Wheels are turning on play

Wheels are turning on play

Delta Dental of Michigan is helping the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM) directly reach families with the power of play.

The museum purchased its new Kids Can! Van through a $100,000 contribution from Delta Dental in 2019, and it hit the road in July. Other sponsors, including the Keller Foundation, are furnishing the inside of the van, which will be outfitted with programming, traveling exhibits and hands-on activities.

“Delta Dental’s core value of community responsibility is a perfect marriage to the museum’s mission and value that play is essential to healthy development,” said museum board member Mandy Jurkovic.

Ribbon cutting ceremony

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the Kids! Can Van in front of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

The van was named during a statewide contest in which Hudsonville mom, Jodi Rector, was named the winner and took home a free annual membership for GRCM, as well as getting her name on the van.

Rector and her two children, 4-year-old Gwen and 6-year-old Isaac, frequent the museum. She said she was inspired to come up with the name “Kids Can! Van” because she believes children can do anything and exercise their imaginations when they visit the museum.

This summer the Kids Can! Van is traveling to meal distribution sites across Grand Rapids to provide “play@home” kits to thousands of children. Kits include items like chalk, bubbles, jump ropes, books and markers so children can play at home and outside while the museum is temporarily closed during the pandemic.

After the interior of the van is fully outfitted, and when it’s safe to gather more closely, museum staff will take the Kids Can! Van beyond the city of Grand Rapids, to Holland, Muskegon, Kalamazoo and Lansing.

By opening its doors at community events, schools and neighborhoods, the Kids Can! Van will deliver the power and creative energy of play directly to families who can’t easily visit the museum building.

“Working with a corporation that is there to walk side-by-side with you is truly extraordinary,” said GRCM CEO Maggie Lancaster. “Delta Dental knows if we succeed, then families are supported and kids are healthier.”

Detroit riverfront

Reenvisioning the riverfronts

Reenvisioning the riverfronts

While businesses and nonprofits in our communities had to shut down or close their doors temporarily during the pandemic, the outdoors remained open. This allowed us to get back to the basics, spend time outside and reevaluate what makes a community’s heart beat.

That heartbeat is our parks and outdoor gathering spaces filled with our neighbors, friends and family.

Now more than ever, our investments in these spaces along the Detroit and Grand rivers are valuable.

Delta Dental’s $5 million investment to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy will build a five-acre playground in Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park along the west portion of the Detroit River. This was our company’s largest single investment to date and a major contribution to the overall $60 million placemaking project.

“Over the past months, I have heard from many people who are turning to the Detroit Riverfront as a place of healing and encouragement,” says Matthew Cullen, chair of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “They leave their homes for a walk or a bike ride along the river, and they return refreshed and ready to face the challenges ahead. Our team has been incredibly efficient in their work to keep the riverfront a safe, beautiful space to be.”

Detroit Riverfront Conservancy's renderings of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park five-acre playground

Our team has been incredibly efficient in their work to keep the riverfront a safe, beautiful space to be.

—Matthew Cullen, chair of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

Delta Dental is investing in what we believe to be the most amazing playground environment in the nation.

—Margaret Trimer

The Delta Dental Play Garden is set to open in 2022 and will engage families from downtown Detroit and surrounding neighborhoods in fun and active programming, helping us achieve our purpose of building healthy, smart, vibrant communities. The riverfront park’s spacious grounds will allow visitors to safely gather and also receive information about local health programs to help keep overall wellness a priority in their households.

In downtown Lansing along the Grand River, our family of companies, including Dewpoint and Red Cedar Investment Management, contributed $390,000 to fund attractions within the city-owned Rotary Park west of Cooley Law School Stadium.

The initiative to repurpose and rebuild the waterfront park was led by the Community Foundation of the Capital Region and Rotary Club of Lansing.

Longtime Lansing resident Shannon Nobles frequents Rotary Park with her husband and 3-year-old son, enjoying the beach and taking bike rides.

