Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Services to Enhance Potential (STEP) Joins Broad Effort to Observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Nationwide campaign will take place in October

Services to Enhance Potential will be participating in the National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual awareness campaign that takes place each October. The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. This year's theme is "My disability is one part of who I am."

The history of National Disability Employment Awareness Month traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

"This year's theme encapsulates the important message that people with disabilities are just that — people," said Jennifer Sheehy, acting assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. "And like all people, we are the sum of many parts, including our work experiences. Disability is an important perspective we bring to the table, but, of course, it's not the only one."

Here at STEP we work hard to find opportunities to get the people we serve jobs that will lead to their increased independence and happiness. We offer a wide variety of options and programs to ensure those we serve or ready and comfortable to enter independent employment including retail classes, janitorial classes, supervised work crews, and employment readiness trainings just to name a few.

One thing that we cannot stress enough is something Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein said at the MI Hidden Talent event put on by the Livonia Chamber of Commerce, “This is not charity. This is about the idea that if you give a disabled person an opportunity . . . you are going to find the most highly energetic, highly passionate, most incredibly loyal people that you could ever possibly hope to employ.”

One of STEP’s partners had this to say about how giving those with a disability an opportunity has benefited them “DQB industries and STEP have had a mutually beneficial relationship for more years that we can remember. Dan and his crew (from STEP) are an integral part of DQB industries, and we credit our smooth-running packaging operation to all of their hard work and dedication to a job well done.”

Employers and employees in all industries can learn more about how to participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month and ways they can promote its messages — during October and throughout the year — by visiting You can also learn more about Services to Enhance Potential by visiting or emailing Steve Slayton at

Monday, September 14, 2015

Livonia Stevenson High School Turns 50 Three-Day Celebration Planned

Thousands of alumni from Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Livonia are expected to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary with a weekend of activities including the homecoming football game against rival Churchill High School.

“We plan to acknowledge and celebrate the 50 years of the consistently high level of academic, athletic and performing arts achievement as well as our outstanding alumni and our supportive community,” said retired principal Jim Gibbons, who spearheaded the planning efforts for the celebration.

The events will kick off on Thursday, October 22 with a commemorative dedication ceremony at 7 pm in the Stevenson Competition Gym. The event will be attended by school officials, students and local leaders but is also open to the public. A faculty and staff reunion and reception will follow in the north cafeteria.

On Friday, October 23, the Spartans will host Livonia Churchill in the annual Stevenson Homecoming Game at 7 PM. Alumni classes and groups will gather at the stadium before and during the game and some will participate in a parade of alumni around the track by decade and grad year. Local businesses and alumni vendors will be on hand for the evening.

Saturday, October 24, from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM an all class reunion will be held in the Field House and the school building will be available for an open house. The set up will be similar to Friday evening with vendors and alumni gathering in the Field House. Music and Performing Arts, Student Leadership, Global Education and Athletics will host their alumni in designated areas of the school.

“Our events will commemorate Stevenson High School’s unique and high profile beginning as the first high school in the country to be named after Adlai E. Stevenson and to one of a few, if not the only high school, to be dedicated by the sitting Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey,” said Gibbons.

Several sponsorship opportunities are available. All proceeds will cover the costs of the celebration and anything extra will be donated back to the school. For more information visit Livonia Stevenson 50th Web Page or email

We encourage alumni and former staff members to connect via the Livonia Stevenson 50th Web Page and to spread the word.

"It's a really exciting opportunity to be able to take a look back at a half century of history at a place that I have been associated with for over half my life, between being a teacher and a student." stated Craig Barker, SHS '96.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Business, education, and elected leaders from several western Wayne County communities bent the ear of Governor Rick Snyder’s top advisor on workforce development on Tuesday, July 28.
Michigan Talent Investment Agency’s Stephanie Comai
 and AlphaUSA’s Chuck Dardas listen to the workforce
discussion with leaders from across Western Wayne County. 

