Observing Community – #2

Over the past week, I have been making a conscious effort to connect more to the physical environment at my internship and its  immediate community. Since most of our participants, workers, and volunteers, occupy the immediate zip codes, understanding this complex community is a goal for me to achieve before the end of this experience.

Alternatives is locates at the corner of West Grand Boulevard and Martin Luther King. As soon as you turn the corner, you’re greeted with a welcoming brick sign that outlines the organization in thick, white letters, The parking lot is packed with cars as soon as business hours begin. As you enter through the main door, the building seems so small. This morning as I sit and write this in the main entrance, I hear the laughter of children and the conversations of the day ahead’s activities. When my supervisor arrives, I journey through a series of doors, each secured by its own key pad. I’ve never been somewhere so secure. Well I guess nowhere else besides the hospital. The prevention services office is such a unique place. A lone, long, black table is at the center of the main room. There are ten chairs around it, perfectly placed: this is where we have our weekly Monday team meetings. To the back of me, countless rows of bins and shelves hold all of the supplies needed for programming throughout the week. Next to this organized disarray, is an industrial sized printer. This printer is honestly so fast. Today I printed 300 sheets of paper for the new youth employment program and it only took 5 minutes! Besides this innovation, the cubicles of the full-time staff and Ameri-Corps members begin. Each is uniquely decorated with personal pictures and girls and crafts and artwork from the girls. I currently overhear a conversation about college readiness. Although the cubicles are designed to foster individual productivity, most people in the room have abandoned their narrowly defined spaces and are collaborating with those around them.

The most interesting setting at AFG is honestly the kitchen. Guarded by a small door, the space is always full of amazing aromas and interesting conversations. Positioned directly next to the new mural that was only finished just this weekend, the kitchen is one of the few places that everyone visits. Whether it be for coffee club, to heat up some homemade menudo, or just to show the new interns how to run the dishwasher, it is always a space in use.

The neighborhood surrounding AFG is at stark contrast to the vibrant activities occurring inside. Besides the church directly up the road, the area immediately around the building seems quiet. Calm is not the right way to describe it but more like still. The most frequent activity comes from the factory-esque business that occupies the space to the left of AFG’s building. The other employees keep mentioning how beautiful and vibrant the city is beyond this immediate space. I hope to explore it once we start getting into the neighborhoods and picking and dropping off the girl’s at their homes.

2 thoughts on “Observing Community – #2

  • July 5, 2018 at 6:02 pm
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    Hi Sommer,
    I enjoyed hearing more about the physical space at AFG, as well as its surrounding community. The building sounds warm, welcoming, and a bustling place! Love that the kitchen is a common gathering space – and your notice of the new mural! What is it a mural of?

    How long as AFG been around, and does it feel fairly established in terms of community recognition and financial support? I know you mentioned that many workers and volunteers live nearby, and a bit about the organization of resources (including the much-needed rapid printing printer!). About how many folks work at AFG? How does your role fit in with other interns and workers? Hopefully the collaborative conversations you mentioned overhearing will also translate to your projects with colleagues.

    It sounds like there is a contrast between the welcoming vibe of the building, as well as numerous security measures within. A similar contrast you shared was the warmth of the building itself, and the stillness of the surrounding streets. With your participation with Semester in Detroit, what have you learned about the city, its growth, and changes? Are there other ways you might learn more about the local community around AFG? I am sure that will be important context in further understanding the women you serve.

    Thanks for sharing your observations!
    Beth

    Reply
    • July 6, 2018 at 1:45 am
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      Hello Beth,
      AFG was founded in 1987 based on community observations and grass root organizing. I would most definitely say that AFG feels very established in both the community recognition and financial sense. Since AFG has been serving the community for so many years, many of the families in the area have been attending programming for generations. City Council women of Detroit Raquel Castañeda-López actually attended with her siblings when she was younger! Oftentimes when I am interacting with people in Detroit who have lived here for years and tell them about my internship, they have a personal story to share about AFG since it has helped so many people. In terms of financial support, since AFG has been around for so long, the organization was on the frontlines of fighting for human trafficking victims. Due to this recognition and its non-profit status, AFG has a whole benefits from many grants and other funds.
      I would estimate that there are about forty full-time employees and a plethora of volunteers, interns, Ameri-Corps members, and other staff at AFG. In the prevention department there are currently sixteen people total assisting with our programmings. We also just instated a youth summer employment program and have hired twelve teens to assist with programming and Rise and Shine.
      Since AFG by nature is such a collaborative envirnmenont, my roles and duties fits very well with other interns and workers because our participants are the main priority. Since everyone I interact with is aligned with AFG’s mission, we all have similar end goals in mind.
      I have learned a great deal about Detroit and how it has grown and changed throughout the year. One of my classes for the Spring Semester was called The Black History of Detroit and explored how the city and its residential composition has changed throughout the years; I plan to make a blog post about the main take-aways of this class soon.
      I plan to learn more about the community around AFG by going to more community events and meetings so I can learn about the things also affecting the girls right at home. With the recent investment that the Ford company has made in the Cork Town area, i have already began to see how large corporations are starting to rebrand and reshape the city of Detroit.
      Thanks again,
      Sommer

      Reply

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