missing at about 12:20 p.m. and was describd by the caller as potentially suicidal.

Police said the woman left notes to her family members indicating she was contemplating suicide.

Police eventually located the woman and her vehicle by tracking her cellphone. The car was found around 4 p.m. well below the bluff after the driver apparently drove off Lakeshore Drive just north of the Hilltop Road intersection.

“It was discovered that the subject in question had driven her car off of the bluff in St. Joseph near Hilltop, at what officers believed to be a low speed,” DeLand said in a news release. “This resulted in the subject’s car being wedged into some trees approximately 50 feet away from the edge of Lake Michigan.”

DeLand said Benton Township Police, St. Joseph Public Safety Department, Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, County Weigh Master and members of the Coast Guard worked together to locate the car along the shoreline.

The Coast Guard was called to search the shoreline, due to difficulty seeing through the dense brush, and helped direct police to the vehicle’s location.

The woman was uninjured and transported to Lakeland Medical Center, St. Joseph, for mental and physical evaluations.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2016)

Parlak receives one-year deferral

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

HARBERT — Ibrahim Parlak is safe for at least one more year.

Parlak and his supporters learned Friday that the Harbert restauranteur was given a one-year extension on his deferral of deportation from the Department of Homeland Security.

The extension means Parlak, who owns Cafe Gulistan in Harbert, cannot be deported within the next 12 months.

“It doesn’t have any impact on our case,” Parlak said. “One year gives us a little more time to work on a more permanent solution. We don’t know how it is going to be reached.”

Parlak said the DHS Detroit field office contacted his lawyer and sent a written confirmation with word of the deferral.

The deferral was set to expire midnight Wednesday, after Parlak was given a 90-day reprieve shortly before Christmas.

When Wednesday came and went, Parlak waited two more days before learning of his extension.

“It was uncomfortable not knowing if someone is going to knock down your door,” he said. “We are thankful and take comfort in this news.”

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, issued statements Friday on the news of Parlak’s one-year extension.

The two House members had sent a two-page letter in January to DHS and Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials in support of the motion to reopen Parlak’s case. The letter asked for officials to refrain from opposing the motion.

“We can all breathe a small sigh of relief now that we have a one-year reprieve for our friend and neighbor Ibrahim,” said Upton, who has supported Parlak since 2004. “It has truly been a bipartisan, all-hands-on-deck effort these past few weeks to make this happen. Now, our focus will be on finding a bipartisan solution that keeps Ibrahim here at home permanently. We’re going to keep up our full court press on Ibrahim’s behalf.”

Parlak and his deferral

The last extension on the deferral came after Parlak filed a brief with the Board of Immigration Appeals to see if he could remain in the country under the Convention Against Torture – an international law that protects refugees from being returned under threat of torture or death.

In February, Parlak received a government brief arguing against his motion to reopen his case for further examination. The government is arguing that Turkey hasn’t changed much in the 11 years since Parlak’s previous request was first considered and denied.

Now Parlak waits for the board’s decision on the motion to reopen his case.

Robert Carpenter, Parlak’s attorney, said they expect to hear from the board by late spring or early summer. However, Carpenter said it could take longer given the history of Parlak’s case.

“They have tremendous volumes of cases,” Carpenter said. “But we have three expert opinions that were given to the board on the condition of Turkey. Given the lengthy history of the case, it will take them some time to review the case.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 26, 2016)

Unemployment increases with January job cuts

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

An increase in unemployment was to be expected entering the new year.

According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, seasonal job cuts were recorded in January for construction, retail trade, education, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services.

As a result, unemployment rates increased in all four Southwest Michigan counties from December 2015 to January 2016.

Allegan County’s unemployment rate went from 3.2 percent to 3.9 percent. Cass County increased from 3.9 percent in December to 4.6 percent in January.

Berrien County increased its jobless rate from 4.0 percent to 4.8 percent.

Van Buren County had the highest rate in the region, which managed to move its unemployment rate from 5.0 percent to 6.1 percent. That increase in unemployment was still lower compared to the 8.4 percent that was recorded in January 2015.

Van Buren was the only county in Southwest Michigan that recorded a higher unemployment rate in January than the nation’s unadjusted rate of 5.3 percent.

Jobless rates for all Southwest Michigan labor markets – other than Van Buren – were lower than the unadjusted statewide rate of 5.1 percent.

Job sectors hit

Total nonfarm employment in Berrien County dropped by 2,000 in January to a total of about 60,000.

Seasonal employment reductions were recorded in leisure and hospitality (700), professional and business services (400), and retail trade (300). Manufacturing cut 300 positions in January.

Since January 2015, employment in most sectors improved or remained unchanged, with the exception of professional and business services.

Leisure and hospitality added 400 jobs over the year, and a 200-job improvement was registered in retail trade, private education and health services.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 25, 2016)