Stephanie Comai, director of the newly created Michigan Talent Investment Agency, met for two hours with a group from Livonia, Westland, Wayne, Northville, Plymouth and Canton at Schoolcraft College. The focus was on the state’s shortage of young people pursuing careers in skilled trades, technology, and construction. Most of these positions only require one or two years of post-secondary education, and often pay more than many who earn a bachelor’s degree.
“Locally, statewide and nationally, we are all looking for talent but we are concerned the feedstock is dwindling in our workspace,” said Chuck Dardas, president and COO of Livonia-based manufacturer AlphaUSA.
Comai said her agency, created by the Governor in March, is charged with developing state initiatives that better prepares young people for in-demand jobs.
“We need to overcome the stereotypes that exist about skilled trades,” Comai said. “We plan to begin focus groups with parents to identify what they need to hear so they encourage their children to look at these careers.”
Paul Bohn, a lawyer and partner with the Northville-based firm Fausone Bohn, said there are programming gaps in education and there are unreasonable state demands for professionals to teach career technical education (CTE) classes.
“Guys like Chuck Dardas, who is an accountant and successful chief executive of a manufacturing company for many years is not ‘qualified’ to teach a business class in a Michigan school,” Bohn said.
Comai acknowledged CTE certification requirements are “horrifying.”
Educators detailed challenges they face promoting CTE and science, technology, engineering, and math programs (STEM).  With the need for education cuts in recent years, educators said limited demand for such curriculum made CTE programs an easy target for the budget ax. Additionally, local educators identified other issues:
Mark Bondy, who runs CTE programs for Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, said the district recently used $1.5 million from a bond issue to enhance STEM labs, but there are not enough students using these labs.
Ann Owen, principal of Livonia’s Emerson Middle School, said she consistently sees seventh and eighth graders drop out of school. She suggested more active and engaging classes, such as robust shop classes, might keep these at-risk students in school.
Dr. Michele Harmala, superintendent of Wayne-Westland schools, said technical education is primarily discussed at high school and college level, but it needs to be introduced at younger ages, which may entice more students to these careers. 
Employers like Ted Barker, who runs Livonia-based Shaw Construction and Management Co., said there is a lack of awareness about opportunities in his industry.
“We have a lot of employees who make a very good living working for us, and only two of them have a bachelor’s degree,” Barker said.
Harmala said CTE is a less-expensive option for parents concerned about the costs of their child’s college education. And in many cases, Harmala added a motivated, experienced young worker with an associate’s degree will have a chance to earn a business, engineering, or management bachelor’s degree with the expense covered by their employer. 
Other leaders involved in the discussion included: Dr. Randy Liepa, the outgoing Livonia schools superintendent who will soon lead Wayne RESA; Dr. Michael Meissen, superintendent of Plymouth-Canton schools; Mayor Jack Kirksey of Livonia; Supervisor Phil LaJoy of Canton Township; and Supervisor Shannon Price of Plymouth Township.


There are more in Livonia than many realize

There has been a lot of talk this summer about the concept of creating a downtown Livonia.

The effort by a group of Livonia residents, who call themselves the Livonia Downtown Partnership, started with a focus on a potential redevelopment of the Kmart site at Seven Mile and Farmington. However, the ideas grew to seek trendy retail and restaurant redevelopments at other locations, and a coordinated series of modern redevelopments along all of Farmington Road.

There will be much debate in the future about what can and cannot be done, but this group should be applauded for their enthusiasm and collaboration with a goal of making Livonia a better place.

One common message that came from the ideas gathered by this group was the desire for more “mom and pop shops,” and less chain stores and restaurants. Ideally, their vision of a “downtown-like” development would include several unique stores and restaurants.

Livonia already has a number of family-owned, unique stores and restaurants – they are just scattered across our 36-square-mile city.

Here is a starting list of independently-run operated shops and restaurants in Livonia.

Joe’s Produce, in its 70th year, is one of metro Detroit’s premier food stores. Blazo’s Pie Shoppe offers fresh-made pies and other Michigan-made products next to Senate Coney Island. The recently-expanded Wine Palace includes fresh-made food. Town Peddler on Plymouth Road has been known for its knick-knacks for years. Colleen’s Gaelic Gifts on Farmington Road has featured its Irish inventory for more than a decade.

My Hobby Place on Plymouth at Farmington is a comfortable place to buy toys. Laurel Park Place Mall is a comfortable size shopping center with several independent stores, such as Pro Sports Zone and The Olive Store. The TRI Shop, a triathlete specialty store on Plymouth near Levan. Bill and Rod’s Appliance store on Middlebelt features cooking demonstrations, and d.vine fine wines on Haggerty has a comprehensive focus on unique wines.

Livonia has a number of independently-run restaurants. On Plymouth Road, there is Mama Mia’s, which is undergoing renovations, Annie’s Family Restaurant, Archie’s, Luigi’s Pizza CafĂ©, the historic Daly’s restaurant, Las Palapas Mexican Restaurant, and Thomas’ Family Restaurant. There’s Steve’s Family Dining on Middlebelt, G. Subu’s Leather Bottle on Farmington, Tahini Mediterranean Bakery and Grill on Haggerty, and the quaint Blue Plate Diner on Seven Mile.

