Talking Equity and Destination: Vibrant Communities with James Crowder

For community development organizations, practitioners and advocates; developers and housing providers, equity should be at the forefront of our neighborhood revitalization strategies. We already know this, but how successful are we at implementing equitable strategies into practice? Is equity actually the focus of our organizations’ community development strategies? Are we leaving anyone out of the conversation?

In his Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit session Equitable Development Strategies: Learnings From Philadelphia, James Crowder of PolicyLink will facilitate an honest discussion about equity in community development, and give insight into successful equitable strategies.

Crowder has worked in the affordable housing and community development field for the length of his career, and says that improving the quality of life for low-income families in distressed communities of color is the overarching mission that drives his work.

james_crowderIf we head back to where Crowder launched his career, we’d land in New York where he started at New York City Housing Preservation and Development in a fellowship program. He had the opportunity to work in many facets of the agency, working with homeowners to encourage them to take out loans to improve their homes, strategic planning, preservation as well as working on LIHTC applications.

Next for Crowder was BCT Partners, a black-owned and led consulting firm.

“We were fortunate enough to have the technical assistance contract for choice neighborhoods,” Crowder said. “[We were] working with choice neighborhood grantees across the county to help them better implement their choice neighborhood plans.”

Following BCT Partners, Crowder was a program officer at LISC and focused on place based neighborhood revitalization in West Philadelphia. Today at PolicyLink, an organization focused on advancing racial equity, Crowder is a Senior Associate working on several projects around the country.

“We define equity as just and fair inclusion in a society where everyone is able to reach their full potential,” Crowder said. “The way that manifests itself in my work is primarily through different projects.”

One of those projects is All-In Cities, where he works with coalitions and city leaders in places like Fresno, Sacramento, Cincinnati and more to advance equity. The second focuses on economic inclusion in southern states. “[We’re] working in 5 states with partners to first better understand the barriers that folks are facing to getting employment,” said Crowder. The goal is to then develop policy campaigns in an effort to dismantle some of those barriers.

For him, now is the time to take action.

“Our country is changing. Demographics are changing. Our country is going to be primarily people of color by 2044. And the longer that we wait to invest in communities of color and people of color, the longer we do a disservice to our country,” said Crowder.

For Crowder, the focus on equity is as much about economics as it is morality.

“It’s in our best interest to invest in equity now. If we want to continue to be competitive in the 21st century economy moving forward — that’s why it’s critical to me,” Crowder said. “We can talk about the moral case and the injustice of the past and the housing policies that have gotten us to the segregated poverty and blight — we can dwell on that and talk about that all day long. There is a sufficient body of research on that already — ultimately, this is where we are right now. What can we do right now to get ready for the inevitable shift in this country?”

With a breadth of experience in the field, Crowder will lead an important discussion enabling attendees to realize concrete ways to move forward.

“The session is going to offer a frank discussion on the status of where things are in Michigan and some promising practices that other localities have done to address some of these issues, and space and time for folks to have focused conversations on what it would take to turn the needle there in Michigan.”

Follow this link for more information and to register for Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit. 

Staff Member Feature: Brian McGrain Celebrates 11 Years at CEDAM

Brian McGrain, CEDAM’s Associate Director and Chief Operating Officer, isn’t exactly the new kid in town.

He’s celebrating 11 years at CEDAM, though his work first started here in 1999 as an intern when he was in graduate school. We don’t want to spoil his whole story, however, so check out our latest Staff Member Feature video below. Congrats, Brian!



Keeping Up with the Corps: Part 1

CEDAM proudly hosts a fresh cohort of more than 30 people dedicated to improving Michigan’s communities through two AmeriCorps programs: the Michigan Financial Opportunity Corps (MFOC) and the Rural Opportunity VISTA Program. Members in the MFOC facilitate financial education classes and events, and members in the VISTA program serve to build capacity for organizations reducing poverty in rural areas. These are just two of the many AmeriCorps programs that contribute to over 600 full-time service members in the 2017-18 term that serve to reduce the causes of poverty in Michigan.

