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03-28-2019 Letters and Commentary

Bloom where you’re planted Had he heard too many complaints about inadequate “stroking” from some parishioners, or maybe too many refusals to help? For whatever reason, the pastor addressed the congregation: “If you say, ‘If I were to leave this church no one would even notice.’ Then shame on you.” He repeated, “Shame on you.” Continuing he said, “If you are not missed, it’s your fault.” I think I agree. Especially in a larger church a person can remain under the radar and anonymous if they desire. Some want it that way. But if our presence contributes nothing more than a warm seat, then we may be missing great opportunities to make a difference right where we’ve been planted. Any successful local congregation is the result of team effort. Those individuals and families who are willing to partner with the pastor, share a vision for the future, and help develop the programs, can make a very positive difference. Smaller churches often have more need of this partnering and often offer special opportunities to participate. Of course, the pastor needs to be open to team effort as well, and the pastor needs to have at least the seed of a vision. Those creative and adventuresome individuals and families that are ready to explore the possibilities develop the perspective, “How can I/we help here?” rather than the “What-can-they-do-for-me/us-here?” attitude. Our work and extracurricular schedules are more demanding than ever. We may feel that there’s no time for new endeavors. I have felt the same way. Yet I’ve found that various family-project approaches have given great opportunity for teaching and modeling sensitivity to more than just “me, me, me”. We demonstrate that we also value others’ well-being, not just our own. (See Philippians 2) So where can you help? Ask your pastor. And pastors, be ready for the question.

See what you can do online during National Social Security Month-part one For generations, Social Security has been evolving to meet your changing needs. In April, we celebrate National Social Security Month by letting you know what you can do online with a “my Social Security account”. Replacing a lost or stolen Social Security number (SSN) card has never been easier. You can request a replacement SSN card online in most states. There’s no need to sit in traffic or visit a local office or Card Center. As long as you’re only requesting a replacement card, and no other changes, you can use our free online service from anywhere. All you need to do is log in to or create “a my Social Security” account at myaccount. You can also get a copy of your Social Security 1099 (SSA-1099) or Benefit Statement, which is a tax form Social Security mails each year in January. It shows the total amount of benefits you received from Social Security in the previous year so you know how much Social Security income to report to the IRS on your tax return. If you live in the United States and you need a copy of your SSA-1099 or 1042S, simply go online and get an instant, printable replacement form with a my Social Security account at Another important thing you can do is check the status of your Social Security benefit application or claim. This feature can be accessed anywhere you can log in to your my Social Security account. Knowing the status of your pending claim is important for a number of reasons, and now you can get the up-to-date status when you want it. Please know that securing your identity and personal information is important to us. We protect your information by using strict identity verification and security features. The application process has built-in features to detect fraud and confirm your identity. Replacing documents and checking status can be time consuming, but Social Security has made it as easy as possible. Share what you can do online with friends and family with a my Social Security account at Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at

