By Alicia Gillman

When you think of a homeless shelter, what comes to mind? Do you envision a rundown facility full of people wearing rags for clothing? Do you think of unmotivated people with poor hygiene habits? Do you imagine a dreary room full of cheap bunk beds? If you did, you’re not alone. A year ago, I had some of these same thoughts as I was told that Carriage Town Ministries, a homeless shelter in downtown Flint, would be housing the immersion group for Alternative Spring Break (ASB).

Untitled5The 2014 Alternative Spring Break Board, now known as the Alternative Breaks Committee, wanted to pilot a STAY-cation program that would provide a “traditional ASB experience” for ten UM-Flint students. For those that are not familiar with the “traditional” ASB model, most schools organize service trips that allow them to travel to a different city or country. Given the tremendous need in the Flint community, the Alternative Breaks Committee keeps our ASB trips local. While keeping it local allows students to become familiar with the Flint community by exposing them to the needs right in our own backyard, it does change the student experience during ASB. With limited funds and lodging options, the Alternative Breaks Committee was struggling to find suitable housing for the STAY-cation participants until Carriage Town Ministries generously allowed the group to stay in one of their transition homes for the week. As one of the team leaders, let me be the first to tell you I was skeptical of this arrangement. Was it going to be safe? What about the cleanliness of the transition home?

Untitled2When the week of ASB arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. The transition home, one of several owned and operated through Carriage Town Ministries, was a beautifully remodeled Victorian home just a few block from campus. Our four day stay there was wonderful and humbling. Our group had the pleasure of staying with two other residents who were transitioning from homelessness to living on their own. They were friendly, hard-working (& clean) people who just needed a little extra support getting back on their feet.

During our ASB, the STAY-cation service project was also at Carriage Town Ministries. In fact, our project was conveniently located next door to our transition home. With the help of a $5,000 grant from Southwest Airlines, ASB was able to purchase enough drywall for the entire transition home and we spent the entire week hanging it. Carriage Town Ministries is a non-profit organization that serves the Flint community year round, providing meals, shelter, clothing, medical care and more to the homeless and hungry. As a result work on the transition homes is dependent solely on donations of time, money, and supplies. Though we were not able to drywall the entire house during our short time at Carriage Town Ministries, we have since gone back to continue our project.

Untitled3It is amazing to see where we started and the condition of the house now. We started with studs and cracked plaster ceilings. Now, the house is slowly coming together as our group, the staff at Carriage Town Ministries, and other outside organizations continue to work on it. For ASB 2015, we will continue our work on the transition house and plan to spend the week painting.

Alternative Spring Break is advertised as “The week that lasts a lifetime” but I didn’t know how true this statement was until I stayed and served at Carriage Town Ministries this past March. I am thankful for all that I have. The friends, the family, the education, the experiences, and the opportunities that I have are truly wonderful. During ASB I realized how important it is to be open-minded, to be hardworking, to be humble, and most importantly, to be kind. When I look back on this experience, I am reminded that while my service may seem like only a small contribution, collectively, we can make an impact and change lives for the better.

For more information about Alternative Break Programs, please visit:

By Nic Custer

Imagine you are riding in an elevator with a venture capitalist. You have less than one minute before they reach their destination and one chance to convince them why they should invest $100,000 in your business concept. Do you think you could do it?

pitch-clinicThis is the central premise behind a so called “elevator pitch.” Flint residents will have two opportunities to pitch their big ideas in early 2015. First, UM-Flint’s School of Management is holding a Business Plan Competition to celebrate its 40th anniversary. The winning student or alum will receive a $5,000 grand prize. The second competition, sponsored by Michigan State University’s Spartan Innovations, is called Greenlight Flint. This competition is open to anyone in the community as long as their business is less than one year old. The grand prize will also be $5,000 but there will be an additional $5,000 in prizes for second place, third place and crowd favorite. First place will also receive automatic entry to the statewide Greenlight Michigan competition in East Lansing to compete for a $25,000 prize.

To prepare students and community members for the upcoming competitions, the Innovation Incubator partnered with the UM-Flint Entrepreneurs Society to hold a 3-hour business pitch clinic Nov. 20. The clinic coincided with Global Entrepreneurship Week and was one of only nine events in Michigan that celebrated innovators and start-up businesses.

More than 20 people attended the clinic, learning the basics and watching winning competition pitch videos.

Dr. Michael Witt, entrepreneur-in-residence and lecturer in the School of Management, told attendees that a pitch needs to have a hook, should ask for a specific amount and should be 150 – 300 words long. He said the presenters need to have a thick skin when trying to pitch to potential investors. They also need to show they are passionate, have energy and enthusiasm for their idea and how they will make a profit.

A good pitch covers six basics:

  1. What are the products or services offered?
  2. Who is your market?
  3. What is your revenue model
  4. Who are you?
  5. Who is your competition?
  6. What are your advantages and what makes you different?

Eight people pitched their ideas and received feedback from Dr. Witt and President Bryon Killin of the Entrepreneurs Society. Business ideas included a mobile sushi truck, a fire safety coloring book, a mesh internet network, a bib with attached pacifier and a housing redevelopment project. Audience members who didn’t pitch their concepts were able to benefit by hearing the critiques other people received on their pitches and applying it to their own ideas and approaches.

Want to give it a try? Apply these basic rules to your own concept to develop a great pitch and maybe you could be the next grand prize winner.


UM-Flint School of Management Business Plan Competition
Greenlight Flint
Innovation Incubator
Global Entrepreneurship Week