Resilient Neighborhoods: East Side nonprofit doubles down on mission, despite pandemic challenges

The pandemic has been a demanding time for Detroit nonprofits. Organizations have had to find new ways to carry out traditional duties, while also responding to the demands of the health crisis. And for MACC Development, the last year has also involved a change in leadership.

Thankfully, however, that change has allowed it to adapt to the current situation while deepening its commitment to its core mission of helping residents on the city's East Side. Antoine Jackson came on board as the community developmentAntoine Jackson organization's new executive last September—and found himself immediately having to rise to the challenges raised by COVID-19.

"It was truly a learning while leading moment," he says. "And there were a number of things that we needed to address, COVID being number one: How we would support our residents in the community in the most helpful and safe way."

By the time Jackson came on board, the nonprofit had already begun working on ways to help residents meet their immediate needs at the start of the crisis. MACC Development instituted a weekly food distribution program and found limited funding to help community members meet basic needs and helped establish the 48214 CARE mutual aid platform. Jackson's immediate task at the time was to find a way to strengthen and continue this support effort. Fortunately, he succeeded in securing $150,000 in new funding to secure and grow the program. Those funds include a $50,000 Cares Act grant from Wayne county to support the basic needs of residents and a two-year $50,000 grant from the Lloyd and Mabel Johnson Foundation to help cover general operations and an expansion of the program.

For Jackson, these efforts to address the pandemic also offered him the opportunity to better understand the community MACC Development serves.
"We paid car notes, utility bills, insurance premiums, and prescription drug copays," he says. "And that really began to open my eyes that, while there are certainly what you might call the major things that people need, there are a lot of other basic needs that our community needs support with."

A seasoned professional with 16 years in the nonprofit field, Jackson brings a wealth of experience in program management and partnership development to his work. 

The Southwest Detroit native earned a degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. After graduation, he worked in finance for a time but ultimately decided to enter the nonprofit sector out of a desire to make a difference in the lives of other people. Prior to joining MACC Development, he worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit, Special Olympics, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. What's more, he's also a minister, transformational speaker, and the author of numerous books, including "Flip the Switch!" and "100-Watt Life."

When Jackson first heard about the position, he was already familiar with the East Side area the nonprofit covers through an existing relationship he had with Saunders Memorial AME Church. And then, after looking into its work further, he was really drawn in by its gospel-centered approach to community development, which he says, "really fits my wheelhouse."

Now, after more than a year on the job, Jackson has definitely hit his full stride as director. And he couldn't be happier with the work he's doing because it helps contribute to the larger purpose of helping build community.

"Every day offers something different; whether I am working on our combination cafe and laundromat, The Commons, or educational and youth sports programs, or our community engagement and mission efforts, each program area offers an opportunity for community involvement and innovation," says Jackson. "Leading MACC Development is a monumental task. I recognize it, and I enjoy it." 

Mack Avenue Community ChurchGospel-centered development

MACC Development is the charitable arm of the Mack Avenue Community Church. The faith-based nonprofit serves residents in Detroit's 48214 zip code with a wide range of programming that includes a variety of sports, tutoring, and legal assistance as well as offering affordable housing options to residents. While there is aPastor Leon Stevenson III Christian missionary element to its work, program participants are not obligated to engage with the organization in that way.

Pastor Leon Stevenson III of Mack Avenue Community Church helped found MACC Development in 2010 and helped direct the organization during its early days, which he remembers as a time of learning.

"In the beginning, it was us going out [into the community], because we had no buildings," says Pastor Stevenson. "We had very little funding and not a lot of people supporting it. But it was one of those situations where you build the plane as you fly. You are constantly adjusting in order to meet the needs of our community."

Today he's thankful that the organization is able to provide spaces where residents can get help resolving issues like bankruptcy and youth can become involved with activities like baseball and cheerleading. 

Over the last few years, MACC Development has also been active in pursuing a development plan for Mack Avenue. Covering a 13-block area of the thoroughfare, the plan has been developed in collaboration with residents, business and property owners and is intended to bring a comprehensive physical and economic development presence to the area. Part of that work has involved renovating a building at 7900 Mack Avenue, which houses The Commons and serves as the headquarters for the nonprofit's offices.

Jonathan Demers is a current board member and former executive director with MACC Development and leads the 48214 Care Initiative. While he doesn't think there's any "secret sauce" to the organization's growth over the last decade, he does believe its success has been dependent on its "hard-earned credibility" with local residents and the churches, businesses, institutions, funders, and other nonprofits that partner with the organization. To illustrate this point he shares a story from a recent community resources day event at The Commons.

"Pastor Leon was driving up to the event and was surprised at just how busy it was. As he was pulling up, an elderly neighbor noticed his quizzical expression and gently waved him over, inviting him into The Commons (completely unaware that he was a founding leader of the organization)," says Demers. "It tells me not only that people see our work as good and valuable, but something they in some sense endorse and welcome others into."

In addition to his gratitude towards community members, Demers is also thankful that the organization now has Jackson on board.

"Antoine has been a true God-send for MACC Development," he says. "I am convinced that his blend of detail and drive, experience, and empathy allowed our organization to navigate the trials and tribulations of COVID even stronger than when the first quarantine went into effect."

Pastor Stevenson, who briefly served as the organization's interim director prior to Jackson's appointment, is also happy to have the new director steering the nonprofit.

"I'm grateful that Antoine serves as a model of real Christian character that will trailblaze and will guide and will direct, but isn't scared to be a servant from the highest to the lowest levels," says Pastor Stevenson. "And that's just a true blessing to our whole neighborhood."

The CommonsDeepening commitments

As MACC Development's executive director Jackson sees his mission as strengthening the non-profits existing work by enhancing existing programs, raising the organization's visibility, and forging new partnerships.

One way he's doing this is by working to cultivate relationships with schools and academic institutions. Over the last year, the nonprofit's team has reached a formal agreement with the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) to offer a neighborhood enrichment program focused on DPSCD students and families. MACC Development is also interested in partnering with universities to find college-aid students who can help out with its tutoring program, which offers low-cost academic assistance to local students in grades K-6. 

Sports is another area MACC Development is focused on upgrading. It wants to bump up the number of young people it's serving now in this area from 450 youth annually to 700. The organization is also considering adding new sports beyond its existing basketball, baseball, golf, soccer, and cheerleading programs.

Jackson has also been working with the newly hired general manager of The Commons on a variety of initiatives. As with many workplaces, The Commons is currently dealing with staffing issues, so the hours of the space are being reworked to ensure greater reliability. The space's cafe menu is also being re-evaluated and the price of using laundry machines has been lowered to better accommodate lower income neighborhood residents.

Beyond that, MACC Development is also looking to expand its community revitalization efforts. It's currently in the process of making several strategic hires to enable this work. 

"One of our recent hires was a director of real estate," says Jackson. "This role will help expand the Mack Avenue Strong Neighborhoods and Mack Avenue Corridor plans we developed with neighbors. Key to this expansion is a priority to raise a housing fund to support the purchase and rehabbing of residential homes."

Looking to the future, MACC Development also remains dedicated to expanding the network of volunteers and employees that help make its charitable efforts possible. With that in mind, Jackson isn't shy about extending an invitation to members of the public to lend a helping hand.

"We're always looking for volunteers and individuals who are looking for work can certainly apply to The Commons to be a barista," he says. "We are always looking for partners who can help us move the vision forward to support the residents of 48214." 

All photos by Nick Hagen.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
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Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.