LINC UP’s First Friday Event Brings Neighbors Together with Music, Food and Fun

By Camille Allen, communications intern

Live jazz, soul food, spoken word and poetry: this is what any given first Friday of the month can look like for CEDAM member Linc Up, an organization that once primarily focused on affordable housing but has expanded to become a community revitalization agency in Grand Rapids.  

The Mitch Myers Band performs on Friday, November 3, 2017 at LINC UP's First Friday event

The Mitch Myers Band performs on Friday, November 3, 2017 at Linc Up’s First Friday event

For the past six years Linc Up has hosted an event on the first Friday of every month where neighbors, friends and coworkers alike can get together and socialize in a relaxed environment. The organization saw a demand for something that wasn’t being met by anyone else in Grand Rapids. What started as an idea is now a monthly happening, drawing in a couple hundred people to each event.

“Grand Rapids just does not have African American oriented entertainment options for professionals,” said Jeremy DeRoo, executive director of Linc Up. “We wanted to create a professional environment where you can run into people in an informal setting, meet some new folks or have a place where you can reconnect with old friends that is an authentic experience.”

Though First Friday is a night of entertainment and socializing, it also serves as a way to change economic patterns in Grand Rapids. By increasing social connectivity, the event aims to bring people together and further build the networks that residents naturally have, and a great place to start is with good food, good music and a good environment.

DeRoo noted that the organization has seen projects set in motion and business move forward because of the connections people have made at First Friday.

LINC UP Executive Director Jeremy DeRoo makes an announcement at the November 3, 2017 First Friday event

Linc Up Executive Director Jeremy DeRoo makes an announcement at the November 3, 2017 First Friday event

Linc Up centers all of its efforts around four core ideals. The first is Who You Know, which deals largely with the networks that form within communities that have a positive effect on engagement and development. The second is What You Know. Focusing on education, the organization provides leadership training services. The third core concept is Where You Live, which includes Linc Up’s affordable housing developments and neighborhood revitalization efforts. The fourth and final concept is What You Make, which centers around business development. Linc Up assists businesses and programs throughout the city and provides co-workspace at an affordable price. These core ideals intersect to foster resilient neighborhoods.

“Neighborhood revitalization is important because where you come from contributes to where you’re going in your life, and some neighborhoods produce different results,” DeRoo said. “Some perpetuate success for the kids who grow up there, the companies that open there and the people living there while others aren’t because they don’t have the necessary opportunities available for their residents.”

DeRoo notes that the organization’s name is derived from its dedication to restoring connections, and one way they stay true to this is through referrals. Last year Linc Up connected more than one hundred residents to businesses in Grand Rapids. Not only do they refer residents for employment, but the organization also connects residents to nonprofits that offer services from which they can benefit, acting as an important channel in the community.

“Grand Rapids has a ton of great nonprofits, so our work isn’t about building programs because most of the time these programs do exist,” said DeRoo, “they just don’t always reach the people that need it the most.”

After the general election night forum, LINC UP wrapped up the First Friday event with live jazz and spoken word by Antonio "Tone" Taylor

After the general election night forum, Linc Up wrapped up the First Friday event with live jazz and spoken word by Antonio “Tone” Taylor

Linc Up is in a unique position where they have the opportunity to connect. They connect residents to the nonprofits that aim to help them, they connect residents to businesses and the most important, overlooked connection is that amongst people. Connected neighbors lead to friendships and partnerships that create a larger professional network in the area. First Friday is just one way they continue to foster connections, and it has been working exceptionally well so far.

Government Shuts Down and Reopens, DACA Up in the Air

Written by Jessica AcMoody, senior policy specialist and Alexis Puente, policy intern

Understanding the Government Shutdown

The federal government shut down at midnight on Friday, January 19 after Congress failed to reach an agreement on the FY 2018 federal budget. The Continuing Resolution (CR) to temporarily extend government funding until February 16 did not receive the required 60 votes amid a bitter dispute over negotiations over the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and border security. The DACA program offers protection for nearly 700,000 immigrants from deportation. These protections will expire on March 5 unless Congress comes to an agreement.

While House Republicans passed a bill on Thursday to fund the government for four weeks and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years, Democrats wanted the CR to include a comprehensive immigration deal that included DACA protections. Without that included, the Senate could not get the 60 votes needed to pass the resolution.

