Organization continues to expand programs for students, community

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 7, 2013

 New Executive Director Lindsey Kurtz, right, stands with Full Circle Founder Mary Fodell.

New Executive Director Lindsey Kurtz, right, stands with Full Circle Founder Mary Fodell.

Photo provided by Full Circle Foundation


GROSSE POINTE PARK — The Full Circle Foundation is more than an upscale resale shop or a garden project.

It’s an opportunity.

Full Circle Foundation and the Grosse Pointe Public Schools work together on a program that provides educational experiences for students with special needs who are ages 18 to 26, but Full Circle also provides support and opportunities for adults with special needs of all ages.

Those programs and opportunities are growing as Full Circle offers more to its students and additional partnerships with the community.

“We’re hoping to be a model for other communities,” Executive Director Lindsey Kurtz said.

They call their programs micro-enterprises with many different opportunities for students to learn and grow and serve while working in different capacities.

Mary Fodell, a former Grosse Pointe schoolteacher and mother of a daughter with special needs, knew of the need for a program like this and she hit the ground running with the resale shop.

“She’s done an enormous amount of work to get us to where we are now,” said Kurtz, who recently started as executive director.

Ann Marie Bokatzian, a teacher in the Grosse Pointe Schools that is assigned to Full Circle for satellite classes, said this private and public collaboration “brings the community members closer to the public schools.”

As for the resale shop part of the program, the students are able to work the resale shop by doing a number of tasks, from washing and sorting donations, to researching prices and selling more valuable items on eBay using the f­oundation’s computer lab. Those proceeds then go back into the program.

The program receives donations from individuals and estate sales through a partnership that allows Full Circle to pick up items at the end of some of the estate sales in the cities.

Accepting donations from people in person is a valuable skill-building exercise for students, who are then allowed to work on social skills like eye contact and shaking hands.

They also learn life skills, such as laundering some of the donated clothes.

The resale shop is located in Full Circle’s facility at 17006 Mack in Grosse Pointe. Full Circle moved from Kercheval to the much larger building on Mack about a year ago and has plans to create additional classroom space, thanks to help from the school district with storage space.

“It’s three times the size,” Kurtz said of the new location. “We’re able to do so much more.”

Fodell’s vision keeps growing, as well. There are a number of new things on the horizon for the program, including adding more students in the fall.

Gabel Financial recently donated a 12-passenger van to the program.

“We want to be able to transport our students from job site to job site,” Kurtz said. “They made a very generous donation.”

The program’s 3-acre garden project on the grounds of Riverview Health Center is one of many partners with Full Circle. It’s a booming program that is growing this year.

“It’s really amazing,” Kurtz said. “It’s huge this year.”

They’re launching a community-supported agriculture program this summer. That means that they’re taking a limited number of subscriptions from community members in June to launch this pilot program. Then, the students will do their work on the garden and harvest vegetables to create baskets for the paid subscribers, which will be delivered to their homes each week.

For the first time, the program has a full-time executive director. Kurtz came on about a month ago. A Grosse Pointe native and graduate of the district’s school system, she moved back home from Tennessee to take on this new role.

“It’s so fortuitous she was available,” Fodell said. “We were ready for it. It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.

“She’s just so fresh and knowledgeable,” she said, adding that Kurtz is what they need. “It’s kind of in her blood to do community work.”

Fodell, who spends a lot of time working with Full Circle, will have more time to spend with her grandchildren now that the program has a full-time director, but said “this is my baby, also” when talking about the program.

For students in the program, they get to choose what they’re interested in when it comes to pursuing some of their opportunities. For instance, one student wants to work at a copy place, so that student has become the resident copy-machine expert. Another enjoys computers, so he has been working hard on the eBay sales.

They’re looking to add more students to the computer lab and expand to selling on Etsy.

“There’s lots of opportunities out there,” Kurtz said.

Others want to be chefs, so they get to pursue those opportunities.

The students thought of the idea of making some chocolate-covered pretzels, so they got to work.

“We now sell chocolate-covered pretzels,” Kurtz said. “They’re a huge hit.”

As part of the culinary arts opportunities, or just building life skills in the kitchen, the building Full Circle is in has a kitchenette area so they are able to work on some projects. However, the Foundation is working on a partnership with Services for Older Citizens for the use of a full commercial kitchen.

Another big opportunity on the horizon involves the program working to add a commercial laundry so students can run a linen service. The Foundation has a grant for a commercial washer and they are working on obtaining one for a commercial dryer. Then, they can partner with local restaurants to wash linens and deliver them back to the locations.

They already have a couple of students interested in serving in that capacity.

“We’re really excited,” Kurtz said.

For those who want to support Full Circle, the program is gearing up for a big talent show this fall to showcase students. Each year, they do something different. Tickets for that fundraising program are available now at $20 each with the talent show scheduled for September 27 at Brownell Middle School.

“Our students have already begun practicing,” Kurtz said.

While they continue to grow, they have a goal that they haven’t been able to reach just yet.

“Our dream eventually is to be able to pay all of the workers,” Kurtz said.

As of now, the program continues to be an internship-style opportunity for many through their classes within the program.

Kurtz recognized Grosse Pointe Public Schools for all of its support of the program.

“The school district has really stepped up in our partnership,” she said. “They’ve been such a wonderful partner.”