While other AmeriCorps programs will match accepted individuals to a host site for their service, CEDAM is unique in relying on member organizations to recruit their own AmeriCorps members. This has proven essential in the program’s integration and acceptance into the tightly-knit communities across the state and gives the program a broad range of representation for the communities that exist in Michigan. Our members are equipped with the tremendous resources available to them as members of AmeriCorps and CEDAM as well as in-depth understandings of the poverty and needs that they are addressing.

Kate Lietz, VISTA Member

KateLietzGreetings! I’m Kate Lietz, and I first heard of AmeriCorps more than 10 years ago when I served on a trail crew partnering with AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association. My current position was previously held by a woman who participates in my organic farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program. She and I both share a passion for quality, healthful food and it was through her that I applied and accepted my assignment with the Lakeshore Food Club.

The food club, which functions very much like a regular grocery store, opens its doors in October. Once in operation, the food club will be primarily volunteer-run, so a big part of my focus will be recruiting and training volunteer staff to manage nearly every aspect of the club. Since the majority of the club’s food is being purchased through Feeding America and other distributors, I will also be working to secure additional and ongoing funding.

I’m excited to work with community members that share my enthusiasm for food, food access and healthy lifestyles. I’ve already learned so much in just a few weeks connecting with folks in the community, some who I knew previously and many I am just beginning to meet. There is a lot of love and buzz around this project and I am curious to see its evolution as the food club gets off the ground.

Jaime Junior, MFOC Member

Jaime JuniorI’m Jaime Junior, a 41-year-old mother of one and a native Detroiter with Cerebral Palsy. My primary reason for wanting to serve with AmeriCorps is that as a person with a disability I understand the feelings of helplessness and being marginalized, so I think that I am in a unique position to help others in my community. My thinking is that my tenacity or keep-it-moving spirit, if you will, could inspire people to do just that! Reach higher, be better and make it easier to start the conversation about overcoming a seemingly bleak situation. Essentially, giving out of my own need.

My project focuses on creating financial empowerment by providing access to information through the facilitation of financial literacy workshops and promoting financial goal setting and savings. I am looking forward to helping people gain access to information and developing skills to better manage their money and leverage resources available to them so that they can save and grow financially. Even if its twenty dollars, they will feel better and more in control of their situations and ultimately be more self-sufficient.

My vision for the community is to make the “money” conversation more palatable and inclusive. I envision the reshaping of whole communities because empowered people make for more engaged neighbors; thriving communities and eventually, a better quality of life for our prioritized populations.

Amber Wiechec, MFOC Member

AmberMy name is Amber Wiechec and I am a CEDAM AmeriCorps Member serving at United Way of Saginaw County. During my service term, I will be promoting financial stability through facilitating financial education classes, hosting a Show Me the Money Day event, and coordinating the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program within Saginaw County.

I fell into the AmeriCorps program by chance more than anything. I recently graduated from college and was job searching, as you do, and felt unsatisfied with the positions I was applying for. Straight out of college a job is a job, but I really wanted to do something where I could actually feel that what I was doing mattered. I had no idea what AmeriCorps was when I applied to the listing for United Way of Saginaw County, but I knew that I met all of the listed requirements and that was exciting enough.

What I am looking forward to the most is being able to make a direct impact on the lives of others. I’ve already jumped head first into VITA, and while there are a few setbacks going into this season the volunteer response that I have already received is highly encouraging. I’ve also been able to make some headway in facilitating financial education classes and will officially be teaching my first class in just a couple of weeks. I look forward to improving the financial stability of Saginaw County residents during my year of service!

Ryan Bond, VISTA Member

I was influenced to submit an AmeriCorps VISTA application by the vast array of experiences that a close friend had during her AmeriCorps year. I selected the opportunity in Grand Haven due to factors that aligned with recent research in Germany and the U.S as well as my plans to explore future career options in urban/rural planning and community development.

