What is your official title?
My “official” title is Mom. I could also be called Founder of Vintage Mitten. In addition to that I am an independent marketing communications consultant for small businesses in Michigan and the part-time Marketing and Fund Development Assistant for Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run.
Tell us about Vintage Mitten.
Vintage Mitten is a little blog I started in 2010. It’s had a few incarnations and now I am in the process of launching my third update and a full website. I had the idea to share some of my family’s favorite discoveries in Michigan with my circle of friends; this was back when people were really just starting to blog as a thing, around 2008. I got side tracked having my sons and moving back to Kalamazoo from the Detroit area where we had been living.
I was in Kalamazoo, and only knew a handful of people from my time here as an undergrad at WMU. It was really just a hobby and a creative outlet for me to gather info about cool people, places, event, and products being made in Michigan as I had time between my freelance marketing projects. I never thought anyone but maybe a few friends of mine would even notice or care. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to go junking and thrifting around Michigan, then capture my experience and share it – have everything in one spot.
In 2010, I made a Facebook page for Vintage Mitten and 50 pals of mine humored me and followed my pictures and posts of “Mitten State” discoveries and things about raising a family in Michigan . Then it suddenly just caught on. I remember my son asking me about the page, since I was checking on it each day, and I told him that Mommy was trying to start a conversation with people about Michigan. It ended up kind of turning into a game for the two of us to check the page together each day, and after a few months, there were like 400 people that were following the blog. Today we have 8,500 fans on our social pages and reach over 150,000 users daily!
A few things I wrote about were picked up by HuffingtonPost and other established Michigan brands like the Pure Michigan campaign and the Grand Hotel. Once they started liking what I was putting out there, the audience just grew organically, which was exciting. I have never paid for sponsored posts or any type of advertising so the people who follow the page truly like the things I write about and promote.
I think we are all looking to cultivate a similar lifestyle rooted in the traditions of the past but forged in the present with a modern awareness of preserving what is good in life. We have a conversation online about the things we like in and about Michigan. It’s so rad! I am really excited to see what it will evolve into.
How did you come to work with non-profits in Kalamazoo?
When we moved back to Kalamazoo in 2010 to raise our family, I was only working independently with a few clients and with organizations like March of Dimes and the Kalamazoo Deacons Conference. I was really missing the action of the Detroit area and I didn’t fully understand what Kalamazoo had to offer as a resident, since my only experience was during my college years. I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it here.
My eldest son goes to a Kalamazoo Public School and as it turns out, some of the nicest families I have ever encountered have kids there too. Luckily, one of those parents was Jennifer Clark, the Director of Community relations at Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo. She connected me to the greater goals and mission of CIS within the school system and with The Kalamazoo Promise. I was blown away by the impact of this organization inside of the schools, helping kids at the baseline. I helped to develop the “Promise Me” campaign for them and served as project manager creating the campaign video based on this theme.
Communities in Schools also serves as fiduciary for Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run. Now, if you had told me 4 years ago that I would be working for an organization embedded in the renowned running community of Kalamazoo—as a big Polish girl who thought compression gear was something strictly for diabetic patients, I would have laughed you out of the room. That is the beauty of the Girls on the Run program, and beyond that the running community of Kalamazoo, as a whole. It’s welcoming, inclusive, and truly for every person who wants to tap into their potential, either physically, mentally, or otherwise. There are no limits and the Girls on the Run program is for EVERY girl, no matter her shape, size, or background. It’s not all about running; it’s about empowering girls to believe in themselves. I will probably stick to 5k’s and will probably always walk more than I run, but I think if this program had been around 30 years ago I would have begged my mother to sign me up and it would have changed my life.
Between CIS and Girls on the Run, the lens by which I experienced Kalamazoo changed. There are so many fantastic people doing great things and making cool things here. It’s really inspiring and has informed my posts on Vintage Mitten in a great way! Kalamazoo has tons to offer, especially for families wanting a blend of a traditional and progressive experience.
What types of things in Kalamazoo inspire you?
That’s a tough one. There are so many things to be inspired by right now. My best advice to anyone looking to get involved with something cool in Kzoo is: Walk up and introduce yourself! In an era of social media and websites, you can find most people who are doing things in our community really accessible.
I invited women to a Vintage Mitten themed tea party over Christmas to raise money for Girls on the Run scholarships and I only personally knew half of them. I had admired the work of people like Michelle Miller Adams from the Upjohn Institute or Bailey Mead from Handmade Kalamazoo, but hadn’t personally connected with them until we all gathered at the Tudor House Tea and Spice shop for this party. They were all so enthusiastic and it created this positive thread for like-minded women who want to make things in our community.
I think that is happening all over Kalamazoo if you look for it. Look at what Chris Broadbent has built up over the past few years with the Farmers Market or you look at someone like Casey Lockman who is an art student at WMU and you see the stuff she is putting up on Instagram to share her gorgeous artwork and then.. BAM! Urban Salon has her painting their interiors and Discover Kalamazoo is contacting her about original illustrations for their promotions. Because she used the hashtag #Kzoo on her photos! It’s fantastic.
