Challenge Detroit – An Update Half Way Through

Contributed by: Clare Lilek Clare Lilek

Let me paint a picture for you: imagine you’re a 32 year old single mother, whose husband recently left her, with a 17 year old son who’s dropped out of high and a 14 year old daughter who’s already disinterested in school, with only $10 in your pocket and no job. This was the card I received when I participated in a poverty simulation with Challenge Detroit. Throughout the entire day, I was physically nervous. The overwhelming anxiety and never ending list of “must do now or you’ll lose your home” tasks had broken down my normally chatty personality till all that remained was a shell of who I really am. Let me clarify that the poverty simulation was only one hour long. One hour of role-playing made me stress to the point of losing myself. I know that you’re probably judging me right now, but the whole point of the simulation was to create a deeper understanding and install a greater empathy in all of the fellows - and mission accomplished! As fellows we participate in challenges that center around underserved, and a lot of the time, impoverished populations, and empathy is the key to designing solutions that are sustainable, practical, and implementable. To be completely honest, this was just an average Friday for me.

The whole reason for my presence at The Center is because of Challenge Detroit. For those of you who need a quick refresher, Challenge Detroit is a yearlong fellowship that aims to attract and retain young professionals and innovative thinkers to the city of Detroit in order to aid in the revitalization through intellectual giving. This intellectual giving manifests itself in what we refer to as “challenges.” Each Friday I am not physically at The Center, but working with my fellow fellows on these challenges; we partner with other non-profits with the intention of focusing on a broad topic. We help these organizations by providing man and brain power to their mission for five weeks at a time. This usually results in innovative strategies for the organization to implement over time that will incrementally impact Detroit in a positive manner and help that non-profit’s overall mission.

I am halfway through my fellowship—time sure flies—and we’ve completed three challenges already. Below is a brief overview of the work that we have done up to this point.

Challenge #1: Working with Mayor Duggan’s office and the City of Detroit

As fellows, we had an amazing opportunity to partner with the Mayor of Detroit and facilitate the development of the first small business directory for the city. It’s called Dream It, Do It, Detroit and the directory is available online and in a book format. In the online directory you can look for different restaurants, businesses, and enterprises located in the seven different districts of the city. Take some time and check out all that Detroit and its entrepreneurs have to offer, I guarantee you will learn something new!

Challenge #2: Working with Detroit Public Schools

We split off into six groups and partnered with six different schools to focus on how to improve parental engagement and empowerment. It was and remains a poignant challenge in light of the current struggle with DPS. It was a good lesson in empathy and reminded us all the importance of putting children and their education as a first priority, without forgetting to educate and support the “whole student,” which includes their parents.

Challenge # 3: Working with Goodwill Industries and the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS)

The fellows spilt up into two groups to partner with our two different nonprofits on workforce development. I had the pleasure of working with COTS to create an engagement strategy for potential and existing corporate partners. COTS needs partners to help make their Passport to Self Sufficiency TM framework advantageous for their participants in order to foster poverty resistant families. The Goodwill and COTS teams both created innovative strategies and campaigns for the organizations to use to improve and maximize their current efforts as it pertains to workforce development in underserved populations.

At the end of the day, The Center is making a huge impact in Detroit and the metro area by participating in Challenge Detroit. They have made it possible for me and the rest of the fellows to do the work we get to do every week. Over time, The Center’s impact will grow and the community around us will be better for their support. I am grateful that one of The Center’s missions is to partner with the community and create positive change. That is why I’m here and, in part, why Challenge Detroit is able to have the impact it has around Detroit and the metro area. 

Clare Lilek is a Challenge Detroit Fellow / Client Service Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.