COUGAR SIGHTINGS? HERE? SEEMS SO… Just a few weeks ago I wrote a column about sightings of various animals, real and mythic, including cougars (mountain lions out west). Despite numerous sightings, including one by a DNR ranger, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) maintained there was not a “breeding population” in Michigan. Adding that, any sightings and/or attacks of the big cats were those of an escaped pet or zoo animal. When a cougar was shot and killed in downtown Chicago, all Michigan sightings of such animal ceased (or at least went unreported). So, to jump to the present just this past weekend, I stumbled over a Facebook post concerning recent sightings in the Keeler – Hartford area. The following is much of the discussion (but not all) with the names of the contributors removed because I did not contact any of them for permission to publish their names. The narrative begins with the first post by a Hartford citizen… “This past weekend my neighbor that lives across the street from me sent me a message that they saw a Mountain Lion on their property. She then told me that they found a big pile of scat where the animal had been seen. She called the DNR & they came out to take a sample. DNR will send it in but they were pretty sure it was from a Mountain Lion. Apparently, there is a small breeding population of Mountain Lions in the area. Now, their property butts up to the Keeler Game area. WHO KNEW! Just want my Keeler people to be aware.” Another citizen replies… “You never know. My neighbor said that the scat had a lot of white fur from deer & rabbit. It is a big game area near us so hopefully it will hunt there, where there is plenty of game.” Another citizen replies… “Hopefully. We have coyotes here and occasionally a fox. Fortunately, our land which has been fallow for many years and was a haven for dens is now reworked and has almond trees planted so I’m hoping they will move down the road. If you look closely you can see the little tree.” Another citizen replies… “They dragged down a horse in Coloma, they are in Bridgman, they have been here for a few years! Coyotes are everywhere in my backyard, can’t find a rabbit anymore, bears, and wolves next. Maybe a moose or two! Eagles have been spotted in my area, they were in our neighborhood, so I guess it’s all good! The big cat won’t hurt you, just don’t be in her space!” Another citizen replies… “Oh they are more than around, you walk around your yard at dusk, look first!” Another citizen replies… “Many of us knew that and had photo confirmation, but the DNR denied for years.” Another citizen replies… “I saw one in the tree line on M140 and Territorial Rd. several years ago, during the day.” Another citizen replies … “yes, they have and typically keep to themselves but since we keep taking their land and forcing them into smaller and smaller areas, people have started seeing them more often. I wonder if they have Facebook links to keep them safe from humans?” Another citizen replies… “Also, just so everyone knows, the cougars are protected as an endangered species in Michigan. You’re Not allowed to shoot them, even if they’re attacking your livestock. You have to call the DNR to come take care of the situation. Now we know how the cattle ranchers felt when the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. We have to adjust our behavior so we can live in peace with these large predators and keep our family and livestock safe” Another citizen replies… “I’ve read about the breeding colony. Keep your fur babies inside. It’s breeding season right now for the mountain lions, or so I’ve read.”

Letter to the Watervliet Downtown Development Authority

Dear DDA, I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you. You serve in a thankless role that you volunteer to do. My assumption is that you volunteer for this role, not for the glory or the title, or because you have copious amounts of free time, but because each of you have an invested interest in this small town and the success of it. This group has been instrumental in aiding the start-up of successful businesses, helping business owners with repairs to their buildings, and beautifications to our downtown area. I encourage all of you to keep doing what is right for our community and to not let those that are here for a paycheck from this city that have a political agenda or to make a name for them self, push you around. Thank you for your services! Mary Spaulding

Berrien County Community forum on transportation

Disability Network Southwest Michigan and the Self-Advocates of Michigan (SAM) Board have joined forces to host a Berrien County Community Transportation Forum. The forum will take place on Friday, April 12 at 1:00 p.m. at Disability Network’s office, 2900 Lakeview Avenue in St. Joseph. People are encouraged to join the conversation by bringing their transportation questions and concerns to the forum. The following transportation agencies will be represented at this forum to address the issues and answer questions: Berrien County Community Development Transportation & Planning, Berrien County Mobility Manager, Berrien Bus, Benton Harbor Dial-A-Ride (TCATA), Buchanan Dial-A-Ride, and Niles DART. James Ivey, SAM Board representative for the Berrien County area, with the help of staff at Disability Network, connected with officials, politicians, and people with disabilities in the community to discuss issues around local public transportation which led to planning this forum. This forum will be a model for other SAM representatives to use throughout the state. If you need an accommodation to participate in the Berrien County Community Forum on Transportation, please contact Cindy Gray at (269) 985-0111. This is a fragrance-free environment; please do not wear scented products to this event.

Be a lifesaver: Give blood with the Red Cross this spring

Eligible blood donors of all blood types – especially type O – are urged to give blood through the American Red Cross now to help ensure a sufficient supply for hospital patients this spring. In order to meet the needs of patients the Red Cross must collect about 13,000 blood and more than 2,500 platelet donations every day. Make an appointment to help save lives now by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Local blood donation opportunities include Monday, April 1, 12 noon – 5:45 p.m. at St. Basil Catholic Church, 513 Monroe Boulevard in South Haven and Friday, April 5, 12 noon – 5:45 p.m. at Hilton Garden Inn, 1300 Cinema Way in Benton Harbor.