You look at what people like Joanna and Derek at Bookbug are doing with their small business to support literacy and community events. Jennifer Ward refurbished the old Interurban Building downtown and turned it into a shared space for rent called “The Station” for arts and various independent programs.
I think if we can avoid viewing things at sky level within the organizations of influence around Kalamazoo and keep things engaged through the amazing shop keepers and volunteers doing the work, we’ll have more impact. I really only discovered in my 30’s what it means to be a dedicated volunteer. Volunteers who show up again and again to give time, money, resources to make things happen are really the best humans on earth. I love that my Director, Melisa Ellis Beeson, at Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run always includes our intern volunteers in everything. They sit in on our staff meetings have a voice in what is going on.
The people willing to give to get the work done are the ones cultivating the next crop of great ideas– so I love that Kalamazoo is trying to become a place where everyone, at any point in their journey, can be heard and seen. That is inspiring!
Any big projects you’re currently working on?
I am prepping my 3rd annual Vintage Mitten Guide for release in July and updating the website to support and catalogue my lists of cool discoveries and friends making things in Michigan. I also serve as social media director for several small businesses and am working to help them grow.
I just participated in a forum at the new Center for Digital Engagement at Eastern Michigan University. My hopes are that Western Michigan University will open up a similar program one day!
We just launched the 13th season of Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run so I’ll help promote our 5k event coming up on May 21st. I am currently working on collaborating with my pals at Read and Write Kalamazoo to develop a workshop for next fall to help middle school aged students understand social media in a safe way. I am also entering a mixed media piece into the West Michigan Arts Show at the KIA —which is a fabulous show showcasing local talent from all over the area. The exhibit runs May through August.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
Up with my sons and husband by 6:00 am and out the door to school and work by 8:30am, all the while with my phone glued to my hand. If it is a day that I do not go in to the office then I will spend the morning with my toddler playing trains and dancing to the Dora the Explorer theme song. If the weather is nice we try to get outside, but this winter we have been really cooped up.
We were gifted a membership to the Air Zoo so some days you will find us taking our 4,875 trip on the Air Balloon ride there. The Air Zoo is such a gem! We are on a “school, activities, drop-off, pick-up, eat and bed” type of routine at this point in life. On a day that I am downtown for lunch, I love grabbing a beet salad from Irving’s.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
That it is a small town, in the best way. Once you live here for a few years as a resident, you realize that you will likely run into the same people who enjoy the same things as you, at the same places—over and over. It gives you a sense of community and family with all of these personalities that make this place home. You guys at Kzoo Uncaged are doing a really nice job of sharing profiles of people from all different walks of life around town, but if this was a Kevin Bacon game, I bet we’d find we are all quickly connected!
What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?
Invest in our community parks. We need splash pads! They call them sprinkler parks over here. I guess there hasn’t been the need for them as much as on the east side of the state because of our proximity to all of the beaches and lakes, but I really love to see more splash pads as gathering spots in the summer for parents with both toddlers and older kids. These are great additions to public parks because parents can enjoy the water without the fear of their little ones drowning. I also think within the city of Kalamazoo it would create more positive interactions with people from different neighborhoods as their kids played.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
I gave it up for lent, but yes I have to like coffee because it is my husband’s primary food group. I like coffee from Studio Grill, served black.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
My happy place is Second Impressions Upscale Resale Shop on Westnedge. It is run by the most lovely group of volunteers and the proceeds from the shop go to support Kalamazoo Christian Schools. The manager, Patty Guizinga, keeps the store in great shape and there are always items to be found for cool DIY home projects. I also love Bella Patina, Kalamazoo Kitty, Michigan News Agency and I could look at junk for days at the Heritage Company.
What have you been jammin’ to recently?
The Black Keys, Bear Hands, Pharrell, Jay-Z, Dave Matthews, and Sinatra—always.
What is next up on your reading list?
I need to attempt to read the KPL community read book Jerry Dennis’s The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas. It looks great! I recently finished Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay which was a gift at the Vintage Mitten tea party from Bookbug! It was an excellent set of essays. I read a lot of the New Yorker and New York times daily.
Favorite local beer?
Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewery’s Vanilla Porter. Heaven!
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Listen more and do more. I think when I was younger I wasted time worrying about things that just don’t matter 10 or 15 years later. Are you going to fail? Yes. The beautiful thing is that you go and try. And try again—and you learn along the way what your life path will be. I am so grateful for the people who have forgiven my failures and had enough faith in me to try to teach me something, even if I wasn’t always ready to embrace it. We all have incredible gifts to share, it is just a matter of finding the right path to share them. I would tell myself to listen to smart people and go for every creative dream ASAP. Start as soon as possible. I would also tell myself to invest in Apple computers!
Who would play you in a movie?
Lena Dunham. Give her 15 years and two kids, and it’d be perfect!