Over the weekend a caucus of moderates from both political parties came up with a compromise to extend government spending until February 8. In return for Democrat support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to take up an immigration bill with DACA protections and allow an open amendment process. McConnell’s promise doesn’t guarantee that the immigration bill will reach the House floor let alone pass the Senate.

The compromise bill passed the Senate on Monday afternoon with a 81-18 vote, the House by a 266-150 vote and was signed by President Trump.

Both Republicans and Democrats are largely divided by party lines, neither willing to compromise. It will be difficult for the Republicans and Democrats to agree on immigration reform, including the legal status of DACA recipients and whether or not that includes granting citizenship.

What’s Next?

According to NPR, “In statement on Monday, Trump said that with the government on the path to reopening, the administration would work on immigration legislation — but ‘only if it’s good for our country.’”

The road ahead remains difficult with only a few weeks to reach consensus on major outstanding issues including disaster relief and opioid funding, and overall budget spending levels. And unlike the Senate, the House made no promises to take up immigration legislation.

A Day On, Not a Day Off for CEDAM AmeriCorps Members

MLK-Wayne Metro (4)

Legislation to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday was signed in 1983, and was first observed in 1986. It was in 1994, however, that the MLK Day of Service was established as a way to transform Dr. King’s teachings into community action that strengthens communities across the country. Participating in a day on, not a day off, CEDAM’s AmeriCorps members served their communities in Michigan through leading or participating in a variety of service projects. The Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) proposes focus areas for service projects that are addressed by our broad range of events coordinated by Michigan Financial Opportunity Corps and Rural Opportunity VISTA members.

The preschool class of Mrs. Stephanie Schneider at Carson City-Crystal Lower Elementary school dedicated the day of service to decorating and donating lunch bags to support fellow students. CEDAM MFOC member Nikki Kwiatkowski, serving at United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties, was joined by ReadingCorps member Marinna Jones as they led the activity and a lesson on Dr. King’s legacy and food insecurity in the community. The bags were donated for after-school meals that are offered to students who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches by IM Kids 3rd Meal. This event was supported by a grant from the MCSC.

Young and old community members enjoyed public exhibits presenting the experiences of mid-20th century African American life at the Muskegon Museum of Arts, where Rural Opportunity VISTA member Catherine Sliwinski served as a greeter. Advocate and artist Winfred Rembert’s exhibit of carved and dyed leather presents vivid scenes of busy streets, dancing and picking cotton from his memories of childhood and prison in Southern Roots: The Paintings of Winfred Rembert. The stories of the great migration to northern factories was shown throughout the day in the documentary Up From the Bottoms. Crafts and guided tours were offered to guests for one of the museum’s most highly attended events of the year. Catherine was able to meet other AmeriCorps members as well as residents in the community where she is serving to coordinate a county-wide Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program. More details on the exhibit and images of Rembert’s pieces are available here.

Volunteers at the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency in service!

Volunteers at the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency in service!

Approximately 100 volunteers supported the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency’s 2018 MLK Day service event, where MFOC members coordinated many different service projects. With grant support from MCSC, more than 300 warming and hygiene kits were packaged for people experiencing homelessness, classrooms were organized and sanitized, youth had fun growing their financial education and 30 Head Start families received smoke detectors. Numerous organizations partnered with CEDAM’s AmeriCorps and Wayne Metro: Baymont Inn & Suites, GM Team Cares, Playworks, Starfish Family Services, Cass Technical High School Honors Society, Out-Wayne County Homeless Services Coalition and the Detroit Fire Department. This project honored Dr. King’s legacy by addressing critical focus areas for community improvement.

Community members and Rural Opportunity VISTA members discuss civil rights and the film "Detroit" in the Mason County District Library.

Community members and Rural Opportunity VISTA members discuss civil rights and the film “Detroit” in the Mason County District Library.

During the evening, the Mason County District Library hosted a public screening and discussion in collaboration with four of the Rural Opportunity VISTA members in the surrounding counties. Librarians suggested the 2017 film “Detroit” and the team of VISTA members prepared and led discussion around the themes that connect the events in the movie to Dr. King’s activism. The film tells the story of the Algiers Motel abuse and killings and the acquittal of the police officers responsible. Four of the attendees lived in Detroit preceding and during the events and shared fascinating personal histories of their experiences.


Introducing New CEDAM Team Member Ben Dowd

Ben PictureCEDAM is excited to announce Ben Dowd as its new Controller! Dowd will manage CEDAM’s finances, including grant and budget management for CEDAM’s programs, as well as provide human resources support to the CEDAM team.