The largest project of my first few weeks here has involved outreach for our annual ArtWalk, a collaboration of the lakeshore art and business communities in a collective celebration of art. There are over 150 individual works of art this year spread across the downtown area that actively engage the residents of Grand Haven and draw many visitors. This event also infuses downtown businesses with increased sales, which is a much needed “off-season” catalyst for the primarily summer tourist economy. Even at this early stage in my year of service I have already had several occasions to meet with business owners and leaders who have brought significant impact to the city by supporting this annual event. ArtWalk has been an excellent “initiation” mechanism into active community engagement in Grand Haven, and I have been consistently treated with respect and gratitude for my service and goals for the coming year. The event has caused me to focus on future projects and acquainted me with the challenges and rewards of serving in this region.

Outreach and community engagement are the primary objectives in my present role in Grand Haven, and I’ve presented ideas for multiple projects to implement during my year in Grand Haven. I wish to establish a firm internship program with colleges and high schools where students will be able to gain experience through volunteer and community service initiatives. I also hope to establish a conduit of innovative partnerships to bolster and enhance the mission of Grand Haven Main Street: “to strengthen the economic base of our vibrant historic business district through community efforts and events, and public and private partnerships.”

Where Detroit Happens: A Block by Block Tour

On Wednesday, September 20, I drove down to Detroit to participate in day three of CDAD’s Community Development Week. Over the course of the week CEDAM’s partner, Community Development Advocates of Detroit, hosted tours, workshops and other events to promote community development careers, practices and projects. Sessions included: Who’s Got Next? Careers in Community Development; 1967 Placemaking Reception; ERAC/CE Racial Equity Training; Where Detroit Happens Block by Block Tour; Race, Representation and Leadership: Cultivating Leadership for the Future of Community Development and finally, Capacity Building Day.

The Where Detroit Happens Block by Block Tour on day three was led by the Detroit Experience Factory, a nonprofit organization located in Detroit. Kaylin, our tour guide, took us through Detroit by bus and provided history and context as we passed by and through different neighborhoods and historical landmarks.

Our tour also made stops in each of the seven districts in Detroit, where we were met by CDAD members to talk about their organizations and see and learn about their impactful community development projects in Detroit. Let’s take a look at each:

Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (District 1)

Location: 19800 Grand River, Detroit, MI 48223

GRDC supports the five Grandmont Rosedale neighborhoods in northwest Detroit. Supporting retail entrepreneurs is an important focus area, and they seek to not only attract new businesses to the area but support existing ones as well. They initiate capacity building efforts within all of the neighborhoods, seek to preserve and renovate vacant homes and detail and track available properties. A few notable businesses and restaurants to check out: Pages Bookshop, River Bistro and Detroit Vegan Soul.

Focus: Hope (District 2)

Location: 1200 Oakman Boulevard, Detroit, MI 48238

Focus: Hope’s initiatives focus on food, careers and community. They provide low-income seniors with food packages, and seek to address healthy living and basic needs. Additionally, they provide work readiness support, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in multiple career fields, as well as quality education for children, economic opportunities and projects to transform the environment. 

One of Focus: Hope's Community Gardens

One of Focus: Hope’s Community Gardens






Global Detroit (Banglatown, District 3)

Location: 4444 2nd Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Global Detroit’s work focuses on economic development, workforce development and immigrant support. Banglatown is extremely diverse, and Global Detroit works to build bridges across cultural divides in the community. Banglatown includes both Detroit and Hamtramck, and the organization is actively working on ways to engage an equal number of representatives from both cities, as well as have representation across ages and ethnicities. 

