Volunteering is something that for many years I have not only found valuable, but fun. It’s a great way to meet new people, become aware of what’s happening in the community, and feel more connected. Plus, chances are while you’re volunteering, you’re probably really helping someone out.
One of the main components of Challenge Detroit is to “Give” in Detroit. All of the fellows are required to volunteer monthly, as well as create quarterly service events in which we all participate. Volunteering as a group of fellows at places like the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative or Cass Community Social Services is a break from working on a Challenge and a chance for us to catch up casually. Volunteering individually has allowed me the chance to meet other Detroiters and get a glimpse into an organization or community I was previously unfamiliar with.
Last night, at our Challenge Detroit Winter Social event, I spoke with Amy Good, CEO of the non-profit organization Alternatives for Girls. She told me that girls and women who seek help through their programs are frequently encouraged to contribute hours of service to their community. Whether they are teenagers painting the walls of a school or little girls making sandwiches and decorating the bags for the homeless, these activities show these ladies that they matter, and that their community needs them just as much as they need their community. I found it to be a powerful message that something as valuable as empowerment and self-confidence can come from small acts.
Every time I volunteer my time and services, I walk away with a story to tell. Here I will highlight just a few of my service experiences in the city and why they made an impact on me – hopefully I made an impact on them too.
I volunteered at the Arab American National Museum on Halloween day, along with fellow Amelia Suarez, to assist in the set up and facilitation of their annual Halloween party. Our duties were not glamorous (set up decorations and sell tickets), but so many adorable children in costumes came through and it was great to see such an engaging and family-friendly event occurring on Halloween for the Dearborn community. I also greatly appreciated the chance to visit and explore the Arab American National Museum, as it is the only museum in the US devoted to Arab American history and culture.
As our first Challenge project partnered with the Mayor’s Office in promoting local business throughout the neighborhoods, I was eager to contribute further promotion towards the city to shop local. The Detroit Experience Factory is an incredible program that enlightens newcomers and “lifers” alike on what Detroit has to offer through bus tours, walking tours, and so much more. We have been lucky enough to work with DXF several times through Challenge Detroit, so it was easy to support them by volunteering at their first large endeavor for Small Business Saturday. A few fellows assisted in various tasks at this event, which had a small business vendor market downtown, as well as shuttle buses venturing to various neighborhoods reaching as far as the Avenue of Fashion on Livernois. It was great to see strong interest in supporting small local businesses, and Christ Johnstone and I even spontaneously led one of the bus tours – a good way to test our knowledge on the neighborhoods!
Volunteering with your employer can be a great way to learn more about your company and appreciate what they do for the community. There are multitudes of ways in which Beaumont Health contributes to and interacts with its community all throughout Southeast Michigan. From heart screenings to cooking classes, sponsored walks to workshops, Beaumont’s commitment to quality care both within the hospitals and in neighborhoods is becoming more widespread with the growth of the system (Beaumont Health System’s merge with Oakwood Health System and Botsford Hospital). I have also had one of the most memorable volunteering experiences with Beaumont Health.
This past September, I volunteered at Camp Hermelin, an annual event put on as a fundraiser for ORT — a very impressive international education and training organization – with loads of family fun activities. Beaumont Children’s Hospital was a sponsor of the event, and so I got to join the event as Beau the Bear. You read right, I spent the sunny day engulfed in a Bear costume, shaking my bear booty to the DJ’s music (who constantly cheered me on) and dishing out hugs to children. It was heart-warming to see (with what little vision I had!) the kids get so excited when they would high-five or take a picture with Beau. I was happy to have provided some entertainment to the kids and their families at the day camp and have finally fulfilled a life-long curiosity as to what it’s like to wear a mascot costume. I have even signed up to be a part of Beau’s Community Crew.
Volunteering in both the city and the suburbs can be a valuable way to support the region and bring neighboring communities together. I appreciate that Challenge Detroit highlights the value of service within the city. If we all saw ourselves as important, as worthy of offering our help and empowered to do so, then maybe this region would look just a little bit brighter.