Jewfro: Reflecting On 17 Summers In The City (SITC)

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Ben Falik
By Ben Falik

The winter I turned 17, I donated blood for the first time. For that first pint and the 40 since, I’ve overcome my anxiety based on both giving of myself and taking of cookies and apple juice.

This year, Summer in the City turned 17, and I found myself in a similarly sanguine and sweet scenario. As the interim executive director of the organization I co-founded in college, I knew that Summer in the City and I had the same blood type (Yay Positive) and that many of its strengths and struggles traced back to those early days before most of this summer’s volunteers were born.

Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand
— Shakespeare

Here are some of my notes from Summer No. 17:

It’s still “fun, flexible and fulfilling” to “paint, plant and play” in Detroit. Through some combination of accident and adaptation, SITC has a portfolio of projects and programs that tap into people’s values to create community value. Helping bring that energetic supply of and authentic demand for volunteers together has never lost its magic, even when the van won’t start.

Last summer, many organizations came to Rosa Parks Boulevard (formerly 12th Street) in pursuit of reflection, reconciliation and renewal 50 years after the civil unrest that erupted there in 1967. Summer in the City brought Finale Friday and all three P’s to the Joseph Walker Williams Recreation Center, a facility built to revitalize the neighborhood and named for the Philadelphia Street neighbor and former student of George Washington Carver who spearheaded the effort.

Engagement around our daylong project led to a dynamic partnership that grew to be more focused on the next 50 years than the last. This summer, we returned to join the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department in offering an eight-week summer camp, replete with swim instruction and academic enrichment.

When I was seventeen,
It was a very good year…
— Sinatra

Friday the 13th proved to be an exceptionally lucky day for Summer in the City. While 300 campers and high school, college and Quicken Loans volunteers descended on our Destination Downtown Friday Field Trip, another group — from Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Pointe South, Cass Tech, Western International and Cody high schools — painted Woodward Avenue. With the Spirit of Detroit gazing down on them (sort of sideways) and dozens of commuters and visitors stopping to lend a hand, they painted a brilliant (chromatically, if not cartographically) map mural for people to walk all over. In the weeks since, the pedestrian Spirit of Detroit Plaza has hosted, symbiotically, food trucks and jazzercise.

Every camper’s SITC T-shirt reads “Future Volunteer” and we mean it. For the first time this year, we had former SITC campers return as paid crew members through the city’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent Program. Maria Vela and Camille Johnson served as captains for the Southwest and Northwest JV Teams, cohorts of kids who graduate from being campers into Junior Volunteers after sixth grade. And now, thanks to Maria and Camille, the JVs have models for how they can continue their careers next summer and beyond.

This summer had a savory secret: the new location of Keep Growing Detroit’s farm. Keep Growing Detroit is the taproot of our urban agriculture movement, and our volunteers got down and dirty there all summer. But the location had to be hush hush — the corn have ears and the potatoes have eyes, after all — until the deal was finalized for them to be a permanent fixture at … Eastern Market.

Formerly in the shadow of the MGM Grand Casino, the farm is, in KGD’s own words “the place where all of our work comes together. Our farm is where half of the Garden Resource Program transplants and the Motown Music garlic seed is grown. It’s where many of our workshops are hosted and where growers of all ages practice and hone their skills. It’s also where KGD grows our share of grown-in-Detroit produce and connects with good food enthusiasts from Detroit and beyond to explore what fresh, seasonal, and diverse fruits and vegetables look, smell and taste like.”

The Summer of 2018 culminated at the (recreation) center of Highland Park to help the city mark its centennial. Murals on the Ernest T. Ford Rec Center drew on local lore (McGregor Library, Davison Freeway, Water Tower, City of Trees, Polar Bears) while Reggie McKenzie Field buzzed with activity and bees. Even a broken water main and looming thunderstorms (and bees) couldn’t stop 1,200 campers from having a backpacktacular time playing games with volunteers and “earning” school supplies for the new year. With Mayor Hubert Yopp, Highland Park’s Summer Youth Workers, School Board President Alexis Ramsey and Hooper on hand, SITC’s cast of thousands assembled into HP100 with a hearty appetite for the city’s next century and the afternoon’s barbecue.

June 25, 2019, is right around the corner; 2018 co-director Aviv Lis and I hope the Jewish community will join us to help make our chai year the holiest season of service we’ve ever had.

See photos from Summer In The City (SITC)

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