Living in a Detroit suburb my entire life has given me a bit of an outsider’s view of the city. I grew up knowing about the problems of the city, the hidden danger that the city harbored and the major events the city had to offer. The media has always negatively portrayed Detroit. Consequently, my knowledge of and exposure to the city as a child was limited to the few excursions my family made into the city, primarily for sporting events, the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the obligatory Lafayette Coney Island hot dog. Though situated a mere 25 minutes from the city my entire life, I didn’t know much more about it than what I saw on the news.

Upon joining the student body at the University, Detroit seemed “trendy.” Everyone was doing service-learning work in Detroit, and I didn’t get it. Why Detroit? Why now? I was extremely skeptical of the entire ordeal as I felt it perpetuated this idea of the white-savior complex, and I didn’t know if I would ever want to be involved in something like that.

During January of my freshman year, I was coaxed into being a site leader for Detroit Partnership Day. I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into, with the exception of the fact that I’d be joined by about 1,400 of my peers in Detroit. I wasn’t sure what difference I could make in one day. I was a bit reluctant to be involved in something I wasn’t sure I supported, but decided to give it a chance.

Two months later, DP Day finally rolled around, and at 6:30 a.m., I rose with the sun. I spitefully piled on layers upon layers of clothing, grabbed a cup of coffee in the eerily quiet Michigan Union and walked to meet the rest of my peers who were volunteering with me.

I volunteered at Neighbors Building Brightmoor that day, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my experience. Five other students and I worked with a man who told us all about his journey to Detroit 30 years ago and how he fell in love with the city. His dedication and his care really inspired me. The work I did was tiring and tedious, but the impact that man made on me that day has stayed with me ever since.

What I realized during that time was that it’s not about the amount of siding I moved or how clean the alley looked after we finished our work for the day, but the relationships I was able to forge during the experience that made DP Day a highlight of my freshman year. I realized that I was looking at DP Day from the wrong angle. DP Day is about more than just spending your Saturday volunteering in Detroit; it’s about taking active steps and taking into account that service-learning is as much about receiving as it is giving. Though I was the one volunteering, I felt a bit guilty about how good I felt after doing so. Was that supposed to happen? Was I doing something wrong?

One year later, I am now on the Major Events Team of the Detroit Partnership and have a new perspective, which enables me to see an entirely different side of what DP Day looks like. What I’ve come to appreciate is that the Detroit Partnership truly is about building mutually beneficial partnerships. If this happened to me, I have no doubt it is also happening to many others. What ostensibly began as a “chore” has morphed into a labor of love.

The approach the Detroit Partnership takes toward creating these relationships is intentional. The group researches potential sites first and foremost. After that, applications are sent to Detroit-based organizations seeking their participation. If the organizations are interested, they decide whether they’d like volunteers to work with them to achieve some of their goals. The Detroit Partnership works carefully to let these organizations articulate specifically what help they need and to match that need with available resources. If we can’t accommodate their needs for the specific event, we work to find other ways, such as one-time programs or weekly programs to involve these organizations. Doing this really enforces the sustainability of these relationships.

With the hope of creating your own connections, I encourage you to join me — and the rest of the Detroit Partnership — in volunteering on DP Day. Be one of the 1,400 University students who join forces to serve the community, learn from one another and create meaningful relationships along the way. Don’t think of it as one day, but rather a step toward familiarizing yourself with the city beyond what you see in the news. Sign up to volunteer at thedetroitpartnership.org.

Blair Sucher is an LSA sophomore.

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