Resilient Neighborhoods: This innovative East Side program helps older adults meet their needs

Denise Sutton,  a retiree from Detroit's East Side, has spent the last few months helping neighbors in her building and other local older adults. 

She lives at the Van Dyke Center senior apartment complex and is part of a project called the Raising Hope Senior Program. Sponsored by the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance (DCPA), an East Side Nonprofit, it supports the needs of area residents by providing them with monthly food packages and organizing regular bus trips.  

Sutton is one of several local residents hired by the program to assist with community outreach. She lets other Van Dyke Center residents learn about and sign up to participate in events related to the program. And Sutton is glad to be doing that work.

"It was something that we needed," she says. "I love people and the way they presented the program, it was worth getting involved with it."

Workers with the Raising Hope program deliver food to Detroit residents.Raising hope

DCPA serves Detroit's Gratiot Woods community, a 20-block area that falls roughly between Gratiot, McClellan, Mack, and Burns Avenues. Formed in 1967,  the organization is dedicated to providing affordable housing to local residents and promoting economic and commercial development in the community. It also offers a mix of other services, including anti-racism training and youth and senior programming, and is currently in the process of opening a multi-purpose recreational and resource center in the neighborhood.  

While the Catholic nonprofit is primarily focused on housing, since around the start of the pandemic it has been interested in broadening its community developmentJoyce Francois offerings, particularly to older adults, who make up a substantial segment of the neighborhood's population.

Last year, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan (CCSEM) contacted DCPA about a grant opportunity being offered through Enterprise Community Partners Thome Aging Well Program. Partnering with CCSEM, the Gratiot Woods nonprofit applied for and was awarded a two-year grant aimed at helping older adults living in low-income communities age safely and securely at home.

With the grant secured, DCPA launched its Raising Hope Senior Program last November. The project combines elements of food delivery and transportation assistance. 

Once a month, commodity boxes are delivered to four Gratiot Woods locations: Van Dyke Center, the Gratiot Woods Senior Co-op, which is located at 5500 McClellan Ave., and two DCPA-owned buildings located at 8900 and 9100 Gratiot Ave. These boxes, which are supplied by Gleaners, contain a mix of canned and dried goods, bread, dairy products, and meat.

That might sound like a substantial amount of food, but Joyce Francois, who manages the Raising Hope Senior Program for DCPA, says it alone isn't enough to meet program participants' basic needs. 

"They're really just supplemental, what we're providing. It's a lot but it's still supplemental," she says. "And they're not getting any medications or help with health and beauty products in the packages."

Beyond that, the program also organizes a monthly bus trip to Walmarts, so participants can get medications and other products. DCPA arranges for special buses to pick up the residents in groups at their apartment buildings and works to ensure they get on and off safely. 

The buses are quite helpful for local seniors who don't own a motor vehicle as well as those whose use of a walker may make it difficult to use a city bus. Program organizers have also made sure there's plenty of space for them to store their groceries while they're in transit. 

Raising Hope Senior Program also organizes social events for participants. One of the first of these included a trip to Golden Corral, which allowed older adults to enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet-style meal. And on April 16, DCPA organized a trip to the Toledo Art Museum. Right now, organizers are planning a trip to see a play at the Detroit School of the Arts.  

Francois believes the social events really help to make Raising Hope more of an all-encompassing program.

"It's one thing to provide food. And it's another to help them make connections to each other and build relationships," she says. "We've talked to a lot of people and found that there are additional needs that they may have that they don't realize there are services for out there. We're trying to help make those connections.

Residents pack groceries into a bus provided by the Raising Hope Senior Program in Detroit. (Photo supplied by DCPA)Meeting needs

Cynthia Howard is a resident of the Gratiot Woods Senior Co-op who participates and volunteers with the program. 

The retired preschool teacher really enjoys the trips to Walmart and other locations and feels the supplies the Raising Hope Senior Program offers are really helpful to local residents.
"I love the program, because they have very good food in the boxes. And it feeds a lot of hungry people in my building," she says.

Sutton is also a strong supporter of the program, remarking that it opens up a lot of options for those who choose to participate.

"A lot of people don't have access to transportation, so that's a big help," she says. "And it gives us something to do. It's like the road trips that we used to take when we were younger. It's really positive. People are really happy to go." 

Older adults with the Raising Hope program enjoy a meal at the Golden Corral restaurant. (Photo supplied by DCPA)Moving forward

According to Francois, the new program is already exceeding DCPA's expectations after just a few months. The nonprofit had anticipated getting about 50 participants from the Van Dyke Center and has already signed up 75 residents. As for the Gratiot Senior Woods Co-op, nearly the entire building is involved as well. 

Looking ahead, DCPA plans to continue the program for at least the next two years. It's also interested in getting in touch with community members interested in helping out, especially to find different local businesses and locations to host upcoming events.

"The need is great," says Francois. "If folks are interested in getting involved in some way, they should contact us."

All photos by Steve Koss, unless otherwise noted.

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.