Bangla Town, where Global Detroit focuses their work

Bangla Town, where Global Detroit focuses their work









Jefferson East, Inc. (District 4)  

Location: 300 River Place Drive #5350, Detroit, MI 48207

Jefferson East Inc. works to support the east Jefferson corridor and its neighborhoods, Lafayette Park, Rivertown, The Villages and the Marina District. Their economic development team supports small business owners through investment knowledge and real estate services. Jefferson East, Inc. is also an intake center for the City of Detroit’s Home Repair Loan program, which offers 0% interest loans to eligible Detroiters.  

Oakland Avenue Urban Farm (District 5)

Location: 9227 Goodwin St, Detroit, MI 48211

The Oakland Avenue Urban Farm owns land on Oakland and Cameron Street, totaling six acres of land. Their bright yellow and blue house is home to their community prep kitchen and meeting space. Across the street from the home is a giant garden which includes 120 blueberry plants and more. Oakland Avenue employs 13 people, with a mission to give people the skills needed to better themselves. They sell their blueberry jam and eggs at local markets, but they’re also open six days per week. 

The Oakland Avenue Urban Farm has 120 blueberry plants; they make blueberry jam and sell it at local markets

The Oakland Avenue Urban Farm has 120 blueberry plants; they make blueberry jam and sell it at local markets

Oakland Avenue Urban Garden's Master Plan lit up. Their goal is to develop civic spaces such as a youth hostel, library, art space and more in the neighborhood. They also want to preserve an old shoe shine / speakeasy in the neighborhood, where Smokey Robinson once played.

Pictured is Oakland Avenue Urban Garden’s master plan that maps out their goals for the neighborhood moving forward. It includes bringing civic spaces to the community, like art spaces, a library, a youth hostel and more. The plan is to also preserve the shoeshine / speakeasy (where Smokey Robinson once played) in the neighborhood.












DHDC — Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (District 6)

Location: 1211 Trumbull St., Detroit, MI 48216

2017 isn’t over yet, but DHDC has already served 5,620 people this year.

The organization started in Angela Reyes’s living room with a mission reduce gang violence. Today, they operate out of what was once a warehouse and has now transformed into an amazing “office” that includes a large community space, meeting rooms equipped with technology and a childcare facility. In addition to gang violence prevention and intervention, DHDC focuses on STEM careers, financial literacy, housing and community organizing to support and focus on education, immigrants, criminal justice, gentrification and civil rights.

They also offer GED and ESL classes, workforce development, prisoner re-entry support and parenting support. They have both an after school program and a summer program for kids. In the summer the DHDC takes the kids outside of the city for a camping trip; during the school year many of the kids are involved in robotics. 

Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation

Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation

DHDC's large community space for meetings, activities and events

DHDC’s large community space for meetings, activities and events









Warrendale Community Organization (District 7)

The Warrendale Community Organization is a smaller organization that focuses on their specific neighborhood. Two notable efforts include their relationship with the radio patrol team they’ve brought in, as well as their community garden. The community garden provides free fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to neighborhood residents, with the understanding that everyone helps out what they’re able, whether it be a one-time five minute commitment, or more.

Brussel Sprouts at the Warrendale Community Organization's garden

Brussel Sprouts at the Warrendale Community Organization’s garden

Learning about the history of the Warrendale Community Garden!

Learning about the history of the Warrendale Community Garden!


Metrics that Matter (A DVC Session Preview)

Written by Brian Rakovitis, Manger of Financial Empowerment Initiatives 

Data is merely a four letter word, but it can cause any organization a great deal of anxiety. Regardless the size of our organizations — from nonprofits to large corporations, from small businesses to trade associations —  it’s likely we all stress over the type of data we collect; does it demonstrate the change we are seeking?

Financial coaches and counselors face the same question, as there are a myriad of data options available to us. The data most commonly tracked includes changes in credit scores, debt levels and savings. Managing this data can be overwhelming and time consuming for financial coaches and may not fully inform us of our client’s needs.

CEDAM recognizes that accessible, client-focused data is necessary to develop meaningful services. At this year’s Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit conference, speakers Hallie Lienhardt and Marshall Averill will tackle common barriers financial coaches and counselors often face when it comes to tracking data.