“It was lovely for us to sit in the (beach) chairs, watch our kiddo play, and people watch and chat with other local community members,” Nobles says. “There is so much that we love about greater Lansing but what stands out to us the most is the community of incredible people that make up our village.”

The way our village interacts with one another has changed, and so has everyday life, but we still need to escape the four walls of our homes and enjoy all the benefits the outdoors have to offer.

These reimagined spaces in mid- and southeast Michigan are more than just pretty parks—they are refuges, places to heal, think and stay active. They are spaces where communities can gather. Whether it be six or 60 feet apart, we can still come together and enjoy the smile of a neighbor, even from a distance.

Detroit Parks Coloring Book

Feeling artsy?

Download the Detroit Parks Coloring Book.

Click here!

Two Northeast Ohio Students sitting at a desk during meeting.

Build it and they will stay

Build it and they will stay

No matter the economic outlook in Northeast Ohio, the need for a talented and skilled workforce remains.

Employers must attract, retain and grow a workforce with the skills needed to keep the region competitive in the health care, manufacturing and IT industries in this unprecedented time and beyond.

But there’s a mismatch between the skills employers need and the skills students have, especially in the post-pandemic job market as new career avenues open.

Delta Dental of Ohio has been stepping up to tackle the talent crisis. In partnership with Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland and Team NEO, a nonprofit organization focused on regional economic development, we invested in the annual Aligning Opportunities report, which offers an in-depth look at the supply and demand of talent in the region.

The report shares data about the three key industries in need of workers and helps HR leaders, employers and educators see the holes that exist, especially the equity gap among people of color.

Through a series of workshops, career fairs, panel discussions and local news coverage, we have started the regional conversation about building communities with economic vitality and opportunities for workers.

Roundtable at Rhodes

The first step in understanding challenges high schoolers face is going straight to the source.

Together with our partners, we convened a group of 11th-graders from Rhodes College and Career Academy in Cleveland to hear their career aspirations and the roadblocks that threaten to derail their plans. This conversation took place before the coronavirus outbreak.

The students pointed to the absence of support at home, lack of hands-on learning opportunities, concerns about college affordability and mental health support. Yet, they remain motivated to pursue post-secondary education.

“Nobody in my family has ever (gone to college.) I feel like basically the first generation,” a Rhodes student said.

A panel of local business and community leaders reacted to the students’ discussion. Panelists cited cost and complexity as the biggest obstructions to maintain a healthy workforce. They were, however, optimistic about resources like Say Yes Cleveland and the Cleveland Innovation Project that are guiding students toward viable careers.

Some panelists noted that personal challenges students face don’t always stay at home. When families are in crisis, students suffer. They also noted education should be viewed as a lifestyle rather than a singular event so students can become lifelong learners and flex their skills to match the in-demand jobs.

The jobs that exist today – at least the jobs we are hiring for—did not even exist five years ago, let alone 25 years ago

—Andy Jones, CEO of MCPc.

Learn more about Team NEO here.

Learn more about Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland here.

Recently, Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland partnered with Wakefield Research to determine how COVID-19 has effected the futures of high school graduates. Click here to review the results.

The perfect fit

For Corey Pettit, finding success after graduation meant finding employment as soon as possible.

The Akron area teen knew he never wanted to go to college.

“I did not want any more time sitting in a classroom,” Corey said. With three older sisters who pursued post-secondary degrees, still paying off student debt, Corey knew that wasn’t in his future.

Thanks to Akron Public Schools Online, he was able to take general classes remotely during high school, working on credits at his own pace. That’s when he was introduced to machine shop, and a visible shift in his plans occurred. His mentality about school changed.

He scored all A’s in machine shop, completed his credits early, passed his certification test and quickly found a job at a local machine shop, Signature Mold and Fabrication in Akron.

Working 40 hours a week just a few miles from home, Corey’s making a living wage — enough to put cash in the bank, pay his car insurance and his cell phone bill.

