How the Motor City Made Me a Stronger Leader

I went into the Detroit trip with the mindset that we weren’t going to be doing enough service for the amount of time we were there and that it would have made more sense to go somewhere local to serve. This may have had something to do with my pessimistic views on Detroit. It’s a city that I’ve only ever visited to go to a Tiger’s or Lion’s game and to go to concerts at Joe Louis, so all I saw was this really nice athletic complex. On my way into downtown, we would pass all of the abandoned homes and the remnants of what used to be MoTown. Since big cities aren’t my favorite place to begin with, I got a bad taste in my mouth for Detroit. The news always talks about the high crime rate, blight, and the homeless. Not things I wanted to see. But oh my Lord, how my eyes have been opened and my opinions of this great city and the people who live there have changed.

LAS in the D, to me, was not actually a service trip. Yes we did do some amazing things to help Detroit that you are going to hear about, but what happened to me there involved more than service. I never realized how closed minded I was until the Friday we left. I knew what I knew about Detroit and that was all. I was going to go help out at a high school and a community center and do some other fun stuff then I’d go home. No. That’s not how it went.


Jalen Rose Leadership Academy- This is a private high school, only four years old, on the outskirts of Detroit. They are about 400 students strong, don’t have a football team, and eat in a small auditorium instead of a cafeteria. My cohort and the LAS in the D lead team entered the school ready to facilitate two hours of leadership activities and training. We split LAS and JRLA students into seven groups and proceeded to play ice breakers and get to know the students. Never before, even with all of my years of student council and my semester of college, have I seen a whole group of kids so fired up about leadership and gaining knowledge. Two of the senior will even be joining us next year at CMU in the LAS class of 2017. These kids appreciate and value their education more than any high school or college student I’ve seen. Every single student had some sort of input or question on the activities we did, they were truly engaged. One of the girls in my group wanted to talk one on one about how to be a better leader and mentor, she wanted to know as much about how we lead as we could tell her. It’s crazy for me to see people who care so much and want to make a difference because they love their home so much. I want to give them any little piece of advice I can, but I have a feeling they could teach me more about life. These students are the ones who will bring Detroit not to it’s former glory, but to a new level of advancement.


Quicken Loans- I will forever love Quicken Loans for introducing me to Chicago style deep dish pizza. When I think Quicken Loans, I think about money and banking. After my tour and presentation of the company, I’m realizing there’s a little more the them than just that. Every summer they bring in around 1,100 interns from all over the world and bring in even more than that through the year. This gives them a great experience and and awesome internship to add to their resume. However, with these few thousand interns comes a need for housing, restaurants, supermarkets, entertainment, and shopping. This company is growing at such a rapid rate, Detroit is creating all of these things to satisfy the new demand. The city is growing at a tremendous rate bringing in more jobs and residents making it an even more desirable city to live in.


The Detroit Institute of Art- I’ve never really liked art except for Van Gogh’s work. Therefore, I was less than excited to visit the DIA. But, yet again, Detroit surprised me. I walked through the front doors with my suitemate Kristina and we set out to explore. We wandered the different exhibits and looked on in silence, occasionally asking an employee to explain a piece of art. I decided to put aside my dislike of art and look at the pieces as parts of history instead. Automatically, something shifted. I started to see the beauty in each work as I read their backgrounds. It’s mind-blowing to think that each of these pieces has been looked at millions of times and that some of them are hundreds of years old, surviving so that they can share their history with us. I found an appreciation, not quite for the art, but for the times that the art lived though and the people that commissioned it.


The Outdoor Adventure Center- Detroit’s Outdoor Adventure Center is one of a kind. Placed on the river, this building lets people experience what the Northern part of Michigan is like without ever leaving the city. Inside is a waterfall, kayak, fishing, ATV and bike simulator, geology exhibits, and a camp site. It’s crazy to think that some people never leave the city and haven’t got to experience what it’s like to sit next to the campfire and roast marshmallows, drive an ATV through the woods, or explore the waterfalls in the UP. This center is totally amazing once you start to think about the impact it has on its visitors. They can get into the kayak simulator and see how much fun it is then be referred to go rent a kayak on the river and just like that they are getting outside, active, and in touch with nature. Kids and adults of all ages get this awesome opportunity to see a glimpse of nature and hopefully will be inspired to go explore.


Cass Community- Cass Community is an organization focused on getting those with disabilities and financial struggles jobs. Throughout Detroit they have 11 different buildings with different operations aimed to make the city a cleaner and a more desirable place to live. Upon our arrival, my cohort was split into four teams to divide and conquer our service work. Some went to work in the soup kitchen, some to sort through donated clothes, and some to make mats out of salvaged tires. My group went to their recycling building down the block. What’s unique about this building is that it’s powered completely by green energy. 15 stationary bikes are used to generate energy for the majority of the building. The goal of this building is to recycle as much paper and cardboard as they can and sell it to paper companies and give back more to the community with the money they raise. Hospitals and law firms donate old case files and medical records to be recycled because they know they will be kept confidential. A majority of the people who are employed here used to live in mental wards but now live in group homes provided by Cass. Most of these people can’t read, so they can be trusted with the confidentiality needed for the old documents. It’s organizations like these that give hope to those struggling to find a purpose and make a living.


This is Abbey Claes, my co-facilitator, bus partner, and Detroit exploration buddy. We were emotionally overwhelmed by both the majestic and the downtrodden parts of the city, it was almost too much to take in in just a little over 24 hours. Abbey and I had very similar lives growing up in rural and very white communities that were fairly wealthy. It takes us longer than five minutes to drive to the closest mall and farms are more common than fast food. Few people in our cohort understand how much of a culture shock Detroit and Jalen Rose was to me. To see the poverty and wealth at such extremes is hard for me to comprehend. However, having a like minded person to accompany me on this adventure, made life ten times easier. I had someone I knew I could talk to without worrying if something I was saying was stupid or stepping boundaries. So, not only did Abbey help me through these couple of days but I gained an amazing new friend.

There are a million more things I wish I had the time to say about Detroit and the things I learned there. I had such an amazing time and I could write a blog post about each little thing that happened. My views on the city of Detroit and the people who live there have been forever changed.


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