Hatching A Community
By Jennifer Lovy
A large part of Nick Gorga's narrative is the quintessential story of an idea-turned-grassroots initiative that led to a multitude of impactful opportunities for entrepreneurs in Detroit.
In 2010, this 46-year-old Bloomfield Village attorney started Hatch Detroit, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting independent small businesses through funding, education, exposure and mentorship.
Gorga conceived the idea of Hatch while he and his wife Shanna, both Detroit-area natives, lived in Chicago and were preparing to return to Michigan to be closer to family.
One of Gorga's priorities upon returning home would be to find a way to help Detroit and its residents move forward on the heels of the Great Recession.
Reflecting on his time in the Windy City, Gorga says the couple appreciated how the neighborhoods coalesced around the retail in the area.
"The shops, bars and restaurants all reflected the character of the neighborhood, and people tended to move to certain areas because they liked that vibe and the sense of community reflected in the retail offerings," Gorga explains.
When he thought about what brick-and-mortar retailers would need to start and maintain a successful business in Detroit, it was clear that capital and attention were the two most important factors, and Hatch would provide both.
Each year, hundreds of applicants submit a proposal for funding. Hatch requires that the businesses be permanent physical places — no food trucks or online businesses; think retail, bars, restaurants, gyms, yoga studios, art galleries, etc.
A committee narrows the pool of applicants to 10. From there, four finalists are chosen through community-wide voting. A panel of judges, combined with additional community voting, decides which business will win a $100,000 cash prize from Comerica Bank, plus $100,000 or more in in-kind services such as legal and accounting.
Although only one business gets the grand prize, the nine other finalists benefit from the competition's publicity and future guidance from the organization.
Since the contest began, more than 50 Hatch alumni businesses have opened a storefront, crediting the competition as a significant accelerator in their launch.
Some standout winners include Baobab Fare, a nationally recognized restaurant, and Sister Pie, a James Beard Award finalist for best bakery. Gorga points to Baobab Fare as an example of why he started Hatch.
"For us to be able to play a small part in a truly remarkable story of perseverance, hard work and dedication, to achieve a dream of opening a restaurant for two immigrants: that's why we do what we do, to try and play a small part in making peoples’ entrepreneurial dreams come true," he says.
To expand the impact of Hatch Detroit last year, the organization partnered with TechTown Detroit, a nonprofit dedicated to helping tech startups and small businesses develop, launch, and grow.
Now called Hatch Detroit by TechTown, Gorga says one of the many benefits of this partnership is the additional support provided to help foster the success of the Hatch finalists through a more extensive network of resources.
When Gorga's not dedicating time to the nonprofit world or practicing law (he's the vice chairman of the litigation department and a member of the board of directors at Honigman), he plays "a lot of golf." He's a member of Oakland Hills Country Club and Birmingham Country Club.
He enjoys staying active by working out at Equinox, running, practicing yoga and playing paddle tennis. He also plays guitar and likes to travel with his wife and their two teenagers.
"I've always felt pretty blessed in my life. And I think that when you're in that position, there's a responsibility to give back, to help where your talents are best suited,” Gorga says. “I've always felt a privilege and an obligation to do that."
DBG Goes National
By Robin Schwartz
Birmingham native Jessica Hauser walked into a personal training appointment at the Downtown Boxing Gym (DBG) in Detroit in 2010. Little did she know that day would change her life.
She describes what she saw as “magic” — a youth program founded in 2007 by Khali Sweeney that provides transformational mentorship, individualized academic support for each student and a whole host of other services from transportation to meals and more, all free of charge. After her visit, Hauser left the University of Michigan where she was pursuing a Ph.D. and became DBG’s executive director. The rest is history.
"I instantly felt something,” she recalls. “I saw kids helping each other with homework and interacting with adults in a real way. I had to get involved.”
Much has changed since DBG’s early days. From a scrappy nonprofit, Hauser and Sweeney have built a team of approximately 50 full and part-time employees with plans to expand DBG’s Detroit campus, double the number of students they serve locally, and license the DBG model to reach students globally.
“We feel it is absolutely our responsibility to do our part — to provide resources and opportunities to as many students as possible,” she says.
With a focus on results, the free out-of-school-time program has carefully measured program effectiveness for more than a decade and is so impactful, two national organizations are recognizing DBG. TheNational Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $2 million grant to Purdue University’sCollege of Education and the Downtown Boxing Gym for a five-year research study to further evaluate, measure and magnify the far-reaching impact of DBG’s innovative STEM-based programming (science, technology, engineering, art and math.)
The Library of Congress, the world’s largest library, also recently selected DBG for The American Prize, a literacy award that goes to one organization based in the United States annually for “making a significant and measurable contribution to increasing literacy levels in the U.S.” In the last three years alone, DBG has provided nearly 628,000 minutes of literacy tutoring.
Students participating in one-on-one tutoring through a partnership with Center for Success and DBG’s other literacy programs gain an average of 5.5 reading levels per year. The program has had a 100-percent high school graduation rate among all participating students for the last 16 years. DBG is actively seeking partners to support its continued growth. To learn more, visit dbgdetroit.org.
A Simple Tool to Change Lives
By Robin Schwartz
Danielle, better known as Dani, was born in June of 2000. By the time she was just 18 months old, Debbie and Joel Pearlman’s first child, their beautiful baby girl, was diagnosed with autism. Life as they imagined it would never be the same.
“There is no doubt taking care of a child with special needs comes with its challenges,” says Joel, who lives with Debbie, Dani and two younger children in Huntington Woods. “But it has also been a gift. Dani has taught us patience and appreciation of the simple things in life. And she has made us a stronger couple and family.”
Dani is nonverbal, but she understands and communicates in her own way. As she got older, her parents, longtime participants and supporters of Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield, realized they didn’t have a documented plan that others could use if anything happened to them.
“The thought of us not having all the details of Dani’s life laid out in a way others can understand is disturbing,” Joel says. “How would they remember to give Dani her medications? How would they know her favorite foods? Make sure she has her headphones so loud sounds don’t hurt her ears? The list of details is long.”
The family started to document a plan in a simple word document. They describe the process as “tedious and unstructured” without a way to share the documents securely. So, Joel began to map out a tool for any family to use. And the Dani Plan was born.
It’s a subscription-based website (daniplan.com; a free 21-day trial is offered and subscriptions start at $9.95/month) to help guide families through the process of building a plan for day-to-day living in one secure and shareable place for future guardians, teachers, caregivers, family members and others. Plans include information about housing, communication, medicine and therapy, daily routines and schedules, behaviors, education, food and diet, safety, financial information, legal information and more.
“Ultimately, I believe having a Dani Plan is an invaluable way of making sure your loved ones and the people taking care of them have all the information they need for a happy and easy transition,” Joel says. “It’s the least we can do to make sure they maintain the respect and dignity they deserve.”
To learn more, visit daniplan.com.