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Nortown Community Development Corporation
Tell us a bit about your educational and professional trajectory:
I have been doing community organizing and neighborhood economic redevelopment work for over 40 years. As a life-long Detroit resident, I have personally witnessed how numerous socio-economic and political factors have impacted and continue to impact the quality of life of our City and in particular our Northeast Detroit neighborhoods.
I am an alumnus of the University of Detroit (now University of Detroit Mercy) with a B.S. in Medical Technology. As part of the Med Tech program I interned at St. John Hospital (Detroit) and headed the Bacteriology Department until marriage and leave to raise my family of four. My husband and I are now empty-nesters but live in the same house and neighborhood when we married in 1965. Raising our family, my husband and I first became involved in school and athletic programs, then gradually, I became involved in church activities which evolved over time to include community service activities. Those activities grew in scope and commitment. In the span of over 40 years, to counteract "block busting", redlining, drug infiltration, increase in crime and environmental degradation, coupled with a corresponding decline of city services, educational and recreational programming, it became mandatory to organize residents and form nonprofit organizations, such as the Nortown Community Development Corporation and other collaboratives to meet the ongoing challenges of trying to reverse the cycles of deterioration, blight, and disinvestment. I have had the privilege of being one of the organizers that first coalesced to form the Nortown Community Development Corporation (CDC) and continue to serve as its Executive Director since its inception in 1992.
About the Organization
Formed in 1992, Nortown Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a nonprofit. grass root collaborative comprised of residents, business, institutional, and affiliate nonprofit representatives committed to promoting and creating sustainable economic, historical, environmental revitalization of Northeast Detroit (District 3). Programs include: promoting safe and affordable housing, historic preservation, placemaking, greenway development, land use planning, zoning, positive commercial/industrial retention/expansion, environmental improvements, and educational/job opportunities for its low/moderate income populations and minorities.
Tell us a bit about your projects (in which you worked with UROP students)
The work scope of the students mirrors and has supported our mission. Over the years, UROP students have researched and compiled data to support Nortown's work in the fields of zoning, land use planning, property ownership and tax status, environmental laws and policies, area history compilation, monitoring governmental actions/policies, grant opportunities, housing related issues, and representing the organization and community at public meetings.
What attracted you to working with this organization and in your field?
Nortown CDC was created when a coalition of residents, business owners, churches and institutional representatives met to address socio-economic revitalization of Northeast Detroit and reverse the spiral that breeds poverty, disenfranchisement and environmental disparities. While much has been achieved, there remains a greater urgency now because of new global factors, such as climate change, political treachery, immigration, economic marketplace changes, and most recently pandemic related issues that exacerbate existing challenges.
What led you to become a mentor to undergraduate students?
When I was a Med Tech student, the program called for the senior year to be spent "off campus" by serving a year of Internship at St. John Hospital. While the years spent on campus provided the indisputable academic disciplines, it was the daily "hands on" internship training that was essential in true fulfillment of that professional vocation. In like manner, I now see mentoring undergraduate students as a similar model which provides "hands on" training in the "living" laboratory of Northeast Detroit.
How do undergraduate students contribute to your work?
Each and every student has been a joy. Each student touched our work and our life with their personal and collective enthusiasm, commitment, mastery of oral and written communication skills, academic mastery, ability to work independently and as "team players". Each has left behind a credential of their work in the form of their research, the data that they collected, and/or papers they compiled. These all have become part of a foundation that fosters our work to continue and prosper.
What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned mentoring undergraduate students?
In mentoring students, I have learned that today's student is far better prepared on a multi-level of skill sets than I was at their age. This has proven to be a great asset in our day to day work, as the students were always eager to share their skills and even "mentor" the mentor when it came to improving my IT skills.
What do you think is the key to a successful mentoring relationship and/or what is your favorite thing about mentoring?
From the start, I welcome each student and try to be sensitive to their individual career paths and abilities. Since Nortown's work is often fast-paced, I like to approach "our" work as a "team". We schedule "team" meetings, once or twice per week, based on the student's and my availability. We review the work scope, share questions, concerns,progress, and future assignments. At all times, I invite students to contact me 24/7 if questions or need arises.
What advice do you have for current UROP students?
Be open to the "unexpected". When I started in Medical Technology, did I ever dream that I would end up doing community development work? Yet, those years of academic study at the university and "hands-on" training in the hospital lab, have proven to be invaluable in all I undertake now. People (like myself) of my generation continue to try to make the world a better and more just place. UROP students, we pass the baton on to you.
Do you have advice for future UROP Community Partners?
The [UROP] program has been greatly beneficial in advancing our work. The UROP staff members have always proven to great facilitators in answering questions, concerns, or giving helpful TA.
The UM UROP and DCERP staff mermbers (like Ray Wang) have been great mentors i.e. "mentoring the mentor" host site. Thank you!