Back to School Preparation for Both Students and Parents

Summer is winding to a close and another school year is about to start.

As parents, it is time for us to play our important role of ensuring that our children are prepared to learn.

In today’s digital, global economy, a good education is critical for children to become tomorrow’s skilled workers and strong leaders. Active parents and proactive teachers have huge impacts on fostering a child’s desire to learn.

Research has shown that students whose parents are involved in their school work are more motivated and set higher career goals than students whose parents are less involved. While helping our children understand classroom material at an early age helps improve their chances for success in high school and college, parents visiting their child’s school has also been cited as a key factor in a student’s development.

I encourage all Southwest Michigan parents to try and make time to help and support your young students. The Michigan Department of Education has many helpful resources on its website at: www.michigan.gov/mde.

Parents may also get help by calling the Van Buren Intermediate School District at (269) 674-8091 or the Berrien RESA at (269) 471-7725.

To parents of first-time students, this time may seem daunting, but the best thing you can do to ensure a child’s academic success is simply to be there for them. Ensure they get plenty of sleep, arrive to school on time, complete their homework and eat healthy meals.

And remember that the framework to success also lies in building up a child’s self-confidence with positive reinforcement and encouragement. I hope you have a great school year!

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How to Report Welfare Fraud

Welfare was created to help provide the basic needs to residents who need assistance to make ends meet and feed their families.

In Michigan, we provide this aid through bridge cards. Unfortunately this assistance is sometimes abused.

To protect taxpayer dollars and ensure state aid is used as intended, I encourage residents to report suspected fraud and abuse.

Examples of abuses during the past couple of years include a million- dollar jackpot winner who was discovered to still be getting food stamps and the recent conviction of a market owner who paid bridge card holders 50 cents for each dollar spent at his store.

This is in addition to three Flint-area business owners who were charged with fraud for buying bridge cards and using tens of thousands of dollars in food assistance to stock their restaurant and catering operations with supplies.

The Office of Inspector General within the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) investigates all reports of public assistance abuse or fraud by either aid recipients or store owners.

In 2011, the DHS Inspector General’s office found $16.7 million worth of fraud in Michigan public assistance programs, down from $18.6 million in 2010.

If you suspect someone is getting benefits that they are not entitled to, please report it. You can do so by filling out a complaint form available on the DHS website at: www.michigan.gov/dhs. Under “Online Services” is a link to “Report Welfare Fraud.”

Complaints may also be made by calling the Welfare Fraud Hotline at: 1-800-222-8558. We owe it to the Southwest Michigan families who rely on this assistance and to all taxpayers paying the bills to eliminate fraud and abuse of this aid and ensure our limited resources are used appropriately.

Swim With Caution; Proper Water Safety Could Save Your Life

Following the hottest July on record, many Southwest Michigan families are heading to the lake or to the local swimming pool to beat the heat.

Swimming is a fun, healthy activity, and our state has an abundance of swimming opportunities with more than 11,000 inland lakes, more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline and a countless number of pools.

But with these opportunities come a certain amount of risk. If you head out to the water this summer, please take the necessary precautions to make it a safe trip, including taking swimming lessons, following safety guidelines and looking out for powerful rip currents.

As a former lifeguard, I know that our waters are not to be feared, but respected. The Great Lakes are some of our greatest treasures, but they also pose one of our greatest dangers.

The Great Lakes are not known for rip currents, but their riptides can be deadly. Riptides were cited as the main cause of more than 25 percent of the 87 drownings in the Great Lakes last year, and Lake Michigan’s currents claimed 17 lives in 2010.

The danger was recently made tragically clear. A well-known and respected Chicago pediatric surgeon was vacationing with his family in Lakeside. He saw two boys struggling in Lake Michigan, went to their aid and saved their lives. But sadly, he was then caught in the lake’s rip current and drowned. The death of a 41-year-old Illinois man off Tiscornia Beach was also determined to have been a result of riptides.

Before heading out onto the lake or to a local pool, please remember that taking swimming lessons, using proper safety precautions and checking beach and water conditions for riptides will help ensure a fun time and may even save your life.

