What is Local Circles — and what makes it so...

What is Local Circles — and what makes it so special?

Drew Smith Jr. Credit: LaToya Colts

This series was published in partnership with Local Circles, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization that offers employment opportunities in youth-led research to increase college and work readiness for Detroit teens. Find out more about Local Circles.

In this essay, Detroit teen Drew Smith Jr., a Local Circles participant, details what the program taught him about researching and interviewing.

Local Circles is a youth-led, nonprofit organization based in Detroit whose main focus “is to facilitate youth-led research in which young people pose their own questions and conduct research to inquire upon social issues that are meaningful to them.” The organization gets youth to think outside of the box and think of topics and questions that are not being told and asked. But this still doesn’t really explain why I enjoy this program so much.

I joined Local Circles in the summer of 2021. I found this organization through the Grow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT) program, which offers summer employment to youth ages 14 to 24. I had been in GDYT previously in the summer of 2020 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to come back. But, when I came back to GDYT in 2021, they put me in a new program called Local Circles. When I first joined, I was kind of skeptical and nervous about the program, but that quickly changed. 

What changed my perspective the most were the staff: Benjamin Williams and Nicole Jurek, who is the founder of Local Circles. They tried to really make connections with each youth researcher, and succeeded. They had icebreakers and feelings check-ins to make us feel more comfortable with the whole group and allow us to express ourselves.

We had online meetings every Tuesday and Thursday, and each meeting would be a new adventure. We learned something new every meeting to help us improve our interviewing skills. Topics for our interviews included the older generation’s teenage life and how it differs from today and how the pandemic has affected youth. We had an option to choose which topic we wanted to explore. I chose the older generation’s teenage life, and I interviewed my grandmother about this topic. One of the questions was: What were some of your favorite TV shows when you were younger? She told me some of her favorites were “The Little Rascals,” “The Shirley Temple Show” and “Sir Graves Ghastly.” Before the interview, I had never heard of Sir Graves Ghastly. The show was quite interesting. This interview is special to me because my grandmother passed away this November, and this interview really gave me such a great memory with my grandmother. It allowed me to really understand her teenage years. Local Circles will always have a special place in my heart for allowing me to make such a great memory and allowing me to have such a special time with her.

After our last day of the program, we had an in-person celebration at a lovely park. It was a nice, warm sunny day. I felt as if the weather around me represented how I felt coming out of the program. I felt very accomplished and was just really happy to be able to be a part of the experience. We all enjoyed ourselves at the park. The food was really good, and it was a nice way to connect with each other one last time and say good-bye. Or so I thought.

I was recruited to become a youth leader at Local Circles in the fall of 2021. So far I have really enjoyed my experience while being a youth leader. I get to help out with the feelings check-ins and icebreakers, which I loved so much during the summer. In the fall our interview and survey topics were based on how the pandemic affected teen mental health. I interviewed my classmates and had a wondrous turnout with the responses I received.

I have really enjoyed my time at Local Circles. It has pushed me to do things I thought I could never do. It also really allowed me to make so many marvelous memories. And as the fall portion of Local Circles ends, I just want to make clear that I have loved it so much. I would definitely recommend this program to one of my peers. Hopefully I will be able to participate in this experience during the spring of 2022.