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KzooConnect Top 10 Reasons We Love Where We Live

This year, while looking back at our favorite 2017 KzooConnect stories, we found ourselves both hopeful and excited about our region's future. A new generation of professionals is emerging. And with their leadership our collective prospects are bright!

They are creating careers that speak to their individual passions - they are doing work they truly love. At the same time, they are giving back in ways that are building a strong and vibrant place for us all. A place that's sustainable and growing economically. One where families thrive, food is an artisan experience, and cultural opportunities abound. So this year, our Top 10 reasons "Why We Love Where We Live" is all about the emerging leaders and their stories behind our list.

10. They work in service to others

What would a community be without great leaders in our arts, social service, and other nonprofit institutions? In 2017 we met a young woman who is pursuing her life's work in local healthcare. And we were introduced to two new executive directors of long-standing local institutions. Read about Cara Cunliffe in "Promise Grad-Giving Back Through Healthcare." Learn about the Douglass Community Association and its new director Chéree Thomas in "Growing the Mission." Then read about the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts' new director of advancement, Chris Schram in "From the Circus to the Zoo - One Man's Path to the KIA."

9. They make it their business to give back

While some of our emerging leaders work in the nonprofit sector, others are entrepreneurs at heart. And they've found creative ways to turn their business ventures into moneymakers for good. Read about Brodie Hock in "Peace, Love & Little Donuts." Learn how Patrick Mixis is feeding the world in "The Power of One." In "Walnut & Park - Coffee with a Cause," discover how co-managers Tera Staten and Casey Grisolono aren't just running a business, their transforming local lives.

8. They love where they live

Kalamazoo has been Oliver Howell's home since he was six months old. Oliver studied at Michigan State, the University of Michigan, City University of Hong Kong, and Westminster Law in London, but it is here in Kalamazoo that the 29-year-old plans to stay. He combines a passion for photography with a legal career where he helps local families with civil litigation, probate, estate planning, and business law. Learn more about him in "Lights, Camera, Courtroom - Adventures from Kolkata to Kalamazoo."

7. They maintain our land

We were thrilled to meet Ben Martin and Sarah Luetzow and to learn about their sustainable farming efforts. Through innovations in farming and business development, they grow a variety of healthy produce. And as part of their business model, they maintain a Community Supported Agriculture program. Learn more in "Soil Friends Farms."

6. They build community

In a two-part series, we met city planners who have made it their mission to help grow our community. Through their economic development work for the City of Kalamazoo, Ryan Simpson and Dwayne Powell Jr. are tasked with business and neighborhood development and growth. Find out how in "Kalamazoo's Own Dynamic Duo Works to Better the Community," parts one and two.

5. They spice up our lives

We met two young restaurateurs this year who've brought their exciting twist to the local culinary scene. Both are a part of the growing downtown business district with restaurants on East Michigan Avenue. AJ Danias, general manager of Fuze, wanted to create a restaurant that the city of Kalamazoo had never seen. Read about him in "New Fuze Restaurant Sparks Excitement in Downtown Kalamazoo." Mark Nieuwenhuis is the Founder of Kelvin & Company, a unique BBQ restaurant with an eclectic urban flair. Learn more in "Kalamazoo's Newest BBQ Masterpiece."

4. They make their work about family

One of the hallmarks of today's young professionals is their commitment to family. We met two couples in particular, that not only balance family and work, they make family a key component of their work. Kelly and Jeremy Willetts - both ministers - combine family time with programs at the church where Jeremy works and Kelly helps out. Read about them in the MOM Series post "Coffee and a Calling." Marty and Stephanie Moga both have full-time day jobs. But they combine that work with managing their small family farm where they grow hops for the local brewing industry. Each year their harvest is a major family event that draws help from their two kids, extended family and a host of friends. Read about them in "They Asked For It - A Couple's Journey to Growing Hop."

3. They honor their parents

While some of our emerging voices are building careers around a growing offspring, others find purpose through family businesses handed down from- or sometimes started with- their parents. Learn how Natalie Huff-Valentine is following in her father's footsteps in real estate, while adding to downtown Kalamazoo's resident living space in "Peregrine Takes Flight." Then meet mother and daughter entrepreneurs Denise and Kara Steely who've made the health of Kalamazoo their business in "DoughChicks - Healthy Food that Nests in Kalamazoo."

2. They protect and serve

Keeping residents safe is a basic responsibility of every community. It's an increasingly challenging task, especially in urban areas where houses sit closer together and homes and businesses share neighborhoods. But our regions urban core - the City of Kalamazoo - has been a leader in its community policing efforts for many years. In 2017, KzooConnect introduced us to two of the brave men and women who wear KDPS uniforms. Read about Lt. Anthony Morgan Jr. in "A Secret Superhero of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety." And meet Karrie Anne Thomas in "Work with a Purpose - Kalamazoo Makes History Again."

1. They honor our past

New businesses draw an economy forward. But love a region, and it's natural to want to pay homage to the past. So we were thrilled to discover a new enterprise that's a tribute to our region's industrial heritage. Read "Treystar Builds Upon The Foundry's History, Revives Legacy." Learn how the third generation of Treystar's
Brown family and the fifth generation of the Kalamazoo Foundry & Machine Company's Buckley family are building a legacy through The Foundry in the River's Edge District of Kalamazoo.

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