In their session, Metrics that Matter: Standardizing Financial Coaching Client Data to Better Track Program Outcomes, they’ll offer insights on the state of the financial coaching field, introduce the Financial Capability Scale and discuss how your organization can utilize customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, like Salesforce, to improve program effectiveness.

Hallie Lienhardt

Hallie Lienhardt, Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Hallie Lienhardt is the Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Financial Security. Her background in community development planning and housing helped her to work directly with families facing foreclosure and economic difficulties. Lienhardt was a key partner in developing the 2016 Financial Coaching Census and will provide an overview of the Financial Capability Scale and how your organization can utilize this simple survey.

Marshall Averill is the Financial Stability Program Manager at United Way of Washtenaw County (UWWC). Marshall is a financial coach and has developed UWWC’s own CRM platform to manage their financial coaching and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program data.

Marshall Averill

Marshall Averill, Financial Stability Program Manager, United Way of Washtenaw County

“By using a CRM platform, we are able to gain useful insight into our clients,” Averill said. “This insight allows us to better understand how clients progress through their journey to financial mobility. Using data to drive our programing means that we are able to help more individuals realize their financial goals.”

If your organization provides financial coaching and counseling, or you are thinking about incorporating this into your body of work, join us at the Metrics that Matter session. You will leave feeling confident in your knowledge about the kind of data you should be collecting, and how you can use that data to improve your services.  

View the draft agenda and register for Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit.

Honoring Gene Kuthy, Community Economic Development Champion

Gene Kuthy AwardGene Kuthy believed in people and the organizations they created. He always wanted to be a part of those organizations that were designed by, and served, our most vulnerable populations and communities. With these efforts, he was a consummate board member.

He helped to form CEDAM in 1998, seeing the need to create a statewide organization to serve the community economic development industry and being one of our original board members. He also served on a number of other boards, including Southwest Solutions and several other CDCs in Detroit.

A retired Navy Reserve Captain, art lover and former head of the Financial Institutions Bureau, Gene could have chosen to spend his time in any number of places, but he chose us and for that, we will be eternally grateful.

Photo from http://bit.ly/legacy-genekuthy

Photo from http://bit.ly/legacy-genekuthy

He was a champion for the community economic development field – helping to create a voice for fair housing, “making banking more friendly” and lending credibility to our industry. He chose CEDAM and its mission as his cause, and CEDAM benefitted greatly because of that choice.

To honor Gene’s legacy, CEDAM is honoring a current or former board member of a CEDAM member who embodies Gene’s positive and unique attributes: fun, larger than life, generous, an incredible networker, a champion of a particular program and more. The nomination application can be found here; nominations are due September 29.

The Gene Kuthy award will be presented at this year’s Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit at the Greektown Hotel & Conference Center November 14-15. 

If you are interested in attending the award ceremony but not the conference, you can buy a table or individual place here

DACA is Ending; Tell Congress to Pass the Dream Act

What is DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA, is an immigration policy put in place by the Obama administration in 2012. The program is considered a stopgap measure to prevent undocumented children and youth brought to the United States by their parents from being deported.

DACA allows certain immigrants to apply to avoid deportation and obtain work permits. The permits can be renewed every two years.  Participants pay a fee of $495 at the time of application, and at every renewal. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the requirements to apply are:

  • Must have been younger than 31 years old on June 15, 2012
  • Must have come to the U.S. before their 16th birthday
  • Must have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007, through the present
  • Must have been in the U.S. both on June 15, 2012, and at the time of their request
  • Must have had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Must currently be in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a GED or be an honorably discharged military veteran
  • Must not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety

On Tuesday, September 5 the Trump administration announced that DACA will end in six months if Congress does not pass new legislation. Acting Secretary Elaine C. Duke released an official memorandum on the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

What does this mean?