“I really like my job,” Corey said. “I’ve always wanted to do something with my hands, to work hard and be successful.”

But aside from finding a job he enjoys, Corey also is helping fill the workforce gap.

According to regional data, about 80,000 manufacturing workers ages 55 and older are planning to leave the labor market, and the attraction of skilled workers is the No. 1 challenge hampering industry growth. With a demand for more than 21,000 jobs just last year, manufacturing is facing a critical shortage of workers.

Which explains why Corey’s boss, Rick, is so thrilled to have him on payroll. He’s never had a worker as young as Corey before, but he has been willing to work with him and teach him the skills he needs to do well.

Samaritas Sulma

Everything of My Life

Everything of My Life

“There are only two ways, be strong or go back. I can do it. I can, I can.” With these words ringing in her ears, Sulma remained strong in her pursuit of a better life while she immigrated to the U.S.

Meet Sulma, a 19-year-old who grew up in Honduras with her emotionally abusive grandmother. At just 17, Sulma decided that she wanted a better life and made the courageous decision to immigrate to the U.S., particularly Michigan, where Samaritas welcomed her with open arms.

Samaritas Refugee Youth Services has been enacting positive change in Michigan since 1934. The nonprofit organization spans throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula with more than 60 program sites in over 40 cities. Their New Americans program offers refugee resettlement, job training and school readiness.

Delta Dental partners with Samaritas through a $25,000 corporate sponsorship as well as a separate donation of $750 specifically for their Refugee Youth Art Exhibit. At this annual exhibit, refugee youth like Sulma showcase their talent and tell their stories in a language understood by all: visual art.

Sulma’s favorite creation, “Everything of My Life,” represents her siblings who live in Honduras and Guatemala. The trees represent her three brothers while the purple and orange leaves represent her two sisters.

“I remember all the family: bad, good, everything,” Sulma says. “But, I can change the bad words for good.”

She paints her past black and gray, which represents her grandmother in Honduras; she paints her present as a bright pink flamingo standing in a pond; and she paints her future as a family of three turtles swimming in the sea, representing Sulma, her boyfriend and their baby due in August.

Samaritas Sulma
Sulma, a 19-year-old refugee from Honduras, presents her favorite painting, “Everything of My Life."

Listen to a message from Sulma:

There are only two ways, be strong or go back.

—Sulma, Samaritas refugee

While viewing Sulma’s art, a pattern emerges: Each painting uses water to symbolize life. No matter what the centerpiece is, whether a happy pink flamingo or a somber swaying tree, the water continues to flow.

“The water is life. There are bad things in our life, but the good news is the water never stops in the same place. So, bad things leave with time,” Sulma says.

Today, Sulma attends a local high school and looks not to her heartbreaking past, but to her bright future as she anticipates her baby boy.

Whether to relax or express themselves, Sulma and her peers use art as a way to unravel their past, present and future. Delta Dental strives to support strong refugees like Sulma, whose lives continue to flow despite abundant hardships.

That day we were just like everyone else

'That day we were just like everyone else’

Natalie Anwar is used to the stares, gawking and feelings of judgment when she goes out in public with her triplets with autism.

“I’m a single black mom with boys who don’t behave,” says Natalie, whose 12-year-old sons, Aidan, Braden and Jaden, were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 3. “I always feel like someone is watching me, stereotyping me, judging me. I usually don’t have the energy to deal with it. So we just don’t go anywhere.”

Then Natalie learned about low-cost sensory-friendly theater performances at the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts at Michigan State University.

Delta Dental invested $60,000 in the series to make live theater accessible to about 2,000 individuals with special needs and their families.

Natalie, who lives with her mother in DeWitt, Michigan, took all five of her boys, including the two without ASD, and another adult to the productions of “Clementine” and “The Lion King.” “The Cat in the Hat” was also part of the series.

Never in a million years would I have done it if not for the sensory-friendly program. That day we were just like everyone else; it was surreal.