Ben has been working in banking for 15 years, 12 of which have been spent as a manager at PNC Bank. He spent most of his time in the Saginaw/Bay City area and moved to Lansing in 2015 to manage PNC Bank branches in Lansing.

“Through my employment at PNC, which is cool because PNC is a partner with CEDAM, I’ve actually been involved in Show Me the Money Day events as well as VITA tax preparation locations mainly in the Lansing and the Saginaw Area,” Dowd said.

In his most recent position with PNC, Dowd not only managed his team of bankers and the day-to-day operations, but worked on community development initiatives as well. This entailed getting to know the businesses and organizations involved in the community, acquiring new businesses to work with the bank and building relationships with key partners.

Outside of work, Dowd was on the board of the nonprofit Perceptions in Saginaw, and now sits on the board of Lansing’s Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA), serving as the treasurer as well as sitting on several committees. Dowd has also been involved in Lansing 501 events, Meals on Wheels and has worked closely with the City of Mason’s Chamber.


“A lot of my passion lies with working in communities and really being involved in the nonprofit world,” Dowd said. “A lot of my time outside of my nine to five job is already spent doing those things in our community, so the draw was a natural fit for me.”

Dowd is looking forward to the opportunity to expand his work with communities and finding ways to help them achieve their determined success. “If they have a plan and things established, what can CEDAM do to help boost that and what I can do specifically in my role to help them see success?”

Finally, Dowd is looking forward to increasing his involvement in CEDAM’s programs. “The opportunities are endless… I  am super excited for a chance to join CEDAM and be a part of the work that they’re already doing and will continue to do in the future.”


Avenue for the Arts Program Creates Strong Sense of Place

By Camille Allen, Communications Intern

Downtown Grand Rapids between Fulton and Wealthy Street lies the South Division commercial corridor, a street blossoming with art, culture and character. Every month, Avenue for the Arts shines a spotlight on this street with their First Friday event, which brings attention to the Grand Rapids art scene and the small, local businesses that line the street. Avenue for the Arts is a program supported by CEDAM member Dwelling Place, and the program aims to strengthen the creative community in Grand Rapids by creating a collaborative event in which business owners, residents and visitors alike can participate.

Rachel Hurd is a Learning Lab intern for Avenue for the Arts invested in the event and its effect on the community.

“First Friday is an event we hold the first Friday of each month, and it captures the business owners, the restaurants and bars and all of the studios on the avenue,” Hurd said as she showed us around the Avenue for the Arts studio where they exhibit and sell artwork by local artists. “Our mission is to encourage people in Grand Rapids and visitors who are interested in the art community to bridge the gap between artists and art enthusiasts.”

DebraArt IMG_2574

Artwork by Debra Dieppa (left) and artwork by Mary Tobias Prevost shown by Rachel Hurd (right) 

A stroll down South Division Avenue highlights the strength of the art community in Grand Rapids. It proves to be a marketplace of creativity, with niche stores, specialized studios and a diverse selection of restaurants. There is also a blend of new and old on the avenue — you can find stores that have stood strong for decades managed by the same people, as well as galleries run by art students fresh out of university. Among the latter are resident gallery owners Maddie May and Gina Masterson of Bend Gallery.

“We are normally open by appointment,” May said, “but we are open every First Friday with a new exhibition for the month, so every first Friday you can find a new show. We also do a lot of community stuff, but art is our main focus.”

Their involvement with Avenue for the Arts is largely due to the initiative displayed by Dwelling Place’s neighborhood revitalization specialist Jenn Schaub.

“I was really inspired to do this because Jenn Schaub does the First Friday monthly programming,” May said. “I was really interested in challenging myself to come up with monthly exhibitions. I know Gina and I really wanted to spotlight local artists, but also national and international artists.”

The two are part of Dwelling Place’s live-work space housing program, and their street-side space boasts living quarters in the back of the building.

“We rent through Dwelling Place,” Masterson explained. “So we live here, but it is also a commercial property, a live-work space.”

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Maddie May and Gina Masterson (left) and a gallery attendee perusing artwork at Bend Studio (right)

The organization provides apartments tailored for creative business owners and entrepreneurs, with the appeal of a studio and the amenities and comfort of a loft, all at an affordable price. This initiative allows these artists and entrepreneurs to be surrounded by other creative minds, and facilitates the transformation of the avenue into an arts neighborhood.

