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Lessons Learned in Lansing Help Start Sister Center

Lansing, MI—Without question, it takes a great deal of time, effort, and dedication to operate a Neighborhood Networks center. Now multiply that by two, and you get an idea of what it is like to be Debbie Landry, the resident service coordinator for newly opened Pinebrook Manor Neighborhood Networks Center and the soon-to-open Somerset Apartments Neighborhood Networks Center. Landry is one driven lady managing two Neighborhood Networks centers, located a little more than two miles apart, that serve two very different groups of residents.

A Growing Center

To fully understand Landry's accomplishments, it is helpful to know the Pinebrook Manor Neighborhood Networks Center's short history. For one, the Pinebrook Manor Neighborhood Networks Center only celebrated its first year of operation in April. Second, Landry only began serving as the resident service coordinator two months after the center opened and began planning programs from scratch. And third, Landry splits her time between planning and implementing programs at the Pinebrook Manor Neighborhood Networks Center and coordinating the opening of the Somerset Apartments Neighborhood Networks Center, both of which are managed by Preservation Management based in South Portland, Maine. But, despite the fact that the center is in its infancy and Landry is building a program from the ground up, Landry has put together impressive program offerings at both centers.

"Pinebrook Manor is a subsidized multi-family property that has 136 townhouse units," said Landry. "Preservation Management completely renovated the property in 2005, and added a community center/leasing office and a workout facility. Creating a Neighborhood Networks center was part of the renovation plan from the very beginning."

Equipped with four computers, the Pinebrook Manor Neighborhood Networks Center delivers technology access to the more than 350 residents. "We do offer monthly computer classes, but I'm currently looking for a replacement instructor," said Landry. "To complement the information that residents find on the computer, I have created a career corner at the center. Here, residents can review information on how to write a resume, interviewing techniques, tips on how to dress for success, and a list of career fields that are in high demand. I've seen a lot of residents take advantage of this information."

Landry has also dedicated an area of the center to health, making available information on a variety of health topics. To enhance this information, Landry invites local partners to the center to conduct health-focused workshops, such as the weekly smoking cessation classes offered by the Southside Community Coalition. The Southside Community Coalition also attended the center's Halloween party and distributed information on its outreach programs and the Ingham Health Plan, which offers basic health services to uninsured individuals.

"The Michigan State University Extension Program also comes to the center to conduct workshops," said Landry. "The Extension Program also offered a Quick Snacks for Kids workshop. They showed the children how to make smoothies and a peanut butter sauce that they could make to dip apples and other fruit. It was a good workshop because parents and their children could learn about nutrition together."

Currently, Landry is working with residents to launch a community garden, her first major program. To do this, Landry sought the support of Lansing's Garden Project, which tills the soil free of charge, offers seeds and starter plants, hosts gardening workshops, and lends gardening tools to participants.

"I noticed that many of the residents like to plant flowers in the front of their apartments," said Landry. "We have a ton of space so I thought, why not start a community garden where residents could grow vegetables? So far, 15 residents have signed up for a 10-foot by 10-foot garden plot, and they are very excited to begin planting this spring. Residents plan to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and all sorts of fresh vegetables. At our planning meetings, we have also decided to have a small, shared garden where we'll plant perennials, such as raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, and asparagus."

Planting the Seeds for Success

When not planning and implementing programs at Pinebrook Manor Neighborhood Networks Center, Landry can be found just two and a half miles down the road at its sister center, the soon-to-open Somerset Apartments Neighborhood Networks Center.

A 100-unit subsidized property for the elderly and disabled, Somerset Apartments was purchased by Preservation Management in 2005. Shortly after the purchase, Preservation Management began planning the establishment of a Neighborhood Networks center.

Equipped with three computers—one equipped with a large screen and JAWS software—the Somerset Apartments Neighborhood Networks Center serves approximately 100 senior and disabled residents. Landry has already expanded the partnership she forged with the Capital Area District Library (CADL) to teach basic computer skills for seniors. A bookmobile from CADL visits Pinebrook Manor twice a month to provide residents with the opportunity to check out books, CDs, and movies.

CADL will also be offering its Reminiscent Program at the Somerset Apartments Neighborhood Networks Center. "This is a very interesting program run by Bill Nelton, the outreach program director at CADL," said Landry. "Bill starts the program by showing a 20-minute video about a certain time period or decade. For example, the first program will be on the 1950s. After the video, Bill moderates a discussion and gets residents talking about the video and what they remember from that time period. It's a chance for the seniors to share their memories, sing songs, and play games."

Landry has also called upon her partners at the Michigan State University Extension Program to offer monthly food and nutrition classes to residents at Somerset Apartments. And, she has partnered with the Potter Park Zoo who will bring in small animals and teach the residents about the animals and their habitats. Landry said that the only animals that the residents said they preferred not to meet up close are snakes.

"While it can be hectic bouncing from one center to the other, the differences between the two groups of residents provides a great deal of variety in my job," said Landry. "I get to meet and work with people from all sectors of the community, and that keeps things interesting."

For more information about Neighborhood Networks centers in Michigan, contact:

Pamela Wildfong
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—Detroit Field Office 
477 Michigan Avenue, Room 1600
Detroit, MI 48226-2564
(313) 226-6280 x 8126