Generating ideas, connections, and action

The Community Connections-Marygrove College Partnership: A Powerful Collaboration

Last May, after Day Two of Creating Space X, I had the honor of joining a self-organized dinner.  Among the group were Brenda Price, the director of Marygrove College’s Office of Urban Leadership Initiatives and who also oversees the Building Our Leadership in Detroit (BOLD) and Lisa Leverette, the Program Manager at the Detroit Community Connections Grant Program. That night, it became clear that Lisa and Brenda had amazing insights into many of the systemic social problems of their city. Also present were Dawn Wilson and Darnell Adams, who are both on the grant review panel for the Community Connections Small Grants Program.  Over dinner folks helped to paint a holistic picture that transcended the typical media characterizations  of Detroit with an unparalleled richness. So deep was their collective knowledge, so compelling, that all the non-Michiganians at the table (which included Tides Client Specialist Bella Celnik, LLC Chief Board Member and Independent Consultant Eugene Kim, and I) left committed to visit Detroit. As the night ended, Brenda and Lisa made a commitment to work together when they returned to Michigan. Now, seven months later, I reconnected with Brenda and Lisa to hear more about their collaboration.

Setting the Stage

Lisa and Brenda are both WKKF grantees and had met each other a couple times before, but were unaware of each other’s work. It wasn’t until the dinner at Creating Space that they were able to hear each other’s stories and deeply connect over a shared passion for education and serving their communities. When they returned to Detroit, Brenda got in touch with Lisa and brought in Kevin Martin, Coordinator of Student Volunteers and Community Engagement at Marygrove College. Together they met with various partners from both of their organizations and aligned around addressing the gaps in the educational system for children in the Cody-Rouge neighborhood where Lisa has been working. Their plan: to work together to enrich the educational path of their communities from Elementary Grades to Graduate School.

Phase I: Implementing the After-School Program

The school in Cody- Rouge  shared their challenges with engaging elementary and middle school students and connecting schoolwork to their interests. In October, this partnership launched a tutoring program that brought students in the Masters in Education Program to work with students from Cody-Rouge neighborhood twice a week. Brenda and Kevin work with Graduate Students from Marygrove College ahead of time to  train and prepare them  to work with urban schools, through a mandatory Urban Leadership class.  Two faculty members have committed their class time to the Cody-Rouge neighborhood school  and their graduate students engage the kids through art and education. Their curriculum utilizes art or movement to present and engage students in the sciences. Additionally, Marygrove College has four students doing work-study in this community. The work-study participants also receive training and as a result of their passion they have for the community they have invested much more than their allotted time in the Cody-Rouge school program.


Phase II: Results!

They are already seeing results! The Marygrove College students are developing urban leadership skills through external experiences that enrich their learning and ability to work with communities. The elementary and middle school students in the community are given skills to reach higher education and enrich their own academic learning.  The volunteers process is running smoothly with graduate students fully engaged, carefully selected, and given background checks before starting the program. Three volunteers have already expressed interest in staying in Cody-Rouge’s school system post-graduation. For instance a volunteer wants to open a mentor dance program and would apply for a Community Connections Grant with Lisa to buy supplies for the kids.

Historically, when partnerships like this happen, the bigger organization, like Marygrove College, would come in with their plan and impose it on the community, but Lisa and the Cody-Rouge community have all noticed that Marygrove College has been completely different. Instead, they’ve engaged the partners, the Cody-Rouge community, the principal, and teachers. Brenda and Lisa felt it was important to have conversations engaging the community and the kids they are serving in the design process for the after school project.  As a result, Brenda and Lisa report that outside partners and student volunteers are a perfect match to serve the Cody-Rouge community.

A Deep Commitment: Pooling Resources

Some of Brenda’s peers have questioned this collaboration by calling for a geographically convenient community for Marygrove College students. Although there has been willingness in past attempts, they have dissolved after a couple months due to lack of community investment and most importantly lack of capacity. The key ingredient to this particular partnership has been their complete investment in the program’s success and they are also not limiting the scope of their partnership to just an afterschool program but instead keeping their minds open to other possibilities as they arise. For instance, Brenda had a leadership development trainer come to train staff, while he was on campus; he offered a workshop on building collaborations and 25 of Community Connection’s grantees attended. There is no way that Community Connections can afford to send that many people to workshops around the country, but Marygrove College has brought the training to them and it has an unlimited access to knowledge through their faculty.

Furthermore, this program has not cost anything “extra! Both programs have pooled their assets. Marygrove College has the people, time to train them, and the ability to provide transportation and Community Connections has the direct partners in the community, and funding.  Brenda coordinated with Marygrove’s Athletics’ Department and figured out which days they do not use their buses and can therefore provide safe and timely transportation for the students who volunteer in the afterschool program. The after-school program is on the Cody-Rouge school’s premises till 6pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays allowing the children access.

The possibilities for this partnership are endless; they continue to bring more and more people to the table to pool more resources, more connections, knowledge, and experience. They are so busy working towards success that they haven’t even paused to find a name for this collaborative partnership program. In the end, they’ve concluded that that’s not actually as important as the work and finding new ways to keep it going.  There are no boundaries and they will keep this partnership growing. We look forward to following this unfolding story. Stay tuned for more.

If you have resources or ideas you can pool to this initiative please do not hesitate to contact Lisa Leverette, Brenda Price, and Kevin Martin to gauge if you’re a good match .