Proos Lauds Stevensville for Getting Itself Out of a Jam

By William F. Ast III

Herald Palladium

STEVENSVILLE – Stevensville is a great example of how communities in financial trouble can pull themselves out of it, state Sen. John Proos told the Stevensville Village Council on Wednesday.

“This board knows all too well what that looks like, and it’s a challenge,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph, who was at the meeting to give council members a legislative update. But some governing units, including Detroit and Benton Harbor, have piled up debt so high they can’t cope with it, and that’s why the state’s emergency financial manager program was established, he said.

The state Board of Canvassers on Wednesday cleared petitions to put Public Act 4, the emergency financial manager law, on the November ballot, Proos said. State Attorney General Bill Schuette’s opinion is that the earlier version of the law, Public Act 72, is in effect until voters approve or disapprove Public Act 4, according to Proos.

Proos said an alternative is allowing the governing units to go bankrupt, but “I’m not sure that’s an option we want to face … all citizens of Michigan are then responsible for the debt. … I for one would not like to see a bankruptcy judge making these decisions.”

Stevensville ran into financial problems when former village manager Todd Gardner embezzled funds. In 2010 he was convicted in federal court of embezzling $272,758 in village funds and is now serving a 4-year, 4-month prison term. He was further sentenced to pay $272,758 in restitution and another $272,758 as punishment, though no one expects to ever see the money.

The village went into a self-imposed restructuring and is now financially sound again. The financial problems left by Gardner aren’t over, though, as 1st Source Bank is suing the village in U.S. District Court for $776,199 plus costs for loans the bank claims the village defaulted on.

Still, the village pulled itself out of its problems, and “that’s exactly what local control should be about, fixing the problem,” Proos said.

Also Wednesday, the council made preparations for a special meeting on Saturday to interview seven candidates for village manager. The position became vacant earlier this year when Joseph Sobieralski resigned to become Bangor city manager.

The council will meet at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and start interviewing candidates at 8:15 a.m. Council President Lori Gibson said the interviews will last into the afternoon.

Once the session is done, the council may have to call a special meeting to decide on two or three finalists, Gibson said after the meeting. The council set a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, to interview the finalists.

The candidates include Gary Bluschke, a St. Joseph Township trustee, and Tyanna Weller, former director of St. Joseph Today. The others are Brandon Mersman, project manager for the city of Holland, Patricia Snyder, management intern with the city of Jackson, Nathan Henne, management intern with the city of Mason, Jae Guetschow, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority in Blissfield, and Jarod Olson, management intern with the city of Clare.

Until a new manager is on board, the council voted to post Village Hall office hours on the front door every Monday. The village’s other office employees are part-time.

Berrien County Youth Fair Displays the Talent of our Youth, Builds Character

One of the highlights of summer takes place next week in Berrien Springs.

The talent of young people from across Southwest Michigan will be on display at the Berrien County Youth Fair, running from Aug. 13-18.

The event will include more than 14,000 exhibits ranging from dairy, beef and sheep to home economics and horticulture, presented by more than 2,500 youth from 5 to 20 years old.

These exhibits exemplify the fair’s vision: “Building the character of the community by developing the character of our youth.” As anyone who has displayed at a fair knows, it takes hard work and perseverance to produce a winning entry. And it makes winners out of all those who enter.

For more than six decades, the Berrien County Youth Fair has been honoring these young ladies and gentlemen for their hard work. This year the winners will be rewarded with cash prizes, trophies, savings bonds and gift certificates.

The county fair, one of the largest of its kind in the Midwest, also includes outstanding entertainment. This year the grandstand artists include Arkansas native and country music star Justin Moore and rock singer Bret Michaels.

The fair has consistently fulfilled its purpose of promoting and advancing the interests of agriculture, horticulture, household arts and related fields while instilling character in our young people and building a solid foundation for our future.

I applaud the Berrien County Youth Fair for their wonderful work in Southwest Michigan, and I encourage residents to join me at the fair.

For more information about the fair and to purchase grandstand tickets, please visit www.bcyf.org.