Michigan Movement, a University of Michigan student organization, held their annual Project Connect event this Sunday. Project Connect is a six-hour long event modeled after Tent City in Toledo, Ohio. The event brings together University students and volunteers with members of the Ann Arbor homeless community to build relationships and provide resources. 

Founded by Business graduate student Hussain Ali and Public Health graduate student Payton Watt in 2017 when they were undergraduates, Michigan Movement operates as the only student organization on campus dedicated to providing aid to those impacted by poverty and homelessness in Ann Arbor. The organization highlights working with the community rather than for the community, a mission that is conveyed throughout Project Connect.

The event was broken up into various stations, starting with a check-in station where members of the homeless community filled out forms asking for their name, housing status, basic medical information and services they would be utilizing throughout the event. 

The next station provided MIM kits, the cornerstone of Michigan Movement’s mission. MIM kits are care packages filled with everyday necessities. The kits include items such as oral hygiene supplies, deodorant, flashlights and blankets. Free water bottles collected from the Intramural Sports building and the Central Campus Recreational Building which had been sanitized by University dining halls were also available as a part of the kit. 

In addition to the MIM kits, The Dot Org, a U-M organization dedicated to reducing menstruation stigma on campus and increasing awareness of menstruation based health disparities, provided menstrual care packages. The packages contained tampons, pads, an information sheet about menstrual health and a form that, once filled, ensures impoverished members of the community receive a monthly care package with menstrual products. 

The next station, hosted by local Infinity Hair Salon, provided free haircuts to attendees of the event. Denise Boylan, the owner of the salon, expressed her excitement in participating in the event. 

“When Michigan Movement reached out to me, I asked them how many other salons were participating and they said that they hadn’t talked to any others yet,” Boylan said. “So I told them, ‘What if I bring four of my employees with me?’ and they said that’s all they would need, so we came out today and we’re so glad to be giving back to the community. It’s been great and I think we’ll be coming back next year.”

A hot food station was also provided at the event. Early in the day, MIM provided hot coffee and bagels and then later transitioned to hot dogs, burgers, brownies, chips and water bottles. 

James, who preferred to only go by his first name because he is experiencing homelessness, said the hot meal was what motivated him to come to the event. 

“Someone was walking by me on the corner of State and North (University). and told me they were giving out free food around here, so I filled out the survey, and now I’m here enjoying the burger,” he said.

An additional station was run by Groundcover News, a nonprofit founded in 2010 as a way to empower individuals experiencing homeless and poverty by providing them with job opportunities as vendors for the street newspaper.

The final stations of Project Connect included blood sugar and blood pressure testing, a Medicaid referral tent, an oral assessment tent and a birth certificate and ID referral tent. 

Rackham student Alexandra Rolla, a member of the American Pharmacist Association, explained how Michigan Movement collaborated with APHA to provide blood sugar and blood pressure testing for the community. 

“There was a leadership conference back in the summer and one of our (APHA) presidents went to that conference, where they met with leaders who were setting this event up,” Rolla said. 

Will Shakespeare, a name he prefers to go by due to his housing status, shared how he became involved in MIM when he met Ali and Watt four years ago, and how it has grown as an organization since its founding.

“I met them at the Poverty Simulation Workshop. I introduced them to the Robert J. Delany Homeless Center and Mercy House and Groundcover News … They (MIM) are very resourceful and they are just out here to help the community become a better community,” Shakespeare said. 

Engineering junior Lindsey Smith, MIM co-director of operations, said MIM emphasizes working with the community and fully integrating their members in outreach events. 

“We emphasize working with the community and not for the community,” Smith said. “For example, we try to get feedback at all of our events, like what they use from our MIM kits and what they don’t. What they like about our events and what they don’t. So it’s a lot of us trying to provide opportunity but then trying to get feedback of what we can do better and how we can be better.” 

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