Courtesy Brilliant Detroit
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Detroit nonprofits have risen to the challenge of meeting residents’ urgent needs, from overhauling free food distribution to providing medical care for vulnerable teens. Organizations have moved services online, started making house calls and launched entirely new initiatives.
Like everything else amid the pandemic, the future of charitable giving is unclear to local nonprofits. In late March, 87% of respondents to the Michigan Fundraising Climate Survey, an annual report by Oakland County-based Montgomery Consulting Inc., said they expected the conditions of fundraising to be worse than in 2019. Ongoing restrictions limiting gatherings have thwarted major end-of-year fundraising events, with a corresponding drop in donations for some major metro area charities.
Detour checked in with leaders at six Detroit nonprofits, who shared how they’ve been stretching and adapting their services to support their communities during COVID-19. Donation dollars are currently holding steady, many said, and in a few cases rising, but Detroiters’ needs have increased exponentially, and it’s hard to know what 2021 will bring. Support given now will help these organizations continue to serve Detroiters in new and familiar ways.
Brilliant Detroit fills in the gaps for families with early education and neighborhood support
Since 2016, Brilliant Detroit has been working to ensure a person’s future isn’t determined by their zip code. They do this by renovating a house in the middle of a community and offering families with small children whatever they need to be healthy, school ready and stable. Behind each bright orange door, neighbors find family support, high-quality tutoring and classes in parenting, nutrition, fitness, finance, language development and more. Currently, 7,000 Detroiters engage with one another and free resources at 12 neighborhood homes citywide.
Jasmine Mahone, 28, is a mother of four children living in the Mohican-Regent neighborhood of Osborn on Detroit’s northeast side. From the Brilliant Detroit hub near her home, she’s participated in GED, parenting, healthy cooking and zumba classes. Pre-COVID-19, she and her kids visited the hub daily to read, visit and enjoy home-cooked meals around a community table. Now they’re participating in activities and tutoring online. As someone that’s struggled with dyslexia throughout her life, Mahone said the organization helped her transform her perspective.
“I can see hope. I can see people that don’t look down on me,” she said. “When you have love in an environment like that, you keep going. This is more than education, it’s a relationship. We’re a family.”
During the pandemic, Brilliant Detroit has pivoted programming and support to outdoor and online platforms. Co-founder Cindy Eggleton says that with increased volunteerism, they were able to tutor 900 Detroit children this summer, up from 300 in 2019. They held a citywide virtual baby shower and delivered formula and diapers to hundreds of new moms. Families have received weekly food boxes from their neighborhood home through partners like Eastern Market, Gleaners Community Food Bank and Atlas Wholesale Food Company. Five local restaurants have partnered with Brilliant Detroit to provide free daily meals — 50,000 meals to date — through the nonprofit HelpKitchen.
Receive support or give it: Text “food” to (313) 488-4321 to request a meal. Make a donation here.
More ways to support strong families: Matrix Human Services and Focus: Hope offer a broad range of programming aimed at empowering individuals, supporting families and seniors and improving quality of life within a community.
The Ruth Ellis Center puts the health and wellbeing of high-risk youth first
Since 1999, the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park has been a safe haven for vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth. It provides trauma-informed services for 600 young people each year, mainly youth of color experiencing homelessness, involved in the child welfare system and facing barriers to health. In partnership with Henry Ford Health System, they offer free primary and behavioral health services to LGBTQ+ youth and young adults ages 4-30. Their drop-in center offers a safe community, hot meals, groceries, laundry, computers, housing resources, peer support and job training. The Ruth Ellis Institute on-site works with child welfare professionals throughout the state of Michigan to ensure LGBTQ+ individuals are safe and supported in all systems of care.
During COVID-19, in-person gatherings have paused at REC, yet all medical, mental health and housing services have continued through online platforms. Weekly groceries needs for the youth they serve have increased by 60% during the pandemic, said Mark Erwin-McCormick, director of development and advancement. In response, REC has doubled their food distribution to twice a week in partnership with Forgotten Harvest and Gleaners.
Amid a rise in housing insecurity — common to LGBTQ+ youth but exacerbated by the pandemic — the nonprofit broke ground last month on a new development at Woodward and Clairmount to address permanent housing needs for LGBTQ+ young adults ages 18-25. The 43-unit development will also feature counseling and health services.
Erwin-McCormick says support from donors and the community has been pivotal for serving at a growing capacity, especially since the organization cancelled their two large annual fundraising events this year due to the pandemic.
“There are a lot of uncertainties for 2021 in terms of funding as a result of COVID,” he said. “Supporting REC now will ensure we can navigate these challenges without critical services being interrupted.”
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network ensures food access and sovereignty for Detroiters
Malik Yakini is thinking about the future of food. Who grows it, who sells it, who buys it — and where. As executive director and co-founder of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), he’s been working in the community since 2006 to ensure African Americans, the majority population in Detroit, also lead the local food movement. This includes building an alternative food system that circulates food-related dollars among Detroiters rather than extracting those dollars out of the city.
Within that effort, DBCFSN runs D-Town Farm, a seven-acre farm in the city’s Rouge Park that offers hands-on programming and harvests over 30 different fruits and vegetables each year. Its weekly Food Warriors program engages youth in activities designed to teach and empower them to make decisions toward healthy food systems. During the pandemic, the farm lost much of its volunteer force and the ability to grow a spring crop. Without community farming available, it encouraged individual gardening by supplying folks with raised beds and seeds. The Food Warriors program has continued online, and Yakini said they’ve supplied students with hands-on growing materials for lessons.
