Fifteen-year-old Tenicia Tramble, a resident of Brightmoor, a community in the northwestern section of Detroit, was the only volunteer to race against four male students from the University of Michigan during a potato sack race at Warren G. Harding Elementary school.
Tenicia, whose pigtails barely reached the hips of her opponents, was participating in a field day, one of the more than 60 activities that made up the Detroit Project the largest community service endeavor at the University.
An estimated 1,400 students participated all-day Saturday in an array of community service projects in the city including painting a mural, picking up trash, demolishing vacant buildings and running the field day for neighborhood kids.
“I was anxious,” said Tenicia, who remained smiling and giggling as she hopped around in a dirtied pillow case even though she was edged out by one of the men.
“They care,” Tenicia said of the volunteers, adding that she was appreciative of the effort.
Across the street from the school, a 24-year-old man who prefers to be known as “D” and his friends Elroy Jackson and Shawn Johnson watched the army of University students parade through the neighborhood on their way to other varied activities.
“D” is a construction worker who lives in Southfield, but he grew up in the Brightmoor neighborhood.
He said he appreciated the effort of the students to help clean things up.
“Y”all need the experience part of this,” he said. “The only thing that we”re negative about, is that we had some outsiders come in, instead of the community getting together.”
Jackson, the only one of his friends to remain in Brightmoor, said it”s possible to move out of poverty. “You got to want to do something. You got to want to get out of here.”
But if the Detroit Project works, children like 11-year-old Terri Mitchell won”t have to leave the neighborhood that she loves in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional singer.
Detroit Project Executive Director Katie Foley, an LSA senior, said Saturday”s activities seemed to push the city in the direction of changing itself.
Foley, who said she spends a lot of time in the area, said she and other community members noticed an unusually large number of people cleaning up outside their houses while volunteers planted hundreds of trees alongside the street.
“A big goal was empowering the community,” Foley said. “You could tell there was a difference in the number of people working outside their homes.”
LSA freshman Alana Aaron said she was drawn to the Detroit Project by the fact that it held low commitment, but high results.
“I think a lot can be done in one day,” she said. “In one day there”s going to be more than 200 more trees on this block. These kids are going to remember one day with us. One day is better than no days.”
For Aaron, a favorite moment was talking to a mother as she watched her son plant a flower near the school. Aaron said the mother was moved, saying “That is the nicest thing he”s done in his entire life. This must be a good day.”
“I thought that was really amazing,” Aaron said.