Because of the executive order, DACA will be phased out, with an official end in six months. As reported by David Nakamura for NPR, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will process all new applications received as of Sept. 5 and then stop accepting applications. DREAMers whose work permits expire before March 5, 2018, can apply for a two-year renewal, but they must meet an upcoming Oct. 5 deadline.”

What can you do?

With DACA ending, it’s time for Congress to pass a clean version of the bipartisan Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. Call your members of Congress and encourage them to support the Dream Act. You can find contact information for your Representative here and your Senators here.

More information

You can find up-to-date information about the DACA program and assistance for young adults — with specific information for those in Michigan affected by this decision — from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

New Member Feature: Daryl Brooks of Stellar Building & Construction

Daryl Brooks, owner of Stellar Building & Construction, has been a carpenter/ carpenter contractor for the past 25 years, and he’s been involved in the rough carpentry of over 30,000 units. He has worked on many Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects, but was never involved in putting the deals together himself.

In order to do just that, Brooks became a CEDAM member and attended the Building Michigan Communities Conference (BMCC) this past May, where he was able to network and build a foundation of affordable housing knowledge.

One month later, CEDAM’s Real Estate Development Boot Camp proved to be another important catalyst for action. The four-day training, which covered site selection, legal structures, development teams, proformas, financing and more, ended with attendees pitching realistic project proposals to a funding panel comprised of people who review and fund affordable housing development projects. 

“It would be nearly impossible to put together a deal that would have a chance of being approved without this [bootcamp] training,” Brooks said. “To have had so many people from the industry there, who look at projects everyday, it was invaluable. The feedback that we received and the interaction with all of the panel as well as the others attending was priceless.” 

Daryl and the rest of his team present to the funding panel at Real Estate Development Boot Camp on June 8, 2018

Daryl and the rest of his team present to the funding panel at Real Estate Development Boot Camp on June 8, 2017

Brooks has worked hard this summer to network and gain more knowledge about the process, much of which has come from actually pursuing development projects in Flint, where his revitalization efforts are targeted. He’s making headway, closing on a new building sometime next week, and is currently working on an office space. When it comes to housing development, he is facing a few roadblocks, but he refuses to be discouraged.

“We’re not the kind of people that take no for an answer very easily,” he said.

At the end of the day, he’s pursuing the developer route because he’s determined to focus on the community. It’s important to him that projects aren’t profit driven. He wants to give weight to the community, and think about how one can impact it positively by creating jobs. He wants to create good, decent living spaces, and a nice community that will integrate well within the existing area.  

In addition to pursuing development projects, Brooks and his daughter Alexandra are in the process of starting a nonprofit organization in Flint as well.

A main focus of the new organization will be a training program that leads to jobs in the Skilled Trades industry — and he’ll be pushing to get more women and minority groups that are often excluded from the trades to be a part of the program.

It’s clear to Brooks that he needs more workers, not more work, and the best way to go about that is to streamline the process and train people himself.

He wants service to be a focus of the nonprofit as well, hoping to help neighborhoods through garbage clean-up, overgrowth maintenance and sidewalk improvements.

“We’re going to try to see what we can do with partnering with the nonprofits up there to help reclaim the city, to renovate, to revive it,” Brooks said. “It’s a lot on the plate. We’re still trying to get people on our board who can see this vision of what it’s going to be and then we obviously want to meet with the community groups and we’d like people from the community… We’d like people in the community to have a voice to say you know, ‘we think that would be best’. It’s their neighborhood, we’re the new guy on the block — we just bought a place, we just moved in.”

Brooks is continuously trying to prove himself, to show people that he’s the guy to work with.

“We’re not bringing this one and done thing. We’re bringing jobs that people can have for an extended period of time. We’re bringing a totally different game that nobody has seen yet.”

