Did My Agent Call?


Jan 2016 Import 018

You have to understand I consider myself the Forest Gumpess of my Midwestern city. I say this because of the critical intersections of my life with the leaders of the city that, even though they are unknown to the vast majority, were still part of major movements at the time. I worked with a Congress on Racial Equality leader, an early civil rights attorney, a police community relations trailblazer acknowledged by the White House, conferenced with two mayors and the director of municipal corrections. Helped another social services leader get her community projects off the ground before she was nominated to the President’s Council on Volunteers. After the riots, organized mediation between the business owners and the residents, helped parents lobby for changes at the largest high school, organized fundamental changes in the way the school board was elected, and garnered community members for boards of Model Cities, urban renewal, and other governmental programs. I worked on the model for Habitat for Humanity before it was Habitat and helped another trailblazer push fair housing before it was the law. I worked with the human relations commissions of both cities and helped integrate a neighborhood. I kept a lookout over the property where a prominent leader built his cultural center while I worked at City Hall so I could notify him of any Planning and Zoning potential threats to the property. Continue reading

No Other Way


This is one of the most comforting poems I know and I wanted to share it with you today!

NO OTHER WAY by Martha Smock


Could we but see the pattern of our days,

We should discern how devious were the ways

By which we came to this, the present time,

This place in life; and we should see the climb

Our soul has made up through the years.

We should forget the hurts, the wanderings, the fears,

The wastelands of our life, and know

That we could come no other way or grow

Into our good without these steps our feet

Found hard to take, our faith found hard to meet.

The road of life winds on, and we like travelers go

From turn to turn until we come to know

The truth that life is endless and that we

Forever are inhabitants of all eternity.





Schools Support Small Businesses


Note: I published this article previously  in Small Business Monthly. 


Facts about these programs open your access to improving current employee morale and securing qualified new talent.

businessman blasting off on rocket clipart

School to Career programs structure links between companies and students that result in improved performance for business owners and schools while increasing levels of employability for students. Connecting activities such as mentoring, internships, job shadowing, and teacher externships are reshaping the relationships between employees, employers, students and educators. These programs extend beyond the ususal “manual” skills that some businesses have historically used and beyond the usual “co-op” arrangements between schools and a few select businesses. STC is the potent, state-of-the-art way to tap into the people small business needs to maintain competitive profitability.

Return on Investment                                                                       $$$$$$$$$$$

The Learning Exchange reveals that three of four companies studied experienced cost benefit ratios of .40 to 3.21 with their School to Career (STC) programs (dollar value of benefits divided by dollar value of program costs). A National Employer Leadership Council report considers these partnershps “intelligent investment of resources” rather than “risky business.” Programs are flourishing nationally, from Miami to New York. Philadelphia programs, for example, have resulted in a 10% increase in grade point averages (GPA) of students, over 8% decrease in dropout rates, over 8% increase in attendance and a higher percentage of students employed and continuing education. Similiar results have been achieved locally. The Grain Valley, KS district believes the STC programs have contributed to an 8% reduction in dropout rate. Their persistence to graduation rates have increased as well. Employers cite reduced training, recruitment and supervision costs, increased retention, productivity and morale, favorable publicity, and increased workplace diversity.

Traditional hiring computes the cost of benefits, wage, and training. STC programs change that equation by reducing training, recruitment, supervision, turnover rates and increasing productivity through investing in students while in school programs.   Business owners have known that academic achievement translates to better employees, but a direct vehicle for making that translation has not been structured until the STC movement. Youth apprenticeship, for example, can reduce costs by 50% through tax credits and set asides. Additional savings have been measured in lower absenteeism and increased loyalty. The employer has a chance to “prove” the candidate for a longer period prior to hiring than the normal 60 days. In addition, the employer gains an advocate not on his or her payroll: STC liaisons.

Harmon Industries in Independence, MO is excited about the benefits. Harmon has been able to recruit exceptional talent, improve their own in-house engineering training, provide low-cost professional development, improve worker image and obtain state reimbursement for training costs. Their many programs include internships in shipping, machine tool, computer programming, drafting and other skills. One student actually designed the floor plan of the new corporate headquarters off I-70; another helped ease a drafting vacancy. Harmon has used job shadowing, mentoring, teacher externships, and internships along with a Career Institute. The company collaborates with Grain Valley, Independence, Raytown and other districts. Students who formerly may have shown a lack of engagement or a sense of belonging now report as seniors that the business principles and team training they received in the STC programs invaluable. Harmon hires directly from these proven participants.

Other smaller companies report similar results. Pat Meyer of Meyer Music has participated in shadowing. Small businesses have been able to interview better workers who know about business manners, customer service, communication and calculation skills. Claridge Court, General Reinsurance, Interim Technologies, Goldblatt Architecture, Timberlake Care Center, and Platte Woods Animal Hospital are just some of the companies who have participated in teacher externships and other connecting activities. Technical assistance is available for business owners.

Customized Training

The win-win STC partnership between schools and companies provide low or no cost training for employers. The Business and Technology College (BTC-part of the Metropolitan Community College system), Johnson County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College as well as professional associations such as the National Tool and Machining Association have developed articulation agreements with schools. These agreements provide for credit for coursework and experience while in high school. The BTC cooperates with small businesses to assist in recruitment and customize training of these prospective employees. Every articulated credit means training that the business owner does not pay for. These students are often hired in full time jobs before they complete the courses because of demand. They then finish their coursework on a part-time basis. Because there is a clear path between high school coursework and employment, between student and employer, these students are motivated to perform and will continue to improve through advanced coursework and training.

