9: Reflect – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

9: Reflect

I don’t believe in wasting time.

I know that sounds bold. Perhaps it’s not entirely true. I believe that sitting around all day watching Netflix and scrolling through Facebook could certainly be considered a waste of time. I believe that would be a waste of my own time. But what I mean by the statement is that I do not believe that wholehearted experiences waste time. I do not believe that seemingly failed efforts waste time. I do not believe that challenges or changed plans or disappointments serve as wasted time. I’m committed to the idea that every experience can shape us positively, given the right attitude and an optimistic outlook.

I say this because my internship this summer wasn’t exactly what I had hoped it would be. It was, in some big ways, a disappointment. When I had selected my top choices for placements, I had stressed my hope for an interactive position because I so wanted to be out in the community, learning from Detroiters. I was placed as the MEEFA intern at EcoWorks because it promised a role that centered on arranging and conducting interviews with affordable housing residents in order to appeal to policymakers for improvements to a system that cripples the finances of families in this city: utilities. I had never really spent time thinking about utilities or energy efficiency, not because I believed they weren’t important, but because my interests lie in sustainable and responsible economic and political development. I’m an economics and international studies double major and I’m essentially concerned with stimulating poverty alleviation.

I don’t know anything about the energy sector. Yet, I grew to understand the burden that utilities had on the city’s population and the injustices in their access to programs that would help them. I was ready to learn about a new aspect of economic and political development and I believed that I would be able to use my creativity to tell the stories of Detroiters.

This isn’t really what happened. Leading up to the beginning of the program, I was never able to get in touch with my supervisor. After several failed attempts, Jenna put me in touch with someone else at EcoWorks. Little did I know, she would unexpectedly — both to me and to her — become my new supervisor. Just as my first week at EcoWorks was wrapping up, and my time had been spent watching documentaries on Grace Lee Boggs and We the People of Detroit — well worth the time, by the way — I was told that my original supervisor had been let go. He had been in charge of MEEFA — the coalition leading my storytelling project — and my new supervisor knew little about this project or the work plan I was supposed to complete over the remaining 8 weeks.

This blog could become very long if I do not make an effort to consolidate the summer, but essentially, I ended up spending much of my time editing the MEEFA website — something I did enjoy a lot — and assisting my supervisor with paperwork and coordinating with other nonprofits. I was able to assist with two group interviews in mid-July, but most of my efforts went into finding buildings that would allow us in and planning catering. I didn’t go on to be able to conduct anymore interviews or to work on the write-ups of what we heard during those interviews. It was, in all honesty, a let down.

Here we come full circle: I do not believe in wasting time, given wholehearted efforts and commitment. I am disappointed in my placement, and in the lack of communication and organization that I faced. I am somewhat disappointed in my own failure to better advocate for myself. But I am reassured by the reality that I was placed in an office for nine weeks, unfamiliar with the opportunities I could have advocated for and hopeful that the situation would improve. I am reassured by my complete lack of disappointment in being in this incredible city. I love Detroit. I have for a long time: the main reason I chose this program was the location. I didn’t do it for the internship. The money and the new bullet points on my resume were perks. I chose this program to better understand the communities here and to learn about local life. I had hoped this would be built into the internship, but regardless, I got to spend a whole summer with a view of Canada and the Ambassador Bridge.

I can wholeheartedly say that I tried my absolute best to be here and to get out of Midtown and to talk to people who live here and love here and to make every single day matter. I can say that I met some incredible people, not only from Detroit, but in this program that I hope to continue my friendships with. I can say that I did learn about storytelling and website building and office jobs and that I did make some amazing connections at the truly wonderful place that EcoWorks is — because it really is an important and effective asset to Detroit. I got to spend an entire summer attending events weekly all around the city that were exciting and interesting. I got to spend this summer thinking critically about things beyond what I knew about Detroit previously and within a sector that I never knew could be part of my interests. I got to see a nonprofit from the inside, and yes, I got to add some bullet points to my resume.

I do not believe in wasting time.

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