In 1985, Lori Cook found herself back in Grand Rapids after being laid off as a news producer for a Chicago television station. Barely in her 20s, she created a persona named Maranda and talked a local AM radio station into giving her an after-school children’s program.
Thus began a West Michigan-based cottage industry based on families and children that includes television and radio shows, newspaper columns, an online presence, a summer reading club, books such as “Maranda’s Guide to Family Fun in West Michigan” and dozens of partnerships with local organizations, including Kent ISD’s School News Network. For 25 years, her Park Parties have drawn thousands of children to activities and resource providers in multiple communities across West Michigan.
In addition to family fun, she has used her show to take on tough topics families face including bullying, mental health, substance abuse and poverty — always sharing resources families can use for more information and assistance. Maranda works to improve the lives of the community’s children, sharing their stories and supporting special events to highlight their successes.
The Kent Intermediate Association of School Boards awarded Maranda the 2019 Education Advocacy Award at its annual dinner on Oct. 24. The award was presented by Laura Featherston, the group’s president and a member of Rockford Public Schools’ Board of Education.
“It was such an honor to be recognized by so many individuals that I have worked with over the years and truly respect. This award really means a lot. I have worked with educators and superintendents. I have been blessed to see the good work they do every day,” said Maranda, herself the mother of two daughters who are now adults.
“You never know where the journey is going to lead,” said Maranda, who named her persona after a Shakespearian character she studied as a guest student at Cambridge University in England. “God has a plan. Just sit back and do what you’re called to do.”