Avenue for the Arts not only includes art galleries in their First Friday events, but also small businesses and stores like Vertigo Music, a record store that has been on the avenue for over 17 years.

“Jenn Schaub reached out and she’s been very proactive and has got everybody involved,” said Baker. “She lets me know the information that is pertinent to Vertigo, and we are always open the days of the events that are happening for Avenue for the Arts.”

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Vertigo is located at 129 S Division Avenue, Grand Rapids, MI

Many small businesses are battling the convenience of online shopping, and there has definitely been a shift in consumer behavior in the music industry.

“My whole industry has changed so dramatically in that everything has gone digital, with the exception of the small niche category that is vinyl, which is exploding.”

Dwelling Place’s Avenue for the Arts program recognizes that both small businesses and a strong art presence is vital to the strength of local economies and communities. The intersection of the two, as highlighted by initiatives like the live-work space program, is helping Dwelling Place create a sense of place one Friday at a time.

What’s in the Final Tax Bill?

Written by Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist and Grace Hough, Policy Intern

The House and Senate reached a compromise on their individual tax plans last week creating a merged tax bill. The bill passed the House on December 19 by a vote of 227-203, and passed the Senate early Wednesday morning by a vote of 51-48. The bill must go back to the House for another vote due to Senate rules, which prevent the bill from including any measures considered “extraneous” to budget matters. The bill will then go to the president’s desk for his signature. The effects of the bill on affordable housing are not as detrimental as may have been expected, however most reports indicate that the bulk of the benefits go to upper-income households with middle- and lower-income households ending up worse off.

Low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), the New Markets Tax Credit and private activity bonds (including multifamily housing bonds) were retained in the new GOP tax plan. The 20% Historic Tax Credit made it into the final bill, but would have to be spread over five years as opposed to current policy where it can be taken up front in the first year of the project.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was repealed in the bill beginning in 2019 which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would leave as many as 13 million fewer people without health insurance. There is also fear that with no mandate less people will buy insurance, which may result in increased premiums for everyone else.

The child-tax deduction was doubled to $2,000, but only the first $1,400 is tax deductible. In addition, families with an income of up to $400,000 annually may apply for this deduction. Some estimates suggest that low-income families could see a token benefit of as little as $75 or less.

While the House was not successful in repealing the estate tax they were successful in doubling the exemption limit bringing the percentage of Americans who could be affected by the tax to almost zero. The mortgage interest deduction, previously set at $1 million, was decreased to $750,000. While this is a step in the right direction, advocates who have been urging mortgage interest deduction reform for years were hoping the savings would be dedicated to producing more affordable housing instead of to offset corporate income tax reduction.

The provision in the House tax plan to overturn the Johnson Amendment, which bans religious institutions and all nonprofit entities organized as 501(c)3s from endorsing political candidates, was not included in the final bill. Advocates are concerned that a repeal could come up again soon. According to the Washington Post, “President Trump promised to ‘totally destroy’ the Johnson Amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.”

Other important provisions of the plan include:

  • Lowers many individual tax rates with a change in tax brackets
  • Lowers the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, effective January 1, 2018
  • Nearly doubles the standard deduction
  • Eliminates personal exemptions
  • Caps state and local tax deductions at $10,000
  • No longer allows a deduction for the interest on home equity loans
  • Preserves smaller tax breaks such as deductions for medical expenses and student loan interest
  • Keeps the tax-free status of tuition waivers for graduate students

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the plan will increase the budget deficit by $1.46 trillion over a decade. In order to keep the increase under the maximum $1.5 trillion it could add to the deficit under rules set by the Senate earlier this year, the individual provisions in the tax bill expire by 2025, but the corporate tax cuts are permanent. The GOP has said they want to cut anti-poverty programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP under “welfare reform” in 2018 to help pay for the tax cuts.

According to the Tax Policy Center, while most Americans would see a tax cut in 2018, the richest Americans would by far benefit most. With many of the individual cuts expiring in 2025, many lower- and middle-class Americans will have higher taxes a decade from now.

CEDAM Member CAHP Hosts Open House for Rehabbed Lansing Home

By Meghan Kuhr, Communications Intern


On Tuesday, November 12, CEDAM member Capital Area Housing Partnership (CAHP) held an open house for their newly rehabbed Lansing home. The almost 100-year old house was beautifully restored with 3 bedrooms, 1 ½ baths, original wood floors, modern conveniences and a two-car garage.