DBCFSN is hoping to break ground next summer on their $15-million food justice project, Detroit Food Commons. Slated for the North End neighborhood, DFC will house the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, a full size, member-owned grocery store, as well as commercial kitchens and the DBCFSN’s headquarters. The nonprofit is striving to secure 100 sustainers who can commit to supporting their work at $50 a month, but donations of any amount will help advance food justice in Detroit.
More ways to support food sovereignty for Detroiters: Oakland Avenue Urban Farm and Keep Growing Detroit also advocate for food and land security among Detroit’s Black farmers. They formed the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund with DBCFSN this summer to raise funds for Black farmers to buy more land in the city of Detroit.
The Detroit Justice Center protects Detroiters’ civil rights in and out of court, while building a more just future for the city
The Detroit Justice Center is a nonprofit law firm that works for economic and racial justice. Founded in 2018 by Amanda Alexander, a Michigan-born racial justice lawyer and historian, the downtown organization strives to remedy the impacts of mass incarceration by fighting for and building up the city’s poorest residents. They offer free legal advice and services as well as innovative approaches to issues around land use, housing and employment. Community legal advocates at DJC work with residents on complicated issues that don’t require a lawyer, such as appealing property taxes assessment or helping to obtain vital records.
“A lot of people don’t know the power they hold, and can easily be frustrated,” said Lauren Thomas, an advocate at the center. “It’s a matter of knowing how to petition to, basically, right a wrong.”
DJC houses and partners with The Bail Project to disrupt the inequitable process of cash bail and prevent incarceration. The partnership provided advocacy for Detroit protesters this summer. DJC has also worked this year to help release Wayne County Jail inmates facing risk of exposure to the coronavirus, as well as to restore SNAP benefits to those with prior drug convictions. They’re currently working to put an end to biased traffic stops for marginalized drivers in the suburbs. Financial support is vital to continuing their work, said communications manager Casey Rocheteau.
“We’re doing rapid-response work, maintaining our regular legal defense work and building for the future with the Economic Equity practice and Just Cities Lab — all while also advocating for sweeping policy changes that will impact people across Metro Detroit,” Rocheteau said.
More ways to support civil rights: Hydrate Detroit and We the People of Detroit work to provide emergency water to Detroiters who have experienced shut-offs, restore service for families and advocate for a sustainable water future. Legal Aid and Defender Association, Inc. provides legal services to metro Detroiters who cannot afford an attorney.
Mint Artists Guild cultivates Detroit’s emerging creators of culture
When times are tight, it seems the arts are the first to go. Many young Detroit creatives at the Mint Artists Guild are hoping that won’t be the case. The five-year-old Palmer Park studio space provides year-round education, enrichment and opportunity for Detroit youth to launch their own artistic careers. Teens take workshops with professional visual artists and learn entrepreneurial skills, as well as how to talk about their art, and how to curate a show. In the creative summer jobs program, students are given paid opportunities to make art that beautifies public spaces and local nonprofits.
Through classroom talks and projects, the organization serves about 250 students a year and works closely with about 30 young artists through training and professional opportunities. Alexis Bagley, 22, has been a part of these programs since her senior year at Cass Technical High School and now serves now as a board member and youth leader at Mint. She’s sold her Afrofuturism paintings at events like the Palmer Park Art Show and has had work displayed in public spaces through the program.
“Mint nurtured my creativity and showed me successful artists who love what they’re doing and are able to support themselves,” she said. “I always tell people the biggest thing Mint taught me is that I can be an artist.”
During the pandemic, Mint has continued programming by sending boxes of supplies to their young artists at home and transitioning lessons and work opportunities online. Besides creative endeavors, there’s been an increased focus on self-care with students, many who are struggling with isolation, said co-founder Vickie Elmer. Over the summer, Mint expanded its job program to employ 13 apprentices, up from 10 in 2019, and launched the Metro Detroit Youth Arts Competition, encouraging youth to create art and poetry while stuck at home. Cash prizes of $225 were awarded to 11 students.
More ways to support youth and the arts: In the North End, Live Coal Gallery fosters a passion for the arts through hands-on experiences and their children’s art museum, The RED. Living Arts Detroit works across the city to bring arts education into classrooms and extracurricular programming. InsideOut brings literary arts and creative writing programs to Detroit students, and Detroit Youth Volume teaches the violin to students ages 3-18.
Southwest Solutions offers wraparound services, covering housing, food and mental health
If there’s something Detroiters need now more than ever, it’s arms all the way around you. While getting a hug is a rare treat these days, Southwest Solutions continues to bolster its southwest community through services touching housing, mental health, economic training and basic needs.
Founded by Monsignor Clement Kern in 1970, the nonprofit is a leader in Wayne County when it comes to mental health services, counseling 3,500 people of all ages each year. This work continues during the pandemic through Teladoc platforms. Southwest Solution’s affordable housing arm has developed or renovated nearly 1,500 units in multiple neighborhoods and helped almost 3,000 low-income families become homeowners. The nonprofit manages 600 apartments that rent- to low and moderate-income tenants, and it works extensively with homeless individuals and veterans to secure permanent housing.
In response to hunger needs in the community, Southwest Solutions has been distributing fresh food to 400 families a week in partnership with Gleaners.
Receive support or give it: Find more info about housing, health and economic programs on Southwest Solutions’ site. Donations help Detroiters continue to access a range of health and wellbeing services that stretch as COVID-19 exacerbates community needs.
More ways to support families with housing and emergency shelter: United Community Housing Coalition works to help low-income residents stay in their homes through free counseling services for those at risk of tax and mortgage foreclosure. The Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) shelters 100 children a night, as well as families, while offering supportive programming that moves families toward self-sufficiency and breaks the cycle of poverty.