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WSU, community volunteers lend support during ‘National Day of Service’

Center for Urban Studies helps decrease crime, blight in Detroit neighborhoods in honor of MLK

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Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:11 pm, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Over the years, many have viewed Martin Luther King Day as just another national holiday. Countless debates as to whether the workplace and schools should be closed have become more prevalent than the actual meaning of the day. While most view the day as a reprieve from a weekly case of the “Monday Morning Blues,” others haven’t forgotten Martin Luther King Jr.’s history and the significance of the celebration day.

Wayne State’s Center for Urban Studies, in collaboration with AmeriCorps, has deemed Jan. 21 the Martin Luther King Day of Service. Coinciding with the actual holiday, the Day of Service is a declaration acknowledging King’s contributions to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The center, which specializes in a variety of initiatives for the advancement of metro Detroit, played an instrumental role in a day-long community service project this year. The mission was to board up 13 abandoned houses in the Midtown area. The houses are located in the North End, roughly five minutes north of WSU’s campus, near the Detroit International Academy for Young Women.

This project serves as the center’s third annual MLK Day of Service. The tradition began as a series of target-hardening presentations aimed at Detroit residents in 2011. These presentations focused on keeping property safe and were aimed at those native to the Midtown area. It is just one link in an ever-expanding chain of projects all aimed at the advancement of metro Detroit.

Last year, which served as the first year for the neighborhood board-up project, the center saw an estimated 70 volunteers and boarded up five homes near Thirkell Elementary School, which is minutes away from WSU’s campus. The aim was to create a safe route to school for elementary students, according to Ramona Rodriguez-Washington, research assistant for the center. Along with colleagues, Rodriguez-Washington also heads the work-study program for the center, employing upwards to 50 WSU students each semester.

The objective of the 2013 day of service was the same — to create a safe route to school for students. These homes were a potential safety hazard to the students attending the Detroit International Academy for Young Women.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 21, an estimated 400 plus volunteers, consisting of local residents of all ages, WSU students and employees, AmeriCorps members and others helped to successfully complete the project. Home Depot made donations, aiding in the board up of extra houses, surpassing the original 13-house goal. Volunteers were also able to clean out alleys in the North End.

Lunch was provided in part by generous donations from Little Caesars and Hungry Howie’s pizza. According to work-study students, there was so much pizza donated that the center had to pass on donations to local shelters once the day was over.

“It was the best turn out yet,” said CUS Team Leader Lashonte Mitchell. “It’ll be even better next year.”

Volunteers weren’t the only ones getting in on the action. Other attendees included the Detroit Free Press, American Red Cross and campaign members for Mike Duggan, rumored candidate for mayor of Detroit.

Zach Fairchild, coming up on his second year of service with AmeriCorps, served as the point person for the project. Fairchild spearheaded the event by leading groups in gathering volunteers, soliciting donations, and getting the word out to students all over campus.

“To see so many people of so many walks of life come together the way they did was very powerful,” said Danielle Hopkins, one of the local volunteers. “Just looking at the crowd made me appreciate Dr. King’s legacy and the work the Center for Urban Studies does for Detroit.”

Through a series of community projects, both smaller and larger in comparison, the Center for Urban Studies has aided in the boarding up of more than 86 homes in Midtown Detroit and surrounding areas. This includes playing an instrumental part in Mitch Albom’s 100 Houses project, which set out to board up “the most blighted and dangerous homes,” in the words of Albom himself, near Cody College Preparatory Upper School of Teaching and Learning last October.

As a result, areas have seen a slight decline in crime, including WSU, according to the university’s police department.

The MLK Day of Service project is just the first of many board ups and other research taking place at the center. There are several smaller projects in the works. There is also another major board-up project in April, coinciding with Earth Day.

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