It’s a busy and hard road ahead but, as Brooks said: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Storytelling: Crafting Your Message for Digital Platforms (A DVC Session Preview)

If you’re an organization working in community development or financial capability, it might feel like you’re constantly being reminded of the importance of storytelling. You know our industry should be talking about its work — specifically about the communities and people you serve. People enjoy reading about people after all, and the benefits are often practical: from securing grants to increasing your number of donors, telling a compelling story has the power to help you meet your goals.storytelling_pexels

With an influx of resources like blogs and webinars helping you to craft the perfect message, why is it then that integrating storytelling into your marketing or content strategy is so difficult to put into action?

It is likely difficult for numerous reasons, and all of them can seem like unwavering barriers. Time, money and people may all be limited resources. Your organization’s energy may be entrenched in ground work — it’s easy to forget or not have time to share what you’ve accomplished.

But for every challenge you face, CEDAM’s job is to find you a solution.

This year at Destination: Vibrant Communities and Financial Empowerment Summit, Troy Anderson, Communications Associate at CDAD, will address these issues and provide you with practical solutions in his session Storytelling: Crafting Your Message for Digital Platforms.

Anderson graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Urban & Regional Planning (with a focus in Community Development) in 2014. Video production, however, had always been a hobby, and his interest further materialized during his time in college. He saw how powerful the medium could be after watching a documentary produced by his roommate, and he started to bring both photography and video production into his work at his community development internships. He and his college roommate started an LLC through The Hatch, a student business incubator, that they still own today, and have produced work for clients like Ford, Fox Sports Detroit, distilleries and breweries, musicians and more.

Photo Credit: cdad-online.org

Troy Anderson, Communications Associate at CDAD. Photo Credit: cdad-online.org

Anderson has the unique opportunity to continue with both community development and photography and video production work at CDAD.

“There are compelling and important stories to tell in community development in Detroit,” Anderson said. “Community Development in Detroit, from a larger scale, tells the story of the state of the neighborhoods, the issues that residents are dealing with and the solutions that community development corporations, nonprofits, residents and block clubs are coming up with to meet those challenges.”

In his DVC session, the goal is to give conference attendees concrete, practical, low-cost ways to tell their own important stories.

“Being able to effectively tell your story and get your message out there is not necessarily tied to a big budget marketing strategy or engagement with an outside consultant,” Anderson said. “There are steps that organizations with smaller capacities can take to get their story and their message out there.”

You won’t want to miss this session that will look at Anderson’s own production process which will then get broken down into how you can use the same principles and messages on a scale that works for your organization. You’ll walk away from this hands-on session with the confidence to shoot compelling photos and videos, a better understanding of how to tap into your audience and the tools needed to tell your message.

Learn more about Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit

Passing the Baton: VISTA Leaders Reflect on the Past Year and Look Forward to the Next

Before Stevie Chilcote started her year of Service as a VISTA Leader, CEDAM’s sole AmeriCorps program was the Michigan Financial Opportunity Corps (MFOC), run by Rachel Diskin.

From running the MFOC and working closely with the Michigan Rural Council, it was realized that there was a need for capacity building in rural nonprofit organizations. In an effort to support nonprofits serving rural communities, CEDAM applied and was awarded to host the Rural Opportunity VISTA program.

That’s when Chilcote, CEDAM’s first VISTA Leader, came in to support Diskin’s work and manage CEDAM’s new VISTA program.

Diskin asked Chilcote to revamp many of CEDAM’s processes, such as the member and supervisor handbooks, monthly report and timesheet tracking and to improve CEDAM’s recruitment and retention skills. Where Chilcote really excelled this past year, Diskin noted, was in her relationships with VISTA Members.

“It can be difficult to build relationships across the state, but I could tell that the VISTA Members relied on Stevie and trusted her to support them when needed,” said Diskin.


Stevie Chilcote on her last day of service

This year Chilcote oversaw seven members, all of whom were placed in Main Street communities or community foundations across the state of Michigan. Her goal? To ensure that her members had whatever they needed to have a successful VISTA year.

