I never dreamed of working with a multinational corporation at the age of 17. When I accepted an internship with the General Motors Student Corps
, I thought the position would be all business and no fun--working in an office setting with a strict boss telling me to file something. However, that was not the case. I spent the summer doing community service work in my neighborhood, the Osborn community in Northeast Detroit. I got to plan projects with peers who had the same passion for the community as I did.
General Motors Student Corps interns have a common goal -- to improve local neighborhoods while helping students develop their career skills. Our group, which consisted of nine students from the three different schools inside the Osborn High School educational complex, four General Motor retirees, and one University of Detroit Mercy intern, engaged in projects that positively affected the Osborn community.
Returning the Favor
Osborn resident Lou Dean Brown, an active community member, has lived in the Osborn community for 33 years. She has dedicated much of her life to working with children. As the Children Ministry leader for Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, where she’s been a member for 15 years, she’s hosted events for children including health fairs, motivational speakers, and an art fair that eventually was displayed at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History. From 2003 to 2009 Brown was a Special Aid for children with learning disability at Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts.
"Education for children is my passion because I know what I didn’t get when I as a child," Brown says.
But Brown, 64, didn’t feel safe in her own backyard. She had injured her leg and could not care for her yard, which became overgrown with grass and weeds. She requested the GM Student Corps to landscape her property. We cut the overgrown grass and weeds and removed trash from the abandoned property adjacent from her home, then redecorated her flower garden.
"It is my pleasure to say thank you to the Osborn GM Student Corps. There are no words to express my gratitude for your generosity for all you’ve done for me. Thank you for a job well done." says Brown.
Brown says she’s very appreciative to General Motors for this program because students get to learn from the program and it provides a service to the community.
"Thank you so very much students and retirees!" Brown says.
The opportunity to lead
Our original project was was one I had proposed in my application to the GM Student Corps program -- to beautify 10 homes on Dresden Street to improve the morale and safety of residents. We were going to board up houses, cut down grass, and paint inspiring quotes on houses. I was very excited about our original project because it was my idea and it was selected.
I was disappointed when we could not get the approval within the time frame of the program. I think my teammates were just as disappointed.
But we started developing a "Plan B," which would turn into multiple projects: assisting senior citizens in our community who needed help and repairing the infield of our school's baseball diamond. We also formed a partnership with the 7 Mile/Hoover Block Club to fence in a plot for a community garden and agreed to paint the entrance doors and the interior wall of the Boys & Girls Club game room.
I had no idea about the relationships I would build. I thought getting along with my co-workers might be challenging because even though we all attended classes in the same building, we were still from different schools. Yet my teammates treated me like family and showed that they cared. I’m used to working alone, so when I work in groups I usually let myself get pushed to the side. My teammates showed me I had the right to speak up because I was part of the team. They taught me how to be an active team player.
I didn’t think I would learn as much as I did in 10 short weeks. I learned about time management, financing, engineering, and human resources. I visited various places and non profits like the Forgotten Harvest, GM Design Center, and car dealerships.
Through the program, I was introduced to a new mentor, Deborah Eastern-Hall. She was one of the retirees who led our group, and she gave me advice on personal issues and advised me on college readiness, as well as my dream to become a journalist. She drove two hours each day to and from Toledo, Ohio to mentor us and she was always on time. I’ll always remember what she told me on our last day of work.
"You have great confidence. You will be an excellent journalist," Eastern-Hall says. "Please send me copies of your articles because I expect great things from you."
A lasting impact
Our projects visibly impacted a lot of people in the community. The fence we built protects the vegetables grown by and for the youth and seniors in the Osborn community. The Boys and Girls Club services more than 200 children and they will benefit from the interior improvements. Repairing the baseball in-field helps encourage school spirit within Osborn High School and future players can practice on a safe and clean field. Clearing the lawn adjacent to Ms. Brown’s yard will help provide safe passage for students, who walk to and from school along this route, in addition to benefiting Ms. Brown and her family.
Most importantly, however, I built a stronger relationship with my community through this program. There are plenty of community leaders like Ms. Brown but I’m glad I got to meet her and make an impact on her life. It brings me joy knowing that I can walk to and from school knowing I made her family and my community safer.
During the summer, we documented our adventure with the goal of presenting our work to the president of General Motors, Mark Reuss. We decided to nominate people to speak. Four nominees practiced in front of our teammates and I was selected to present our story to the president.
At first I was nervous, but when I finally went up there to present I was comfortable. I thought all the executives and the president would be grading me, but when I stood at that podium I could see through their smiles that they just wanted to hear our story. Speaking about the experience felt natural. I felt like I was being heard.
"I must say you did an outstanding job with the presentation. There are a lot of people in executive positions who don't do as well as you. Keep up the good work, stay focused and you will go far," says Lewis Cole, GM retiree.
Refelecting on the whole experience, I'm happy to say that I learned new skills, I made an impact in my community, and I gained new family members.
Thank you, General Motors for giving me this opportunity to make changes not only in the Osborn community, but in Detroit.
Lettie-Ann Miller is a senior at Osborn Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Technology.