I’m Erik. I am serving as a LEAGUE VISTA at Detroit Edison Public School Academy in Detroit’s Eastern Market. We are currently experiencing unseasonable weather with no snow on the ground and 40 degree days in January. The service-learning spirit here is as strong as ever and great strides have been made in recent months to serve the less fortunate. Unfortunately, since August, I have been solitarily working on projects, co-VISTA-less. My better half Maya left for Medical school at the University of Michigan to do doctor stuff (who knows what goes on there). The friendship I have forged with her, however, will last a lifetime.
In her absence I have a considerably larger work load. The thought of taking on Read-N-Give alone is daunting (prepare yourselves LEAGUE VISTA’s). In an effort to keep all of the service- learning balls in the air I have, at times, taken on the role of VISTA coach, encouraging and guiding educators to take on some of the work themselves. This has paid dividends. Many of those educators have received grants with minimal help and have realized what is possible.
So much has happened since my last update so I will try to touch on some of the biggest pieces. Over the course of my service-term I have worked with a non-profit called RX for Reading Detroit. The organization, which seeks to solve low literacy rates within the city, is run by Mary-Catherine Harrison. Mary-Catherine puts Little Free Libraries in children’s clinics and playgrounds to increase access to literature. At the same time her organization collected over 15,000 books in its first year of operation to fill those libraries. Maya and I worked to build a library for her while donating around 2000 books from our Read-N-Give efforts.
In November, DEPSA gained a LEAGUE VISTA who has already made great progress in accomplishing the requirements in her VAD. Carla Valpeoz works on college access with our High School students. I am excited to see the work that she does and I can already see the value of the work that she is doing with the oldest group of DEPSA scholars.
Most recently, the DEPSA K-5 students participated in a Food and Winter Clothing Drive. Through a partnership with Gleaners Community Food Bank and Detroit Helping Detroit the students donated over 500 pounds of food and six boxes of winter clothing. To kick off the event we held an assembly to motivate the kids about giving during the holiday season and what their donation would mean to the partnering organization.
I am currently working on a program with Back Alley Bikes to start an after-school program for kids age 12-18. Back Alley is a non-profit organization that works to get everyone on a bike through programs like Earn-A-Bike. The program that we have designed brings in students once weekly to work on a bike over the course of a month. At the end of the month the student gets to keep the bike that they have fixed. In addition to a bike, the student is given a lock and a helmet. This program seeks to support equal-opportunity transportation, which is something Back Alley is committed to.
Typically we approach these blog posts with levity and high spirits about our service-term however I want to take a moment to face facts. Serving the population of Detroit can, at times, seem overwhelming. The inherent socioeconomic problems of a metropolitan area are exponentially larger in a city that has seen so much disinvestment and political malfeasance over the past 40 years. Racial policy-making along with several other factors has made Detroit the most segregated city in the world. The education system has, for decades, failed its youngest community members. It takes heart to fight for something so many consider a lost cause. Staying motivated to work on a problem of such complexity and depth can feel like an exercise in itself. Listening closely and operating with empathy have been great assets during my service term.
I can say with confidence that Detroit is a wonderful home. Over the past few years it has time and time again exceeded all expectations that I have held for it. This city has shown me, with grace and with grit alike, a place to lay down my roots and a place I am willing to fight for. Through my work with AmeriCorps I have found that social justice will always play a large role in what I do as a career and in my personal constitution.
I am amazed at how quickly my VISTA year has passed and I am excited for what the future might bring. I hope you are all having a great VISTA year and I look forward to reading the rest of your blog posts in the upcoming months.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!