—Natalie Anwar

Photo: Natalie Anwar reflects on a portrait of her sons Aidan, Braden and Jaden.

About 1,400 families with loved ones on the spectrum attended “The Lion King,” which was for many the first live theater performance during which they felt accepted and supported.

The theater bustled with activity throughout the show, including squealing, shouting and dancing. Some attendees walked the aisles; others ate, fidgeted or played on tablets. Many families did a walk-through before the performance so they knew what to expect; others engaged in art and other activities ahead of time to prepare for the experience. Some never left the quiet room that was available for families who needed a break.

Natalie’s children had issues that day, unrelated to the performance. But she was able to manage them with the help of staff and volunteers. And she said the best part was that she felt welcomed even when her children acted out.

“Never in a million years would I have done it if not for the sensory-friendly program,” she says. “That day we were just like everyone else; it was surreal.”

What’s the difference?

Sensory-friendly performances reduce triggers and lower stimulation for people with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, sensory processing disorder and other sensory sensitivities. They differ from regular performances in the following ways:

  • Lower sound and light levels; all strobe light effects removed
  • House lights on low throughout the performance
  • Audience members are welcome to stand, move around, and enter and leave the theater as needed
  • An area with crafts and activities for engagement
  • Designated quiet and calm spaces
  • Autism specialists and trained volunteers on hand
  • Sensory supports available (fidgets, earplugs)
  • A social narrative that portrays the theater experience with pictures and tex
  • A character guide with pictures identifying each character in the show
  • Audience members are welcome to take their own manipulatives, seat cushions, comfort objects, headphones, electronics, special snacks and other support items to the show

In the news:

Capital Gains - The Wharton Center Now Offers Sensory Friendly Performances

Delta Dental Pack a Smile

Culture of caring

Culture of caring

Employees at Delta Dental are building brighter futures in our communities. In 2018, 627 employees donated 1,555 hours through our many programs, including these three.

Delta Dental food drive

Feeding the hungry

Employees set a company record in 2018, donating a jaw-dropping 45,334 items to our annual food drive, nearly doubling the previous year’s total. For each item donated, the company matched $1. As a result, the food and a company match of $45,334 went to multiple organizations, including Greater Lansing Food Bank and Gleaners Food Bank Detroit in Michigan, Faith Mission and Greater Cleveland Hunger Network in Ohio, and Children’s Bureau Inc. in Indiana.

Promoting reading

Each year, employees celebrate March as National Reading Month by visiting classrooms to read an oral health storybook and share our favorite equation—2×2+20 (brush twice a day for two minutes, and read daily for 20 minutes). Employees also take gifts, including toothbrushes, activity cards, bookmarks and more.

Helping students

Our Pack a Smile school supplies drive lightens the back-to-school burden for low-income families. Employees donated enough supplies to fill 1,725 companydonated backpacks. Filled backpacks went to Samaritas and YouthQuest in Michigan, Lorain City Schools and Franklin County Children Services in Ohio, and Teachers’ Treasures in Indiana.

Restoring life in a rebuilt city

Restoring life in a rebuilt city

Adrianne Lewis and a team of volunteers walk down a Detroit street, pushing lawn mowers and wheelbarrows filled with rakes and weed trimmers.

They settle in to clean up an overgrown alley with garbage entangling the fence between homes. Volunteers clear brush and dig out debris—dragging suitcases, a dilapidated door and more to the curb.

Alleys like this are common routes for children walking to school in the inner city. Adrianne’s own mother-in-law grew up in the area and walked to nearby Central High School.

This family connection is one of many reasons why Adrianne, a Delta Dental customer service representative, volunteered this day. Delta Dental sent nearly 100 employees over two days to volunteer in the Durfee/Central community as part of Life Remodeled’s Six-Day Project.