Members themselves can be successful at their host-sites in many ways. An easy, measurable metric we can look at is the amount of money raised for their communities and organizations over the past year. Host-sites pay a fee of $6,000 to have a VISTA member, and in return they get to onboard a full-time VISTA volunteer. Between the seven VISTAs, over $90,000 was raised in grants and contributions for their sites.

“For every site, for a $6,000 investment, our VISTAs raised that much,” said Chilcote. “And that’s not including in-kind donations or volunteer hours they managed. It was just grants and contributions. That was exciting to see.”

Prior to being a VISTA Leader, Chilcote’s experience in the nonprofit world focused on direct service and programming. Professionally, being a VISTA leader allowed her to develop a different set of skills.  

“As a VISTA Leader I got to see what happens behind the scenes. I got to plan conferences, apply for grants, see what compliance grant work looks like, [oversee] recruitment and hiring processes and see the process that goes into running a nonprofit,” said Chilcote.

Being a VISTA Leader was both a professional and practical decision. Stevie knew Lansing was where she wanted to be, but after serving in the Peace Corps for two years and then working in Detroit, she was looking for the best way to make the move. It turns out, she said “VISTA is a great way to transition into a new town if you don’t have a lot of contacts there.”

While she doesn’t quite know yet where she’s headed next, Chilcote does know that she would like to stay in the nonprofit world.

“I really enjoy the people I get to work with and I enjoy knowing that my work is making a difference.”

And now, Ryan Verstraete has the opportunity to continue to build the Rural Opportunity VISTA program at CEDAM. Verstraete has two years of serving through the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) under their belt, and they’ve previously interned at CEDAM.

“We’re only a week in, and I’m already impressed with Ryan’s ability to ask questions that I didn’t think to ask,” said Diskin. “I think that will transfer into a lot of tightening up of our policies and procedures throughout the year. That’s exactly what I was looking for in year two of the program!”

Verstraete’s high school interest in biology and life sciences was reinforced when they served their first AmeriCorps year in California and had the opportunity to work on environment-based projects.

At the end of that year they realized how important having an approach that focused on human-based needs is. In their second year of service through NCCC, the stars aligned and they happened to be placed on projects that focused on just that. Verstraete worked in schools, disaster recovery, economic development in rural Arizona and worked for an organization fighting generational poverty in Houston.

“My two gap years were super beneficial. I gained a lot of direction and opportunities and I’m confident in my ability to go back to school,” said Verstraete. “Jumping right into college and getting invested in that part of your life right off the bat out of high school, when you’re already tired of school — I feel like that is enough of a selling point to take a gap. But doing a gap year with AmeriCorps — I mean you’re traveling, seeing other parts of the country, you’re being paid to help our country’s communities and meeting other people who are interested in that — it’s  incredible.” 

Ryan Verstraete (Left) and Stevie Chilcote (Right)

Ryan Verstraete (Left) and Stevie Chilcote (Right)

Much like Chilcote, being a VISTA Leader is as much practical as it is driven by passion. “I’ve got an Associate’s degree, no debt, and more than $10,000 to use for school,” said Verstrate.

As a VISTA Leader Verstraete is excited to continue working in the community economic development field.

“In the support position of being a VISTA Leader I am very dedicated and excited to work in this field and I am hoping I can share that with my VISTA Members, and then they can go on to do the same,” said Verstraete.

In addition to igniting positive energy around service, Verstraete is keen on learning how different organizations and areas meet needs that they have through administration and not direct service. Gaining insight on strategies for addressing these issues is an important piece they hope to take out of their service as a VISTA Leader.

At the end of the day, serving as a VISTA Leader is about the members.

“When you’re a VISTA Member you get so into it you don’t realize the impact you’re having,” said Chilcote. “For them to go in and choose to either serve the community they live in or come in from an outside world is amazing. You have to constantly tell the VISTAs that their work is amazing.”

Learn more about CEDAM’s AmeriCorps programs here.