ELi Honored with East Lansing's Public Service Award

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Friday, April 20, 2018, 10:53 am
Alice Dreger and Ann Nichols

(Disclosure: Alice Dreger is the founder and Publisher of ELi, and Ann Nichols is the Managing Editor of ELi. We didn’t have time to recruit an unbiased reporter for this story.)

The people who bring East Lansing local news through East Lansing Info (ELi) have been honored by the City of East Lansing with the 2018 Crystal Award for an organization contributing to community life. Four individuals were also honored with Crystal Awards for their work in the community: Jeff Kusler, Christine Root, and Karen and Jerry Jennings.

Mayor Mark Meadows began the ceremony by calling this a “very prestigious award” and noting that the annual award has now been a community event for three decades. Meadows introduced the M.C. for the event, Council Member Ruth Beier, who thanked the members of this years’ selection committee: Stephanie Peña, Karessa Wheeler, Brandon Scott, and Susan Woods. (Wheeler is ELi’s lead Schools reporter and provided factual information about ELi’s work to the selection committee but recused herself from the vote involving ELi.)

Below: Mayor Mark Meadows at the awards ceremony

Before getting to the Crystal Awards, Beier recognized staff members of the City of East Lansing who received awards from their colleagues for outstanding service in the past year. These include the Department of Public Works (DPW) staff member Ralph Pierce, who was named Rookie of the Year for his dedication and for being someone who “doesn’t hesitate to step in where we need work done” and housing administrator Annette Irwin, winner of the Spirit of the City Award, whose motto is “Do unto others as you would have done to you.”

Beier relayed that Sarah Cheesbro of 54B District Court had been individually recognized with the Outstanding Service award and also as part of the Team of the Year, the 54B Court’s Probation Department. East Lansing DWP’s Homer Allen has been named East Lansing’s Employee of the Year for consistently exceeding expectations and making the East Lansing community safer.

Below: Homer Allen, Employee of the Year, in a photo from the City of East Lansing

The Crystal Award commendation of ELi indicated ELi was being “honored for its continued dedication as a local, nonprofit online news source. From its inception, ELi has engaged community members in reporting that has strived to keep East Lansing informed about the people, activities and issues in the community. Motivated by the power and responsibility to do better for the community, ELi has successfully brought attention to news and community events that would otherwise go uncovered in larger news platforms.”

Below, left to right: Jerry Jennings, Karen Jennings, Alice Dreger, Ann Nichols, Christine Root, and Jeffrey Kusler in a photo courtesy City of East Lansing

ELi was also praised for “continuously raising questions and bringing forth discussions that engage residents at higher rates than before its creation,” and for engaging local youth in reporting, including through our Summer Youth Journalism Program. (The details of this year’s summer program will be announced next week at ELi.)

Alice Dreger, founder and Publisher of ELi, and Ann Nichols, Managing Editor of ELi, accepted the award for the team. People present at the event who have worked with ELi came up to the front of the room with them, representing just a fraction of the people who have contributed to ELi. Those present included Board of Directors members Merem Frierson and Michael Lawrence and reporters Paige Filice, Chris Wardell, Jessy Gregg, Chris Root, John Kloswick, Karessa Wheeler, Val Thonger, Ken Sperber, Kepler Domurat-Sousa, and Aron Sousa.

Formally accepting the award with Nichols, Dreger said it was an honor to work for this team. She praised Nichols as the person most responsible for bringing forward meaningful, thoughtful, deep news that matters to this community through ELi.

After the ceremony, we decided the crystal goblet award will now be passed from one ELi team member to another, similar to the tradition with the Stanley Cup. It will first go to the home of Val Thonger and Ken Sperber, who are ELi’s calendar editors and proofing team, and who have also worked for ELi as reporters and on fundraising campaigns. Sperber tells ELi they will “host it with pride.”

Jeffrey Kusler was the first recipient of the 2018 Crystal Award for an individual, recognized for giving over 500 hours of voluntary service to the people of East Lansing. In her praise of him, Beier noted Kusler has served on the Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Management Board and was being honored for “ensuring the community has a more prosperous economic future” and for ensuring that East Lansing is “a more inclusive community.” He has worked on countless projects, including the solar panels in Burcham Park, the pop-up ice skating rink in Valley Court Park, and outdoor concerts downtown.

Below: Jeff Kusler receiving his Crystal Award

Upon receiving his award, Kusler explained he had moved to East Lansing from the Netherlands 25 years ago as a child, and “ever since then it has been my home.” He learned English, attended ELPS, and then later earned his MBA at MSU. He thanked everyone who serves on East Lansing’s boards and commissions and said his “feeling is that in being engaged, one person can make a difference.” He thanked Council for “doing an incredible job making this a wonderful place to live and work.”

Below: Council member Ruth Beier at the award ceremony

Karen and Jerry Jennings were recognized as a couple for “caring deeply about the community” and for inspiring others to join them in local community service. The Jennings have worked to bring East Lansing arts, children’s events, and the Great Lakes Folk Festival, and, in the words of the selection committee, they have “served with wisdom on community boards to pursue the greater good.” While the Jennings are retired from paid work, they remain very active in helping community organizations all over the area and mentoring others.

Below: Karen and Jerry Jennings with Ruth Beier and Mark Meadows

Receiving the award, Karen Jennings said they chose to retire in East Lansing “because it is a great place to be retired.” She said she was “honored and humbled” to accept the award. Jerry said he shared Karen’s surprise at winning, and said, “I think what we do is just try to show up. We are really committed to this community.” He said they look forward to working on what comes next in the life of the Great Lakes Folk Festival. He said they are “happy to be part of that flow of energy” and expressed thanks for the honor bestowed upon them.

Below: Council Member Aaron Stephens takes coats (and is offered a tip from Mike Vsievich) at the ceremony

The final individual award went to Christine (Chris) Root. Beier said Root is “found doing things about which others say ‘someone should do something.’” Beier called her quiet and likely to be found behind the scenes, but always reliable and able to be counted on to get real work done. Beier said that Root’s preference was “to stay out of the limelight” but that “friends and neighbors have violated that to give her the honor [Root] deserves.” (Disclosure: Alice Dreger and Ann Nichols nominated Root for this award.)

Root has worked with local police to develop policies on fair and equal policing, she has advocated for social justice, voluntarily reported for ELi on government and finance, and was a founding member of East Lansing Citizens Concerned. In retirement from MSU, Root continues to work to archive materials on African activism, her area of scholarship.

Below: Chris Root speaks after receiving her Crystal Award

Root thanked Beier for her remarks and said she never expected to get involved in East Lansing-focused activities, but that she loves East Lansing, living near downtown and the university, and working with “other folks on things we’re concerned about in East Lansing.” She said she appreciates when people do work for East Lansing that is “based on facts. That is always important and it is especially important now.”

Concluding the ceremony, Beier agreed with Root and said this year’s was “a great crop of award winners” and “this makes me want to stay here forever.”


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