Week Four: Reflecting on Culture – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week Four: Reflecting on Culture

There are a couple ways that culture has influenced my placement environment and inherently, my experiences there. I am definitely the youngest person in the office, by… probably a minimum of 20 years. My supervisor runs a computer consulting business on the side, so he is generally pretty tech savvy, but a lot of staff and volunteers need help with things like navigating pop-up desktop notifications and sending emails. After talking with my supervisor and seeing their struggles firsthand during the online civil rights workshop I lead, I’ve had the opportunity to run mini “computer basics” workshops to hopefully help people feel more comfortable with those things, but it was also a good reminder that growing up and having the resources and learning process integrated so smoothly into my childhood and education is something I often take for granted.

The geography and community around Friends of Parkside also play a huge role in not only my everyday experiences, but in the issues that the organization strives to provide support for. FOP is right inside The Village at Parkside, which is a public housing project in East Detroit. Because TVP houses around 275 low-income families, there is a definite need for resources like the food distribution program, youth after school and summer programs, and  housing support. The neighborhoods surrounding the complex also benefit from most of these as well, since they are open invites to all residents of the area. FOP also has opportunities for employment and volunteering, so many people live in the Parkside community and give back by donating their time and energy to making things run smoothly. It is really interesting to hear their perspective on policy and social issues within the city, and what their experience has been in the time they have spent living here because many have experienced these firsthand.

The office space in general has a very community-oriented feeling, since so many of their programs are run directly out of the space. The goal is to provide a very concrete, focused impact on the lives of a specific population, rather than a broader, more policy oriented approach, and that is reflected in the tightly knit group of dedicated people working to make FOP a sustainable resource for its residents.

Week 3: Observations in Detroit

One thing I have really appreciated about my placement is the opportunity to attend steering committee meetings for several of the community-based participatory research projects my supervisor is part of. It has been a great opportunity or networking with UM Med School and Public Health researchers, Detroit community partners and organizations, city department officials, and affected citizens. The sheer number of projects and collaborations happening simultaneously every day in Detroit is impressive, and many people overlap in their involvement. I think it is really important that people and organizations recognize the value of collaborating with others to achieve goals and outcomes beyond the specific focus of their organization, and it really contributes to the feeling that there is a wide-reaching network of people who deeply care for the city and the lives of the people in it; people who are prepared to do what’s necessary to achieve the common goal of a better Detroit.

This tireless commitment also reveals the reality of work in the nonprofit sector– in addition to the daily administration work needed to keep the organizations running smoothly, these people are constantly running from one meeting to the next, calling in to conferences, soliciting funding through grants and in-kind sponsorships, etc. The demand for their time and attention never ceases, and unfortunately, there is never a point where one says ‘I think we’re good on the funding for a while”. That is something I’ve always appreciated about social entrepreneurship– unlike a business or product, nonprofits rarely pay for themselves. They exist to provide and facilitate services and ideas, and there is little left over to keep them self-sustaining. This creates the perfect circumstances for really creative solutions to fundraising and promotion.

It’s also where networking comes in. In the business and political world, people have long known that it’s who you know that counts. But I have a new appreciation for the value of connections made with other organization representatives and major benefactors who have an interest in your mission. So many things happen so much more quickly, efficiently, better–at all– when you can reach out to a contact and send them a proposal for collaboration. People are much more likely to do you favors, or connect you with other resources when you have fostered a professional relationship with them. My supervisor told me that often he goes to meetings simply to upkeep his connections to certain other contacts, to take care of matter or give gentle reminders, suggest more projects, etc. I was able to do so at the City Builders event, where I saw a man from an organization that is participating in FOP’s annual Health Fair and, after a little small talk, reminded him that we really needed him to get back to us with the registration forms to finalize details for their involvement.

Networking makes the world go round, and there’s nothing wrong with helping each other out. We are, after all, working toward the same goal.

1 thought on “Week Four: Reflecting on Culture”

  1. I can totally relate to your post! I’m the youngest in my placement too so sometimes its harder to make yourself seem credible enough. However, don’t let that get in your way! Also, your placement seems like a wonderful one, so make the best of it!

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