Challenge Detroit accepting applications for next cohort of fellows

On a recent Friday at TechTown, Challenge Detroit fellows huddle near a wall where they place Post-Its full of ideas inspired by the past couple of weeks working with Sinai-Grace Guild Community Development Corporation.

They are in the midst of a six-week project with the CDC, which serves Northwest Detroit. For this particular project, the fellows are working to address the question of: How might Sinai-Grace Guild CDC support a thriving age-friendly community in Northwest Detroit? The project is focused on seniors and five areas, including social determinants of health, social connectedness, communication and outreach, technology, and accessibility/mobility.

Over in the social determinants of health group, fellows come up with ideas that address isolation and depression seniors may feel from lack of connectivity. Over in the mobility group, fellows talk about how to connect residents who are mobile, like teen drivers, with those who aren’t, like seniors who don’t drive.

In the following weeks they’ll make recommendations, test their ideas, and then present it to the CDC team, which comprises two people: Executive Director Lisa Campbell and Program Manager Crystal Head.

The impact of the work reaches far and wide, Campbell says, greatly increasing the relatively young (about four years) nonprofit.

“Even just for the six weeks that we have the fellows, it's tremendous capacity in terms of the value of the work that we're getting, having 25 fellows bring their ideas to the table and develop concepts that could take months for Crystal and I to actually get to that point. This particular project will help build a solid foundation for a long-term plan … specifically for our seniors.”

To help attract and keep college-educated young professionals in the city, Challenge Detroit launched in 2012, when the city was facing steep population losses and looming bankruptcy. On average, Challenge Detroit Program Director Shelley Danner says 84% of fellows stay in Detroit after their fellowship year. Applications are now being accepted for the next cohort.

Fellows are placed at local companies and organizations, from smaller nonprofits like Sinai-Grace Guild CDC to bigger institutions like DTE and General Motors. They work at the host company during the week and on Fridays they meet and collaborate with their cohort on project collaborations such as the work with Sinai-Grace Guild CDC.

Aside from attracting and retaining young professionals the nonprofit aims to highlight the city as a place to live, work, and play while playing a role in Detroit’s development and revitalization efforts.

Two current fellows who hope to stay in Detroit after their year is over is Harmony Rhodes, from Southwest Detroit, and Jacob Jones, who hails from Macomb County but now lives in the city. Rhodes, who is placed at DTE Foundation, is planning to apply for law school.

“I would love to stay in Detroit,” she says. “I’m interested in civil rights, but also advocacy work with a company. Maybe like, you know, employment law so it was really important for me to build my network in Detroit, and stay here this is home. This is where I want to grow my career and build a life.”

Jacob Jones, grew up in Macomb and now lives in Detroit, majored in history and worked as a tour guide in the city but felt “stuck” before he joined Challenge Detroit. He wanted a way to learn more about Detroit and “take the things I loved about it and my talents and maybe put them towards something good.” He’s working with the Eight Mile Boulevard Association.

“Being in Challenge Detroit is really showing me that there are these awesome organizations that do really good work … but at the same time it’s also showing me that there are businesses in the city who are doing good work to make a difference as well. So it's really opened my eyes to the different things that I can do in this city, and I don't just have to have my nose in a history book to find out what's going on or what’s happening and I can actually be out in the field.”

For more information or to apply, go to Challenge Detroit's website

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Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.