Life Remodeled is a Detroit organization that helps transform lives by investing about $5 million in cash, labor and materials into a Detroit neighborhood each year. The goal: remodel a community asset, repair owner-occupied homes and mobilize thousands of volunteers to beautify 300 city blocks across six days. Life Remodeled and its volunteers are revitalizing the city.

“(My mother-in-law) was showing me the areas where she lived and she had walked to school,” Adrianne says. “She couldn’t imagine walking to school with the area being the way that it was. With the houses being torn down and all of the blight. She said she probably would have been scared to walk to school.

“But that was the point of us coming over here, cleaning up—so that the kids would feel safe; the neighbors would feel safe; the elderly would feel safe.”

But that was the point of us coming over here, cleaning up—so that the kids would feel safe; the neighbors would feel safe; the elderly would feel safe.

—Adrianne Lewis, Delta Dental employee

To me, volunteering and helping people you do not know is unconditional love, because you have no judgment for these people. Your only focus is going in to help in any way you can.

—Adrianne Lewis

Hometown Pride

Adrianne is a child of Detroit—she has lived here since she was 11 years old, when she moved from Nashville, Tennessee, with her mother and sister. Her husband, Warez, has lived in Detroit since he was 3. Today, they’re raising a family on the city’s northwest side, roughly six miles away from her volunteer site.

Detroit gets a bad rap, but Adrianne knows that living in the city comes with advantages. Her family enjoys the city’s rich history and culture. A love for Motown, the museums, Belle Isle, downtown and the city’s festivals—Adrianne’s pride for the city is evident.

“If you engage in the things the city offers, you’ll see it’s not always the bad news you see all the time,” she says. “Some news is close to home and is sad, but we also have a lot of good things going on in the city. You can’t focus on all the bad things.”

And it’s organizations like Life Remodeled that are focused on the “good things.”

“They’re in the heart of the neighborhood doing something. They are working to make all of Detroit better, not just downtown,” Adrianne says.

Instilling change

Life Remodeled normally makes one-year investments in neighborhoods, but the organization has committed to the Durfee/Central area until at least 2020. Progress is evident in this neighborhood where Detroit’s civil unrest began in 1967.

In 2017, Life Remodeled began renovating and repurposing the former Durfee Elementary Middle School and adjacent Central High School into the Durfee Innovation Society. It repaired 53 homes, boarded up 534 vacant houses and removed blight on 367 blocks. In 2018, it beautified 316 blocks, boarded up 396 houses, cleared 102 alleyways, planted more than 700 trees, shrubs and perennials, and much more.

As Life Remodeled continues its revitalization efforts, Delta Dental and employees like Adrianne plan to be there, doing our part.

If you engage in the things the city offers, you’ll see it’s not always the bad news you see all the time.

—Adrianne Lewis

Joining the parade

Joining the parade

The 120-foot Delta Dental Smile Safari float, complete with a massive mother “molar bear” reading to her cubs, a “molar express” train and many toothy animals, made its debut in America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit in 2018.

The float carried the messages “Brush for a Healthy Smile” and “Read for a Healthy Mind” to an estimated 1 million spectators lining the parade route and another 65 million watching it on 185 television stations across the country.

The parade, named America’s best by USA Today in 2018, is one of Detroit’s premier annual events drawing corporate, philanthropic and nonprofit partners to the city for a free holiday celebration.

The atmosphere was electric with excitement and energy, and I had the best time being a tiger and walking next to the spectacular Delta Dental float.

—Nikki Call, Delta Dental employee

More than a dozen employees braved the cold temperatures, dressed in festive safari animal costumes, and escorted the float along the three-mile route from midtown to downtown Detroit.

“The atmosphere was electric with excitement and energy, and I had the best time being a tiger and walking next to the spectacular Delta Dental float,” says Nikki Call, customer service training specialist. “I was high-fiving, hugging, skipping, smiling, dancing and hand-shaking the entire time, and I had an absolute blast!”

Delta Dental’s $125,000 sponsorship of the parade aligns with our commitment to build vibrant communities.