Executive Director Sage Hales-Ho talks with fellow CAHP staff Emma Henry and AmeriCorps member Olivia Rice at the open house on December 12, 2017.

CAHP provides livable homes, increases housing values and ensures each home they renovate is safe and affordable. They empower families to improve their financial health and help homebuyers become successful homeowners.

“[The house] will be sold to a family at or below 80% of the area median income and so, for a family of 4 in Lansing, that’s about $54,000 a year,” said Sage Hales-Ho, executive director of CAHP.

With housing prices only increasing in the U.S. and in Lansing, CAHP’s work is critical.

“It’s really hard for families and working people and not working people, people who can’t work, to find homes that are decent and safe,” Hales-Ho said. “There’s a high need for the affordability, there’s a high need for the healthier homes, like the decreased led exposure and there is a high need for homes that are energy efficient.” IMG_4594

This fully renovated home, which had previously been vacant, already has a purchaser.

“Our impact on one block really helps the whole neighborhood or our impact in one house helps the whole block,” Hales-Ho said. “So slowly we are revitalizing communities of Lansing.”

How Do Key Provisions Differ in the Senate and House Tax Bills?

The Senate tax bill passed in the early hours of Saturday morning with only one Republican, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) voting against it. The bill now heads to conference committee where the House and Senate will try to reconcile the differences in their two tax reform plans. Once negotiations are finished a draft of the conference report must pass through each chamber before being signed by President Trump. While there are large differences between the two versions of the tax plan, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, Trump could see a draft as early as next week.

The following chart presents the differences on many key provisions in the Senate and House plans:

House Senate
Standard Deduction Doubled Doubled
Personal Exemptions Eliminated Eliminated
State and Local Tax Deduction Limited to $10,000 for property taxes Limited to $10,000 for property taxes
Child Tax Credit Increased to $1,600 Increased to $2,000 but the second $1,000 is nonrefundable
Mortgage Interest Deduction $500,000 cap Preserved at $1 million cap
Alternative Minimum Tax Repealed Preserved
Estate Tax Reduces estate and gift taxes by doubling the exemption and then ultimately fully repealing the estate tax Reduces estate tax by doubling the exemption
ACA Individual Mandate Repealed Repealed
Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) Retain Retain
Private Activity Bonds (Including Multifamily Bonds) Repealed Retain
Historic Tax Credit Eliminated 20% HTC
Corporate Tax Rate Lowers from 35% to 20% Lowers from 35% to 20%
Johnson Amendment Repealed Retain


Both nonprofits and affordable housing organizations are adversely affected by the tax plans. Fewer people are expected to donate to nonprofits because the standard deduction is doubled and the estate tax is repealed (House) or has more exemptions (Senate).  The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that charities, including nonprofit arts organizations, could see a loss of up to $20 billion annually as a result of this tax policy change.

With the corporate tax rate significantly reduced, the value of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) will be much less. According to Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “The bill also triggers a 2010 law that almost immediately forces sequestration cuts on some mandatory spending, including a 6.6% cut to the vital national Housing Trust Fund.”

The GOP tax bills also increase the debt by at least $1 trillion — and 62% of the benefits of the bill go to the top 1% of earners. Republicans in Congress have said that they plan to tackle welfare reform, make cuts to entitlement programs and decrease federal spending to make up for the debt increase.

It’s not too late to make your voice heard. The conference committee must still reconcile the differences between the bills, and then the House and Senate must both vote on the final bill. Please continue to reach out to your Representative and Senators and urge them to defeat this tax plan and instead work on a bi-partisan bill.

Resources for Contacting Legislators

Contact information for your Representative and your Senators.

Talking points on how the House and Senate plans impact affordable housing development.

Information from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Information about the Historic Tax Credit.

CEDAM and Partners Lead Michigan Children’s Savings Account (CSA) Consortium

On Friday, November 3, organizations from across the state of Michigan representing community foundations, nonprofits and local governments met to discuss the future of Children’s Saving Accounts (CSAs) in Michigan. CSAs are long-term savings or investment accounts that help children (ages 0-18) and their families, especially those from low-income families, build savings for the future. CSAs:

  • Provide incentives to grow savings, such as initial deposits, savings matches or prize-linked savings and;
  • are usually used for postsecondary education (e.g. college, vocational/technical schools), though other possible uses include homeownership and financing a small business.