The Business & Technology College (BTC) is a local leader in STC initiatives and a variety of career development professionals. Martha Boyd, Director of Training for the BTC, can introduce employers to job and task analysis, organizational needs assessments, hiring, promotional and gap analysis or one-person, as-needed training. Blue Bunny routinely sends one support person every year or year-and-a-half for software training. The Center offers one day seminars with an open entry and exit lab for certain skill needs. A big advantage to small business owners is an applicant screening service which complies with ADA, EEOC, and other legal requirements. The BTC also offers ISO training.

Plugging In

A sampling of high school coursework in area school districts and area vocational technical schools (AVTS) shows the broad range of skills being provided with tax dollars. This exclusive survey attempts as accurately as possible to cue employers into specific skill programs and students. Small businesses can begin to develop mentoring, job shadowing, internships and other programs in the skills they need by working with the STC Coordinator or designated liaison in the district. For a list of contact persons at area districts, contact the district or the author. The Institute for Workforce Education in Columbia and the American Federation of Teachers also provide informational materials. Employers who want more business than usual take initiatives that are more than usual. Order your success soon by plugging into STC programs!































































































The Celebrated Birdman of Grandview


Gackles, cardinals, finches, sparrows and robins flocked to the backyard that held each one’s special mix of bird food year round. Most of the neighbors kept their feeders supplied in the winter, but didn’t think they needed to in the summer. Spring and fall contained lots of berries and rains made lots of puddles for thirsty birds. But George, the celebrated birdman of Grandview, knew better and continued to keep his feeders supplied year round.

One day he left to go to his 50th high school reunion. There he met the girl of his dreams, Marian, the one whom he had been too shy to speak to when he was in the 4th grade. Yet, there she was, so many years later. He couldn’t believe it. George’s romance began to take him away from home for longer and longer periods of time. The feeder food and birdbath water began to subside and he was hard pressed to keep them full in between his absences.

Once when he was breakfasting, he glanced out the window to see a gackle perched and peering into his back porch window. Cocking its head, it opened its beak and made sounds which George could not hear through the patio door. Watching the bird closely, he noticed it was flying back and forth rapidly from the feeder, the bird bath and the back porch swing. In between its stops, it would peer at him more and more, almost like a glare at times, and futilely move its beak as if praying for some message to get through.


George finally went outside and noticed the bird bath was a little low. He filled it and yet the birds continued to flock back and forth, chirping their instructions. It was now September and the winds were getting colder. George bundled up his blue flannel shirt tighter and looked at the clouds racing across the sky. His bird companions continued to flutter and were now perched on the birdbath but not drinking. Instead, they seemed to be eyeing George and dipping a talon tenatively in the bath.gackle

George wondered what this unusual behavior could mean but filled the bath again. Again, the birds took turns perching and dipping but not ever depleting the supply of water. Suddenly, a fly, boxelder bug, and a spider crawled out from under a corner of the Adriondack chair next to the birdbath and three birds each dove and picked one up in its beak. They gingerly placed the insects in the birdbath and watched them swim around, yet they did not try to eat them.

spider          Shaking his head, George went back to his Laz-y-Boy recliner to watch his Nature channel show. The urgent spokesman came on and George was about to turn him off when George found he was advertising an appliance he had looked for a long time and had not found: an electric birdbath warmer. He could hardly believe his ears and eyes because it had been over a year since he had seen one advertised but he had misplaced the catalog with it advertised in it (he often forgot things if he slept in between times). Now, here was his second chance. He whipped out his credit card, dialed the number, and ordered it lickety split. He paid the express surcharge since the winds were now getting stiff and the temperature dropping. The birds were observing the transaction from their perches on the back porch.

The next day the electric warmer arrived and George could hardly wait to get it installed. The birds watched with interest and George stepped back to admire his work. It wasn’t but a few minutes, though, until he noticed the birds were catching more flies, spiders, and bugs for the birdbath. One even caught a grasshopper. George just shook his head and went to bed, but not before he called Marian , who didn’t have an explanation for the birds’ strange behavior either.

The next morning he sat on the porch enjoying the crisp air, the sunrise, and coffee in his favorite cup and watching his cat, Little Orphan Annie, playing with her ball of string. He noticed how much smaller the ball was than yesterday and this fact gave him pause, but, again, he had slept since then. A raucous chorus of bird cries drew his attention. Turning to the birdbath, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The heated birdbath water was steaming and swirling in a miniature hot tub as the insects tied to the center swam around and around. The gackle had tied a piece of string to the grasshopper and was hopping in and out of the foam.   The sparrow was soaking its feet in the water next to the cardinal, who was just taking off his sunglasses. The robin was drying his wing on a towel and oiling its wings. But worst of all the finch was water skiing by following the fly and spider around the birdbath as they pulled him as fast as they wanted to escape.


George blinked but it was all true. The bird spa and resort was fully operational and migrations were coming in from the north. Soon, he couldn’t see his back porch, but he wasn’t afraid. These were his friends and, after all, he was the celebrated Birdman of Grandview. He went down to his woodshop and began making the frame for the beach canopy.birdbath

© September 15, 2002 Shirley A Fessel