Michigan Treasury protecting taxpayers from losing refunds

Some Michigan taxpayers who file a state income tax return may receive a letter from the Michigan Department of Treasury asking for more information to confirm their identity. The letters are a result of the state Treasury Department’s efforts to protect individuals from cybercriminals, who attempt to file state income tax returns on behalf of unsuspecting taxpayers and steal refunds. After a taxpayer confirms his or her identity by taking a short online quiz or submitting paperwork, the tax refund will be issued in about a month. A phone option is available as an alternative to the online quiz. “If you receive one of these letters, please follow the instructions carefully,” said Deputy State Treasurer Glenn White, who oversees Treasury’s Tax Administration programs. “When we detect something that may not be right with a tax return, we ask for additional information to protect the taxpayer.” Taxpayers who have been recent victims of identity theft are asked to report their circumstances to the state Treasury Department. Reporting identity theft helps thwart cybercriminals who attempt to file returns and steal state tax refunds. Since 2016, the state Treasury Department’s increased security measures protected more than 4,500 taxpayers who confirmed their identity was stolen and used to request state of Michigan income tax refunds. This prevented more than $19 million from being distributed to scammers. To learn more about identity theft, go to For more information about state income taxes, go to

LMC Women in Business club hosts ‘Beyond All Limits’ panel

The Lake Michigan College Women in Business club is hosting its second annual “Beyond All Limits” professional panel event featuring four accomplished area women with diverse experiences. The event takes place from 10-11:30 a.m. Thursday, April 11, in the Blue Lecture Hall (D 105) in the Main Building on Lake Michigan College’s Benton Harbor campus. Panelists are Simona Pappalardo, global electronics quality director at Whirlpool Corporation; Kaylee Ganus, vice president of community and brand at Honor Credit Union; Olivia Starks, funeral director at Starks Family Funeral Home; and Patricia Muellen, owner of P. Muellen & Associates. This year’s presentation will focus on how this generation of college graduates can shape the future workplace. Pappalardo, originally from Milan, Italy, is a self-described “serial traveler” and passionate supporter of all diversities who believes you can only fully understand who you are when you meet someone different from yourself. She recorded a video with the Brightline Initiative at TEDWomen 2017 and recently was named a “40 under 40” professional by Moody on the Market. With a background in marketing and public relations, Ganus, who has served in the financial industry for six years, is passionate about leveraging communication to drive business results and lasting change. She also volunteers as president of The Avenue Family Network’s Board of Directors and with United Way of Southwest Michigan’s Investment Team. By working with her father, Starks, a third-generation funeral director at Starks Family Funeral Home, discovered that she enjoyed working with families, learning the science of funeral service, and having no two days that were the same. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Blossomtime Festival, Boys & Girls Club of Benton Harbor and Caring Circle. Starks is also involved with Lory’s Place, Pink Tie Ball, and Young Professionals. Muellen’s background is in advertising and marketing, event planning, election campaigns, non-profit fundraising, and staffing. She is the founder and owner of Networking Group as well as the owner of P. Muellen & Associates. Muellen also serves on the Junior Achievement Board of Directors serving Berrien and Cass counties, Women’s Business Center Advisory Council at Cornerstone Alliance and Southwest Michigan Strategic Leadership Council. This event is free and open to the public. Whether you are a business owner, student, or community member, you will learn from some of the best in Southwest Michigan and leave this event feeling inspired. Questions about this event may be sent to Women in Business Club President Jenna Dolezan at The Lake Michigan College Women in Business Club works to inspire, promote and empower students and is open to all students, no matter their gender or major. Those interested in the club or the business program at Lake Michigan College are encouraged to contact Women in Business Faculty Advisor Kristi Lafrenz at or Department Chair Joe Zwiller at

Reps. Griffin, Hoadley introduce plan to help local communities combat suicide

State Reps. Beth Griffin and Jon Hoadley introduced a bipartisan legislative plan that will address suicide at the local level while aiming to prevent such tragedies in the future. A proposal from Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) creates the Suicide Fatality Review Act, allowing Michigan counties to establish a review task force. The wide-ranging, appointed panels will include medical examiners, members of local law enforcement, mental health experts, those who have been directly impacted by suicide and other parties. Griffin’s bill exempts the local panels from Open Meetings Act laws. “Due to the sensitive information being discussed in these meetings, it’s appropriate to keep them private,” said Griffin (R-Mattawan). “There will likely be conversations had with individuals who have lost loved ones and they will be sharing those emotions or experiences with experts who are tasked with curbing this epidemic in our state. House Bills 4414-15 have been referred to the House Health Policy Committee for consideration.

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