Led by Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), Barry Community Foundation and City of Lansing – Office of Financial Empowerment, the role of this consortium is to advance the field of CSAs in Michigan. The Consortium spent the day discussing how they can bring CSAs to their local communities, tackle asset building policy issues in Michigan and ways to support their local CSA efforts.

When asked why organizations were inspired to launch a CSA program, representatives mentioned that they feel CSAs are a tool to end generational poverty, give low-income families hope for their child’s future, combat the student loan crisis and create communities of caring.

A new report from Prosperity Now, Investing in Dreams, found the following CSA benefits:


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The Michigan Children’s Savings Account (CSA) Consortium plans to host its next meeting in mid-February. Interested organizations that want to learn more or join the conversation happening right now about CSAs can contact  for additional information.

From Youth Programs to Land Use Projects, Urban Neighborhood Initiatives Reflects on a Successful Year

By Camille Allen, CEDAM Communications Intern

Many urban programs are directed at youth, but it is not often that we see these programs driven by youth themselves. For CEDAM Member Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI), this is nothing out of the ordinary. This past year, over 1,500 adolescents engaged in the organization’s leadership programs, which include youth designed and facilitated workshops on substance abuse, movies in the park and a school lunch improvement campaign.

Part of UNI’s mission is indigenous leadership, meaning they aim to have a staff that is more reflective of the community it serves, and provide the youth of Detroit with leadership positions in these programs that ensures that they will be able grow into positions with more responsibility. UNI puts young people at the forefront of their movement, and this philosophy is strongly reflected in their video titled Why Youth:

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with executive director Christine Bell to discuss UNI’s annual breakfast, a day for the organization, along with guest speakers and members of the community, to discuss successes from the past year and plans for the one ahead. As 2017 comes to a close, it is clear that Detroit, and the state of Michigan, have much to be proud of when it comes to this nonprofit organization. IMG_0195

Recognized for their youth-centric philosophy, UNI was deemed a lead agency for Grow Detroit’s Young Talent this past summer, providing nearly two-hundred youth individuals with work experience. The organization brings individuals into the workforce through their community-based programs including their Southwest Urban Arts Mural Project, their Urban Forestry and Recreation program and their Apprenticeship Program which places youth in local businesses and organizations that correlate to their career goals for the future. In addition to being named a lead organization, UNI was the only organization in the entire city of Detroit to utilize America Saves, a savings program aimed at teaching children about banking and saving.

“All of our young people have opened banking and savings accounts,” Bell said.

Their youth has collectively saved $92,000 dollars and pledged to use their savings for education. This pledge largely sets them apart from other programs which do not prioritize saving for education. Not only were they first in the city to use this program, but they are one of thirty organizations in the nation to implement it.

In addition to youth development, UNI focuses on land use and economic development. Through their Land Stewardship Program, residents identify vacant lots they would like revitalized and UNI supports them in the restoration process. Bell stresses that they try to create a sense of self-sufficiency in the community.IMG_0179

“Our goal is to get residents to a point where they can care for the land themselves,” Bell said.

This past year 55 lots were beautified and they have claimed over 150 for the long-term stewardship of the residents.  This year their Green Team, which is part of their Urban Forestry and Recreation Program, redeveloped and beautified three pocket-parks in the city, creating safe spaces for children and families to enjoy.

Just as much as the organization strives to beautify the area and get the best use out of its land, they also care a great deal about justice in the community. This is reflected in their ongoing project to renovate the Lawndale Center. The Lawndale Center is set to become the first community-based justice center in the state, with future tenants including Lakeshore Legal Aid and the Southwest Detroit Community Justice Center. This center will provide an accessible way to address crime and reconnect people with their communities.

This year UNI made significant progress on the Lawndale Center renovation, and a unique aspect of this ongoing renovation is its participatory design process. This allows stakeholders and community members to have a say in the design of the center and influence the outcome of the project.

“There is nothing we’ve done that hasn’t come from the community,” Bell said. “We believe that residents know what the problems are in their community, and need support solving those problems and have a better understanding of how to do so.”

IMG_0171Bell also discussed some of the organization’s plans for 2018. In addition to beginning the renovation process on the other half of the Lawndale Center, UNI plans to develop a community land trust. Through their partnership with ProsperUS Detroit, a community development organization that focuses on entrepreneurship training and business services, they will be hosting classes and looking into new ways to provide residents with more economic opportunities.


With all of this in store, Urban Neighborhood Initiatives has given us much to look forward to in the upcoming year.