Like a rambling school bus filled with children, testimonials in support of the Youth Transit Alliance (YTA) are rolling in. And it's a good thing because the Detroit Bus Company-operated program, which safely transports kids between their homes in Southwest Detroit and after-school programs throughout the city, needs as much praise as it can get. The program must raise $97,328 by March 25 in order to keep providing free rides through the end of the school year. If the lofty goal is not met, the bus rides halt March 31.
Armed with a video camera, Detroit Bus Company
(DBC) founder Andy Didorosi and his team are using this month to record some of that praise, with the hope that viewers will make a donation to help keep the program moving. The videos are being posted on the company's Facebook
and the fundraiser's Indiegogo
pages. The crowdfunding campaign's initial goal is to raise $20,000, but the ultimate goal is still that higher number. To help with the fundraising push, Detroit film production company Mindfield made the campaign's first video.
Among YTA fans is Mike Cruz, a teacher at Western International High School who says access to extracurricular activities can give kids of limited means the confidence to aspire for more than their current circumstances.
"Our kids have very strong work ethics in Southwest Detroit; it goes back to even my days when I was growing up here. But my only complaint about these kids, they're great kids, but they aim low," Cruz says in a video the Detroit Bus Company posted on its Facebook page. "They work hard, they're used to seeing adults that work hard, but not make a lot of money. If we can get them to these programs, you take that work ethic, which you can't learn out of a textbook, and you apply it to the professional world, they blossom, they do incredibly well and they realize, 'You know what, I could do this. Maybe being an engineer or a doctor or lawyer, maybe that isn't for other people.'"
What started as a pilot program in 2013, the YTA operates in Southwest Detroit through a partnership between the Detroit Bus Company and neighborhood youth development organizations.
The Skillman Foundation funded the venture in its first year as a means of helping youths participate in its more than 40 after school programs around the city of Detroit. For the 2014-2015 school year, Skillman contributed $160,000 of the YTA's $240,000 budget.
The biggest challenge in kids' ability to be involved in the Skillman programming, Didorosi says, is transportation.
"Extracurricular involvement is what puts kids into college, even more so sometimes than high GPAs," Didorosi says.
On top of the free rides, the 24-seat bus is chaperoned by someone who walks the kids to their front doorsteps. The YTA websiten also provides parents with information about after school programs that offer the ride service.
The call for support comes in the wake of a renewed discussion about metro Detroit's broken transportation system. A recent Detroit Free Press story
highlighting the plight of James Robertson, a Detroit resident who walks more than 20 miles each day to and from work in a suburban factory, went viral, and a number of local elected officials have since acknowledged the transportation challenges faced by the region's working poor.
That story resulted in a GoFundMe campaign that garnered more than $300,000 in donations from across the globe and Robertson being given a new car. Following that momentum, Didorosi is hoping that folks who are willing to donate to one man's transportation problems cause will be moved to act on behalf hundreds of Detroit school children.