Thursday, March 19, 2015

I See Your True Colors

A theme I've found throughout this trip has been the contrasts this city has. You look at the roads and see the brand new Fords, Cadillacs, Jeeps and Chryslers, yet there are also a large percentage of cars that are close to inoperability with few cars found in the middle. On the outskirts of the city, we've seen the Ford museum and its promotion of innovation and the wonderful neighborhoods of Gross Point, yet across the street and throughout the city, there are broken down homes and businesses. We've seen the life of a St. Patrick's Day party and the homeless man who picks up the beer cans so he can have a little bit of money for a meal, clothing, etc. We see abandoned or burned houses next to intact homes. We've seen the Wailing Wall, a physical barrier that separated the white and black populations in the 1940s transition into invisible barriers in which a town line or road divide poverty and wealth. Beyond these primary contrasts, you see a neighborhood breaking from this divide through awareness.

The Heidelberg Project reveals a broken neighborhood that refuses to give up. You see a neighborhood that's fighting back through art, which reveals the frustration and pride of the people of Detroit. They're creating beauty out of destruction. Their resolve is a motivating factor, which others rally behind and call to fight on. It also reveals a stark sense of the reality that much of this city is angry and wants change. There are so many positives here and the stories we hear from the different people we interact with, the jobs we do make a much larger impact than we typically physically see. A simple interaction with someone can make their day when one shows a genuine interest. Beyond that, even finishing the simplest task can help create a positive mindset and sense of pride for the residents. It allows the people who work at DRMM or Cass to focus on the residents or programs' needs. It creates positive growth that will continue with the groups who come after us.

The ability to see growth or improvement is a part of our mindset and it is definitely something so difficult to overcome when you're always told that jobs done efficiently and quickly will create results and that one should see a return on investment fairly soon after. This trip has required so much patience, whether starting a conversation with a worker or resident of the various programs both nonprofits offer, doing a task like picking up trash around the building, organizing a closet or cleaning a stairwell or storage room. All of these efforts add to the quality of a resident's experience and helps them to feel like they belong. That conversation you have with someone can help them learn a different perspective or even something about themselves they may not necessarily have known about themselves before.

The most impactful part of this trip for me, personally, has been the stories I've personally gotten to hear as well as those shared with the group. When we volunteered at the veteran transition housing through DRMM I had chance to talk to two of the executive coordinators who shared a bit of their background and story of how they got there. Though neither have been in poverty, they believe that servicing others provides something that is both personally beneficial and humbling. Gary Kabine spent a large amount of time talking about opportunity and regret. He said, "I regret not taking some of the opportunitiesI had now but I know I was supposed to be here, this is another chapter in the book of my life." He has been at DRMM for 14 years and he has appreciated everything they have done for him in providing him a chance to work with a specific group he holds closely to his heart as he is a veteran himself. Derek Howard, though not a veteran, works in various DRMM programs and his quote embodies a quote we always hear when he said, "It's always great to help other people. Makes you happy in your life and that's why I'm here." Service allows you to grow as much as you put into it, just like anything else in life. The amount of effort you put in can also provide a push for a change in the mindset of others and motivate those you are doing service for or with to push through and gain everything from the experience. Robert, a resident who has earned permanent housing through Cass embodies this idea. Two and a half years ago, he entered Cass. He came in with three goals: 1) to break free of his addiction to drugs, 2) to get a job and 3) to get an apartment. He has succeeded in accomplishing all three of these feats and he was extremely motivated. Cass gave him the tools and the little push to guide him down the successful path but it also required him buying into the system and focusing all his energy on improving the aspects of his life he felt he had made mistakes in. It is a balancing act between the nonprofit and the individual in order to have the best and most successful experience possible.

I want to close with a comparison I thought about after doing the True Colors the first night we debriefed. The largest focus and stressing point is that we aren't defined by the color our personality most closely relates with. Everyone has a bit of something in them and just as we aren't defined by the color, the people that we work with aren't defined by their poverty, homelessness, addiction or whatever hinders or alienates them from the rest of society. At the most fundamental level, we are all human. We all feel emotions, we all need food and water to survive as well as shelter, warmth, clothing and a clean body. We aren't simply attempting to prevent a deepening of dehumanization that occurs on a daily basis, we are creating a new sense of humanity, just as these nonprofits and countless other volunteers do each and every single day.

Dan Larrivee
Class of 2017

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