Joel Panozzo, recent Big Splash Stewardship Awardee, describes his experiences with the Huron River and HRWC. Thanks again to Joel for all his amazing support!

When I moved to Ann Arbor 15 years ago, I thought my lower level apartment left something to be desired. Little did I know at the time there was a gem a couple blocks away that would capture my heart. That gem turned into something I would visit on almost daily basis to recharge and let things go. That gem, the Huron River, would be come an important constant and resting place for me. It was probably a year into volunteering for HRWC’s annual fundraiser Suds on the River until I realized how deeply important the river was to me and my community. This realization made it a no brainer to accept the opportunity to move from a support staff position to event chef.

I have catered many weddings and events, but I would say the location of Suds is was makes it truly special. Yes, Suds is a fundraising event for the crucial activities of HRWC, but what kept me coming back is that Suds is a celebration. It’s a celebration of the river itself. The event’s changing location every year would be considered a nightmare for any party planner, but it turned the event into a fresh and true celebration of our community gem.

I met my business partner, Phillis Engelbert, doing organizing work during the peace movement during the War in Iraq. Our friendship started as activism and continued through the decade of my time with the business we started. During the last five years I personally dug in my heels with the fair wage fight and ending sexual harassment within the food industry. I lobbied and testified at the State Capitol in Lansing and on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Our business also hired aggressively from the recovery community as well as those formerly incarcerated. Giving dignity and a solid job to these two vulnerable communities was a driving force for me, especially with the brutal hours required for a restaurant owner.

I personally have used the Huron River as a place of healing time and time again. I want this gem to clean and accessible for generations to come.

-Joel Panozzo