Jeff Houghton is a 2020-2021 Fellow at Arts & Scraps. He hails from Detroit, Michigan. He is excited to spend a year as a Fellow in hopes of aquiring new skills and helping people across the community. 

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

Arts & Scraps is a non-profit that teaches STEM using recycled materials and art integration. It is a company whose mission has been to inspire creativity and ingenuity as they learn through a hands-on approach. Additionally we have a community store that provides inexpensive access to recycled craft materials. Educational equity and access to those who still have a desire to craft and engage in creative activity is the cornerstone of our organization.

My official title is “Warehouse Manager.” It is a position with several hats. Mentioned earlier was the subject of recycled craft materials, to expand, we receive donations of items that would otherwise be discarded from over 200 businesses throughout Metro Detroit. We save 28 tons of things that could find their way into a landfill and give them a second life.

“Jeff is our Warehouse Manager. He has been working hard to get our warehouse up and running again after COVID. Corporate volunteerism has halted so that everyone is safe, so we have had an uphill battle trying to find more places for volunteers so we can keep impacting our community. Jeff has also been working hard to get some gift ideas going so we can bring in some income before the end of the year. He has moved our wholesale kits along and we are now seeking places that will be able to sell them in stores. His hard work is helping Arts & Scraps keep impacting the community and stay financially sustainable.” — Ang Adamiak Executive Director, Arts & Scraps

My day-to-day tasks include:

  • I manage the storage, transportation, and use of all of the materials.
  • I coordinate, manage, and direct the volunteers who process and prepare the materials for use in a craft.
  • I design craft projects for events and have recently begun designing kits.

The final meeting between Fellows and Liaisons as we handed over our deliverables. Our hard work, collaboration, and teamwork finally found itself in the hands of Generation of Promise. An amazing feeling to cap a fantastic experience.

Tell us about the challenge project you’re currently working on – what are you learning from the experience?

The most recent project that I have been working on is in partnership with Focus Hope’s “Generation of Promise,” a former non-profit that is now fully integrated into Focus Hope. Generation of Promise (GoP) is a youth development program that hosts 60 students from 16 schools across Metro Detroit for an entire year specifically focusing on educating high school juniors on topics such as: racial equity, empathy, and cultural exchange. My group is answering the design question, “How might we celebrate GoP’s 30th anniversary with a virtual event?”

So far I have learned quite a bit about: design thinking, event planning, fundraising, inter-department communication, virtual conferencing, and community engagement.

More impactfully I have taken steps in learning and improving: my listening skills (active listening), my communication skills with team members, and learning to serve the needs of stakeholders rather than trying to quickly answer a question/problem.

How do you hope to impact the community as a Fellow?

I hope that I, as a Fellow, can at the very least use my perspective and insight to bring a new idea or way of thinking to nonprofits and organizations working in the city of Detroit. Additionally, I hope I can help to add mechanisms, systems, and strategies, even marginally, that our partners can utilize beyond the projects we collaborate on.

My first time using a method of ideation within the design thinking process. Way more fun and creative than I would have thought prior to Challenge Detroit.

Since becoming a Fellow, what is something new that you have learned?

The biggest skill I have learned is design thinking. I had never used the entire process to methodically problem solve and I have begun using it more often in everyday life as well as with my host company.

I have also learned more about Detroit and its history. There are so many scars of racism and inequity and, until now, I hadn’t known the specifics/stories behind it. From slavery to redlining, seeing the causes for so much disparity between the city’s borders and its suburbs has been the most enlightening.

Please share the most memorable moment you have experienced so far as a Fellow. Why was it memorable and how has it impacted you?

The most memorable moment that I have experienced was during an interview with a stakeholder during the first Challenge Project. She was an alumna of Generation of Promise and hearing how being in that program not only expanded her worldview, but her continued involvement led to her choosing to work with juvenile defendants in Detroit moved me. During my time with my host company one of our recurring volunteer groups that I have worked with closely were juvenile detainees serving out their community service. I got the chance to not only hear their stories, but see them act and work as children. That stakeholder interview related her experience and work to mine in a way that alerted me to the fact that I hope to give more attention to criminal justice as it relates to juveniles. It encouraged a lot of empathy that hadn’t really had much foundation prior to.

If someone is reading this and considering applying to be a Fellow, why would you encourage them to apply?

Being a Fellow gives you more than a glimpse into the systems of change that are working to improve the community. I would encourage them to apply because even in the few months that I have been a part of Challenge Detroit so far, I have felt real growth and maturation.

Additionally, learning design thinking principles is a skill you can utilize in any facet of your life. I have only just learned and embraced it, and already I notice how often I say “How might we…” to answer questions that I never considered before.

Also, being a Fellow can provide some clarity or at least a path for those like me who still aren’t sure what they want to do, but have a defined set of beliefs and strong principles.

Finally, being in a setting that encourages empathy with your peers only strengthens your resolve and humanity. Hearing the passion and seeing the diligence of others that are not co-workers, long-time friends or family, is not only inspiring but invigorating.