I Do It For Detroit, And So Can You

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Against the likely backdrop of a former mayor  being sentenced to serve time in a federal prison and a future mayor to work under the likely backdrop of an emergency manager — of broad disagreements about the source of the city’s problems and their solutions — more people than ever feel compelled to do something for Detroit.

But what? Should you live, work, eat, drink, shop, vote, volunteer or vacation in Detroit?

Nobody knows what the future holds for the city, but there is a sense of goodwill in the present (even if it is sometimes steeped in a past that exists only in the past) that we would be foolish to squander.

For some people, doing something for Detroit means playing softball in Southfield. Aliyah it ain’t, but the money the 800 attendees and players raised at Pitch for Detroit last August promises to nurture grassroots efforts in Detroit neighborhoods whose deaths have been greatly exaggerated.

Pitch proceeds created the Do it for Detroit Fund — a partnership between CommunityNEXT, a division of NEXTGen Detroit at the Jewish Federation, and Repair the World, a national Jewish service organization heavily invested in Detroit. Di4D is an opportunity to check our baggage and cut the red tape to efficiently allocate scarce financial resources and tap abundant human resources.

Flashback! I first stumbled upon 1200 W. Canfield in 2007, after it had been Poe Elementary School for a century, vacant for a year and the Woodbridge Community Youth Center (WCYC) for a week. Summer in the City volunteers cleared out decades of detritus, with many hands making light work of saving what was worth saving and painting what needed painting.

Mike and Margaret Wilson soon filled the classrooms and calendar with an exciting, evolving lineup of youth enrichment programs, ranging from baseball clinics (Mike is a former pro ball player) to video production and, most recently, the Young Superstars Blogging Club (see blogtastics.wordpress.com) led by volunteers from Repair the World Moishe House down the street.

So WCYC was the perfect partner and venue for the first Do it for Detroit event, where we awarded $5,000 in micro-grants to innovative education initiatives. In all, we received 37 applications, each with a creative proposal to do a lot with a little. Three finalists presented, without the aid of props or PowerPoint presentations, to an audience charged with the responsibility of voting for whichever they found most compelling.

Joy Mohammed, a 24-year-old Detroiter, recently started Scholarship Detroit, a program to help students — many of them undocumented immigrants in Southwest Detroit — secure admission to and financial aid for college. Not only did her amazing work and inspiring story net Scholarship Detroit $3,000 as the top vote getter, Joy also snagged new volunteers to help edit students’ essays.

Joy came in nine votes ahead of Motorcity Urban Summer Enrichment (MUSE) and the Detroit Food Academy, both of which shared their good works and volunteer opportunities, receiving the same number of votes and $750 (rather than $1,000 for second and $500 for third) toward their efforts. Note: Counting and recounting the votes was like the world’s most exciting school election.

But wait, there’s more! There are four rounds of funding (and gathering and noshing and learning and voting and high-fiving) left to go. Next up: Environment! You can:

Apply. At doitfordetroit.com. The application is short and straightforward, and you don’t even need to be an official organization.

Advocate. Know someone who should throw their hat in the ring? They’ve already got your vote!

Attend. Sunday, April 14, when like-minded people from all walks of life will gather at Detroit Farm and Garden, housed in the former Third Police Precinct in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge. Everyone will get a chance to smell the hay, scope out the Banksy at 555 Gallery, hear from the three finalists, vote and volunteer to volunteer.

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