Repair the World’s new executive director reflects on her inaugural year.
You might find her jogging through Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood or working in a greenhouse or helping to bury old prayer books in a sacred space for Jewish texts. But you’ll most likely find Sarah Allyn, 30, of Detroit at Repair the World’s cool headquarters on Bagley, where she just wrapped her first year as executive director of the Jewish nonprofit focused on service-learning and volunteering.
“Service only for the sake of service is not our mission,” Allyn says. “We recruit volunteers from the Jewish community and bring them to Detroit to work alongside local community partners. Our mission is to set context and build bridges between the Jewish community and the communities we serve with a focus on food justice and education justice.”
Allyn, a University of Michigan graduate who grew up in Huntington Woods, took on the leadership role at Repair the World in June 2017 following four years as director of education at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield. Before that, she lived in Chicago and worked with Teach for America as an early childhood educator. She says “family and the emerging food scene in Detroit” brought her home. The opportunity to make an important difference keeps her rooted in the city.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “I get to connect the Jewish community that I love to a city that I love and work that I feel so strongly about.”
SPRINGING INTO SERVICE
This year, Repair the World held its first annual Spring into Service weekend mobilizing 175 volunteers to participate in six service events with different partner organizations. Georgia Street Community Collective was one of them. Volunteers helped to prepare an orchard and garden for planting season in the neighborhood near Harper and Gratiot. The garden now grows in a lot where trash once littered the ground. The green space serves as a community gathering place and a source for healthy food.
“I chose to participate in Spring into Service because a greener Detroit is a better Detroit,” says Wayne State University student Emily Rosenberg, who was among the volunteers. “I think volunteer work helps an individual grow into a more well-rounded person. To me, tikkun olam (repairing the world) is how I embrace being Jewish.”
Participants also worked with first-graders at another site, reading books, playing games and visiting a mobile food pantry. Other projects included carrying old prayer books from the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue to a storage room at B’nai David Cemetery and conducting a spring cleaning of the grounds.
Founded in 2009, Repair the World has a presence in Detroit, Chicago, New York, Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Each year, a new group of fellows sign on for a year of service in Detroit. Noah Betman, 23, of Southwest Detroit, is in this year’s outgoing class.
“The opportunity to work closely with members of the local community was transformational for me,” Betman says. He graduated from the University of Michigan last year and plans to pursue a master’s degree in public affairs at Indiana University this fall.
“Serving as an English as a second language tutor for an adult learner in a primarily Spanish-speaking area further showed me the critical nature of literacy,” he added. “Exploring Detroit has been another takeaway. I grew up in West Bloomfield and went to college in Ann Arbor, so Detroit has always been in my backyard, but this year I learned an incredible amount about the city.”
The fellows, who started with Repair the World last August, accomplished a lot in a year. Allyn says they engaged more than 2,000 volunteers in service learning. What stands out the most?
“The importance of building relationships,” Betman says. “Volunteering anywhere once is beneficial, but it means so much more when you continue to build that relationship by going again or inviting someone to an event you think they might enjoy.”
A new crop of six fellows is set to start in Detroit this August (interviews are taking place now.) Those who are selected will be partnering with Jewish and non-Jewish organizations to help recruit volunteers. Allyn is looking forward to a new year of lessons learned while making an impact.
“I want people to know that service and learning is more than a day here and there — it’s really a commitment to tikkun olam, to making our world a better place,” she said. “Not just for our community, but for communities around us.”
To learn more about Repair the World or to get involved, visit werepair.org/Detroit.