Immersed in city's culture, Challenge Detroit members move to 2nd of 10 'challenges'
Challenge Detroit is steaming along in creating Motor City advocates by immersing team members in the city's culture.
The privately funded program, in which 30 people live and work in Detroit for one year, finished the first of 10 required team "challenges" last month.
The individuals, chosen by project organizers and through public voting, worked with Matrix Human Services to develop a plan for making the best use of a community center the organization runs in a northeast Detroit neighborhood.
During the first challenge, the "fellows" were charged with creating an impact study to help Matrix, a nonprofit social services organization, obtain funding.
"We realized that Matrix is the hub of the community," said Jenny Chan, a 22-year-old participant from San Francisco and Hong Kong who lives at the Detroit City Apartments and works at Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions Inc. "One of the suggestions we had was to make the building more inviting and a nicer atmosphere … and spread the word about what Matrix does."
Challenge Detroit aims to attract and retain young talent to Detroit. The fellows live in the city, work at a metro Detroit company for a salary of $30,000, and participate in 10 challenges that promote social entrepreneurism, food accessibility, regional planning and education.
The first challenge had its obstacles, said participant Darrin Gross, a 22-year-old Michigan State University graduate living at the Fort Shelby Tower Apartments and working at Livonia-based Market Place Homes LLC.
"We're kind of learning things as we go," he said.
The second challenge, just beginning, is to work with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to come up with ideas that help feed more people in the city, while also creating jobs.
"How can entrepreneurs create sustained businesses around food that can also drive employment opportunities?" asked Deirdre Greene Groves, Challenge Detroit executive director.
The organizers plan to turn the 30 fellows, chosen from an applicant pool that started with more than 900 people, into 30 advocates for the city before the program is over.
The 17 women and 13 men began the program in August. They work 32-hour weeks at their host companies and spend the fifth weekday on community service projects around the city.
Partner nonprofits include the TechTown Detroit and the Detroit Regional News Hub.
More than 30 Detroit-area employers, including Quicken Loans Inc., Valassis Communications Inc. and Compuware Corp., are providing jobs and health benefits for participants.
The selection process began in May when 100 applicants were invited to interview with participating companies and the Challenge Detroit board. That number was whittled down to 60 by more than 15,000 votes via Facebook.
The final 30 were chosen by the Challenge Detroit board and the hosting companies, which, Groves said, carried the most weight.
Challenge Detroit recently received a $230,000 grant from the LiveWorkDetroit initiative of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. That grant will be applied toward programming and recruitment for next year's class.