Marygrove Conservancy’s Community Impact Incubator creates a leadership program for Black leaders

Just three months into my new role as chief operating officer for the Marygrove Conservancy, the effects of COVID-19 forced us to close Marygrove’s 53-acre campus, as 48221 quickly became a COVID hotspot.


We’d recently teamed with Strategic Community Partners to design an incubator concept to provide child and family serving non-profits with facilities and capacity building support, but we quickly realized we needed to create a program in direct response to leading in a post-COVID world.


Our team began conducting listening sessions to hear how we could best serve Detroit based nonprofit leaders and how they believed COVID-19 would affect the future of their organizations.


What we heard was harrowing. As large, in-person fundraising events such as the Detroit Auto Show’s Charity Preview were canceled, critical funding was evaporating, causing programs to be eliminated. We heard from executive directors who’d become the only employee for their organization overnight, and from those who were forced to decide if they wanted to operate programs or pay their rent.


We also heard that Black leaders felt especially vulnerable. Because the need in their communities was so high, they were often being asked to serve more with fewer resources.


In response, we created the Community Impact Incubator, a year-long personal and professional leadership development program that would provide subsidized facilities support and capacity building training based on recommendations from the Building A Network report.


We were intentional about creating a leadership program for Black leaders before the deaths of Breonna Taylor or George Floyd. We believe components such as providing mental health support and creating a community of practice on scaling impact in the Fitzgerald neighborhood makes this program especially unique.


The five organizations selected to be part of the pilot phase that begins this September were already on the frontlines of COVID response and inequity issues. Detroit Phoenix Center, Detroit’s only drop-in center for homeless youth provided food, shelter, and essentials for their participants.


Through their Community Tech Trust, Journi worked to provide technology to nonprofits looking to pivot into online programming. Detroit City Lions continued to provide support to the entire households they serve through 10 youth sports. Detroit Youth Choir continued to spread messages of hope and unity through their viral videos, while the Pure Heart Foundation moved to virtual programming to support youth with incarcerated parents.


Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, activity on the Marygrove campus is more robust than ever. Through our new department of arts and culture, we are welcoming art, music, and dance organizations that are providing virtual programming to students across the city, and groups like Stem Genius who have created STEM-centered design studios for students who seek supervised educational environments. During subsequent phases of the Community Impact Incubator, we aim to support a cohort of arts and creatives, food entrepreneurs, and child and family support services.


Instead of simply declaring hashtags and slogans, my team wants to cement our support to children and family-serving organizations by welcoming many more child and family-focused nonprofits to campus.


I believe that while the future is uncertain for us all, Marygrove Conservancy’s commitment to supporting the Fitzgerald neighborhood will remain.

Racheal Allen is the Chief Operating Officer for the Marygrove Conservancy. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.
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