BY ASHLEY DINGES
Daily Arts Writer
Published November 18, 2004
A student gives back to the city
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In between running the Michigan Student Assembly’s airBus program, driving University buses and taking classes, LSA senior Neil Greenberg gives tours of Detroit to friends and others interested in learning about the city’s history.
Since being present at the opening night of Detroit’s People Mover in 1987, the city has played a large role in Greenberg’s life. Growing up in Bloomfield Township, one of Detroit’s suburbs, he often visited the city with his family.
“It was never the kind of thing in my house where Detroit was this kind of taboo. That’s not to say that anyone around me was idealistic about it. We always acknowledged the realities, we just never let that stand in the way, never in the worst years,” Greenberg said.
After years of exploring his interest in Detroit, Greenberg currently serves as assistant director of Summer in the City, a community service program he founded in 2002 with a friend to help high school students fulfill service requirements by working in the city.
“What we do primarily is work with high school kids to help them get their number of hours required in order to graduate high school. We hook up with other organizations in the city, like Habitat for Humanity and Focus: HOPE, and we funnel volunteers to them,” he explained.
Greenberg estimates about 10,000 hours have been put in by about 400 to 500 volunteers throughout the life of the program.
“A lot of kids in the suburbs, they have a good attitude, but they don’t really even know what community service is. They don’t know where to begin,” he said.
“Our goal is to make community service accessible for people who need to get credit.”
Though Greenberg enjoys community service, he explained that his true passion is transportation, and believes it has a direct impact on the process of revitalization in Detroit, and will soon be taking a job as a scheduler for SMART bus systems.
“Beyond even the transportation — and I admit, that’s my thing — our lack of transportation is emblematic of a bigger problem and that is that Detroit just doesn’t have its priorities straight,” he said.
“For all the attention we pay to the fact that visitors don’t walk away with a bad taste, we leave our residents in the dust.”
Healso explained his belief that to attract residents back into the city, Detroit must first create a desirable environment in which to raise a family.
“We aren’t going to do that one casino at a time, but we are going to do that one school at a time, one block at a time, one emptied trash can at a time.”
“A lot of people are pissed off, but for as many people who are pissed off, there are 10 people who don’t care. It’s those people that we need to tell why they should care.”
Project bridges gap between city, 'U'
One of the most well-known community service groups on campus is the Detroit Project, usually know for its annual spring service day in Detroit.
“That’s one of the things that had with it certain negative connotations because it’s this one huge day where you take a ton of people and you do all this work, and then you take off,” said DP Executive Director Evan Major.
Although this is often the most popular event organized by DP, it is merely one of many volunteering opportunities in Detroit offered throughout the year.
“The overall group, there’s about 40 people on our central playing team who hold a variety of positions, but we work in partnership with about 20 other organizations in the city of Detroit,” Major said.
“Our end goal is to build a community between the University and Detroit.”
One area DP focuses on is working in Detroit schools, concentrating their work in eight different elementary and middle schools. Every day of the week, DP runs two to three programs after school such as test preparation, tutoring, poetry and writing workshops and homework help. Additionally, the group organizes a student council in several schools that are not able to offer them to students.
Three programs make up DP, including a Youth Program team, Brightmoor team, and Southwest Detroit team. Within the Brightmoor community, DP is working to help develop a greenway project, which will connect two parks, spanning 1.5 miles in the neighborhood.
“Traditionally greenways have sparked a lot of community renewal, housing value increase — all kinds of things spring forward from them,” Major said.