Lizzie Brown, a 2021 Glen Lake School graduate and 2023 Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) graduate who is currently enrolled at University of Michigan-Flint, reflects on her recent trip to Guatemala, and what she learned at a model preschool run by Planting Seeds International, a nonprofit with northern Michigan support.

Randy Chamberlain is well-known as an innovative chef. His experience at multiple restaurants around the region led to his establishing the fine dining experience, Blu, on the water in Glen Arbor. Running a successful restaurant requires a dedicated staff. Like virtually every other restaurant, the Chamberlains have scrambled to find enough workers. They eventually opted to hire foreign workers to make up for the shortfall, much like others before them in the hospitality industry. One of those workers, Süleyman Kanal, returned to his home in Turkey after working at both Boonedocks and Blu last summer, with plans to come back to work here this summer. But the massive earthquake that struck his home country in February changed everything. “His father is a furniture maker, and his shop was gone. Their home was gone. They had to dig through the rubble for mementos.” said Chamberlain, who began a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the Kanal family. Click here to read the story and for a link to the campaign.

Priest José Luis Díaz Cruz and Sergio Jose Cárdenas Flores, political asylees from Nicaragua, have been living in the rectory at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Empire since March after they escaped the autocratic Ortega regime, which has cracked down on dissent and persecuted the Roman Catholic Church. Originally from the city of Matagalpa, Díaz and Cárdenas were among dozens imprisoned for six months in the capital of Managua after living under house arrest in their church last August. In February, they were among 222 political prisoners flown to the United States after being forced to relinquish their Nicaraguan citizenship. “We’re offering them a safe place to be,” said Rev. Ken Stachnik at St. Philip Neri. “This is important because it’s in the gospel. We are watching out for those who are lost and have no place to go.” The push to bring the Nicaraguans to northern Michigan came from Reverend Wayne Dziekan with the Diocese of Gaylord and who co-directs the Justice and Peace Advocacy Center, an organization which helps asylees and migrant workers in northern Michigan. Matagalpa and Gaylord are sister diocese.

It’s a long way from Empire to Africa. Metaphorically speaking, it’s also a long way from clarinet to the 21-string African harp called the kora. Sean Gaskell has taken both journeys, and he will return to the Glen Lake Community Library on Monday, May 15, where he’ll play the kora, sing and tell stories in the tradition of the griots (kora masters).

Leelanau County resident Bo White knows the rails and roads into Ukraine. A former Air Force pararescueman, Bo has traveled to Ukraine four times since the war began in February 2022. A month into the war, he helped evacuate wounded Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall from a Ukrainian hospital. Bo’s handshake is a vice grip, but his wife Nicole is just as strong. Together they own Dune Bird Winery, which opened on M-22 north of Leland in late 2021. And they showed strength and resilience during their son Forrest’s 3.5-year battle with leukemia. “I’ve always been grateful that I can appreciate my husband, my family, and my life as a gift. It’s not guaranteed,” said Nicole. “A lot of us pretend that we can be safe. But I’ve never been able to pretend that. I’m grateful for what I have.”

Editor/publisher of the Glen Arbor Sun, Jacob Wheeler has written a new book titled “Angel of the Garbage Dump: How Hanley Denning Changed the World, One Child at a Time” (Mission Point Press), which recounts how a young woman from Maine launched a school in the hovels of the Guatemala City garbage dump and helped pull thousands of children out of the teeming filth of one of the largest urban landfills in the Americas. Join Wheeler for any of the following upcoming readings in Leelanau County: Suttons Bay Library (with Bay Books), Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 6 pm; Glen Arbor Arts Center (with fellow author Anne-Marie Oomen) Saturday, Nov. 26, at 11 am, and Glen Lake Library in Empire (with Cottage Book Shop), Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 7 pm.

In this essay published in our late August edition of the Sun, Empire native Jessica Sharry reflects on moving from Northern Michigan to Finland and back, on practicing yoga, on immigration, on food, and on nature.

Local troubadour and gardener Chris Skellenger and former Buckets of Rain treasurer Mike Binsfeld have created a new nonprofit called Row by Row, which helps economically challenged Guatemala women establish community gardens on vacant public land. Buckets of Rain previously taught bucket drip irrigation to communities in Lesotho and Detroit. Skellenger also plays guitar and sings at Boonedocks, Little Traverse Inn, French Valley Vineyard, Cherry Republic, and Lake Ann Brewery with an assortment of his musical friends. And Skellenger is the new nursery manager at the expanded Northwood’s Hardware & Garden Center in Glen Arbor. “We are so happy to have Chris Skellenger to help us get this going,” said co-owner Jeff Gietzen. “He is a skilled, legitimate nursery person.”

There is no real government support for Guatemala’s first responders. When they’re not on a fire or ambulance call, they are out in the streets getting donations in coffee cans from passing drivers to fund their meager salaries and minimal equipment. Most of them have to fight fires in jeans and t-shirts. Serious injuries are endemic to their work. When Guatemalan Fredy Maldonado showed Burdickville’s Mike Binsfeld the situation, Binsfeld stepped up the Buckets of Rain commitment to include money for fixing fire station roofs and ambulances, and to provide medicine for the community. Through his efforts and those of Leelanau County resident Kathy Fordyce and her outreach to local firefighters at the Cedar Fire Dept., desperately needed gear is now making its way to Guatemala.

“Come here, my joy, my happiness,” Liubov Shchegelska tells her grandson, Tim, in Ukrainian as the 2-year-old boy plays in the yard outside his parents’ Traverse City apartment. Tim’s parents are Viktor Grebennykov and Diana Grebennykova, natives of Ukraine who moved to northern Michigan in 2019 when Viktor—an Olympian in the 2012 London games—became coach of the Lake Leelanau Rowing Club. Liubov, who is Diana’s mom, could almost tune out the war ravaging her homeland—the conflict that sent her across borders and into the United States just two weeks before—but also allowed her to meet her grandchildren, Tim, and his 4-year-old sister, Ellis, for the very first time. On this day she could almost tune out the war. Almost.