Livonia features some famous carry-out places with the Detroit Bagel Co., Bates Hamburgers, Tony Baloney’s sub shop, Primo’s Pizza, and the Dairy Barn.

And there is a variety of bars in Livonia: The craft beer selection at One Under, the famous hamburgers at Mason’s, and the revamped sports watching and dining venues at George Murphy’s, Coaches Corner, Time Out Bar and Grill, and O’Malley’s.

This is just to name a few. The bottom line: Livonia has a lot of great places to shop, dine, and have fun – probably more of a selection than most suburban communities. You just might have to take a quick drive to get there. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Joe’s Produce celebrates 70th anniversary

Today, Joe’s Produce has 31,000 square feet to display fruits,
vegetables, baked goods, prepared meals,
 and variety of beverages.
Livonians have visited the same Seven Mile Road location to buy fruit longer than they’ve been going to city hall.

As one of Livonia’s longest-lasting businesses, Joe’s Produce celebrated its 70th anniversary Aug. 1 with a customer appreciation.

“We’ve grown with the community,” said Joe Maiorana Jr., the operation’s third-generation owner. “We’ve always had a great customer base here in Livonia, and we would not have lasted this long without our many loyal customers in this town.”

A young Joe Maiorana Jr. stands with her grandmother,
Frances, in front of the Maiorana Orchards
fruit stand on in the early-1960s
Joe’s grandfather, Gaspare Maiorana purchased a 40-acre farm off Seven Mile in 1945 – five years before Livonia chartered as a city. On this farm, Gaspare built a fruit stand where he sold items he harvested from the farm which was known as Maiorana Orchards.

Gaspare’s son, Joe, built a 6,500-square-foot store on farm property in 1967 and called it Joe’s Produce. The new building enabled the family business to offer more products for its customers, such as vegetables and dairy items. He expanded the store in 1985 with another 12,000 square feet for more refrigerated products and prepared salads.

Owner Joe Maiorana Jr. stands with
Produce Manager George Gjnoaj.
Joe Maiorana Sr. retired in 1997 and turned things over to his son. Joe Jr. oversaw another expansion, completed in spring 2007, which added another 12,500 square feet for larger displays and aisles, new sections for deli, prepared hot and cold meals, specialty baked goods and coffee. The building’s exterior was also renovated. The Livonia Chamber of Commerce recognized Joe’s Produce for this project with a Livonia Community Enhancement Award.

Joe Maiorana Jr. said adding prepared foods enabled the business to branch out and offer more services. A catering operation, Joe’s Gourmet Catering, developed in 2007. Two new food stores emerged in the adjacent strip center in 2012 with Joe’s Meat and Seafood and Art of Bread.

Joe’s Produce expanded its services by adding
 Joe’s Meats and Seafood and Art of Bread in 2012.
“Having the fresh meat and fresh bread available here all the time is good for our customers and our catering operation,” Maiorana said. “Not many catering operations can say everything was made from scratch at one place.”

Dan West, president of the Livonia Chamber of Commerce, said people travel from miles away to shop at any of the Joe’s stores because they know they are buying quality products.

“Joe’s Produce is one of Livonia’s signature businesses,” West said.

Joe Maiorana Jr. stands in front of at the
entrance into Joe’s Produce, featuring an
outdoor display as tribute to the fruit
 stand his grandfather built to
start the family business.
Maiorana credits his staff of 150 employees for the continued success of the store, many of whom are veteran employees such as produce manager George Gjonaj, who has worked at the store for 28 years. He also praises the work of 14 trained culinarians and other conscious managers.

“They are meticulous and take their time to do a good job,” Maiorana said. “They always talk about how they are willing to experiment and try to do things differently, to keep things fresh.”

Seven decades in business is an enormous sense of pride for the Maiorana family, many of whom worked on the farm or in the store. As a boy, Maiorana remembers a poignant comment his father made to him in 1970. He pointed to a Joe’s Produce logo and said: “That’s what you’re going to do.”

Today, Joe Sr. is enjoying retired life in Florida, but visits and embraces the decisions that helped Joe’s Produce evolve from a family farm into one of metro Detroit’s premier food markets. 

“My dad really likes the changes,” Joe Jr. said. “My grandfather would also be impressed.”