DETROIT — With brushes, sandpaper and buckets of paint in hand, more than 40 University students gathered this weekend in the halls of Priest Elementary to give the school’s lockers a much-needed paint job.
The group, primarily made up of members of the business fraternity Phi Chi Theta, was one of more than 27 groups from the University volunteering in the 10th-annual Detroit Partnership Day.
This year, more than 800 students participated in the annual day of service known as “DP Day.” The event is organized by The Detroit Partnership, a service-learning organization focused on creating a stronger connection between the University and the city of Detroit.
Students worked in areas located mostly around southwest and northwest Detroit, doing a variety of activities like repainting schools, clearing abandoned buildings for demolition and planting trees on city blocks.
The first DP Day, in 2000, was created as a way to get University students more interested in Detroit through community service projects. Beginning with about 400 participants, the event has now more than doubled in size, attracting student groups seeking service projects that help surrounding communities.
LSA senior Julia Roberts, a volunteer at Priest Elementary, stressed the importance of service work in Detroit.
“There is so much cleanup to be done in Detroit. (DP Day) is a great way to contribute,” she said. “It’s a great form of solidarity with surrounding communities.”
Priest Elementary is located in a neighborhood in southwest Detroit that has seen better days. The walls outside the schoolyard are littered with graffiti and the lockers inside are faded and paint-chipped.
The work of painting the school’s lockers began last year, when half of the lockers in the main hallway received a fresh coat. This year the work continued, as students sanded down lockers before giving the hallway a new splash of color with blue, yellow and red paint.
Business junior Cory Rosenfield, who volunteered at Priest Elementary, said he found the work done on DP Day to be simple, but important in helping to clean up Detroit.
“We’re here just to paint and do anything that the janitor needs,” he said. “It’s really too bad that we can’t see how the kids react to what we’ve done in the halls. It would be nice to see that.”
Rosenfield, who is also president of Phi Chi Theta, attributes DP Day’s popularity among students to their desire to connect more with the city of Detroit, which cannot be done while sitting in a classroom.
“You don’t get a sense of Detroit while you’re in Ann Arbor,” he said. “Coming to help out here is just one small piece of the puzzle.”
At the end of the day, students rallied at Stoepel Park in Detroit to celebrate the day’s work and listen to speakers from the city, including Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel.
Education senior Ashley Fotieo, who is the executive director of Detroit Partnership, has been part of the organization for four years.
This year’s DP Day, she said, saw an increase in community involvement, something the organization has been focusing on in recent years.
But Fotieo said one of the primary goals of DP Day, besides the city cleanup, is establishing a connection with the city.
“I think that maybe what the bigger impact is, is connecting people to the city,” she said. “You can’t make long-lasting changes with just one day’s work.”