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Detroit Thought Leaders United: Data, Discussion & Collaboration

Ashleigh Johnson wants Detroiters to have a community engagement ecosystem that they can be proud of. A system built on respect and authenticity; in which community vetting is expected, not exceptional.

This past May in Detroit, Ashleigh joined the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, U-M Poverty Solutions and Detroit Metropolitan Area Community Study (DMACS) in a convening of nonprofit agencies, foundations, and others from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties for an event devoted to sharing new research, best practices, and innovative programs. Participants met with peers and explored ways to better support one another and foster collaborative action.

The gathering was one of the first events Ashleigh  attended as the new Community Engagement Manager, a joint position created by U-M’s Ginsberg Center and Poverty Solutions charged with engaging community partners in Detroit.

“In my daily work, I aim to make partnering with the University easier by ensuring that our engaged community partners have ongoing, mutually-beneficial relationships, and an approachable direct connection with a wide range of faculty and students.” Johnson says.

“Sharing information through presentations, discussions, and networking is an effective, fun way to meet new people and begin to build partnerships,” says Johnson. “This convening was an opportunity for those that engage communities to explore ways to collaborate, and to learn how we can better utilize the data we acquire and analyze.”

Kurt Metzger delivers keynote on a data view of Southeast Michigan. Photo courtesy of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan

Data laid the foundation for a series of sessions that dove deeper into community organizing, advocacy, and innovative anti-poverty programs in the Detroit area. View the day’s agenda and click here for the staggering statistics presented.

Following the event, Johnson connected community partners with one another based on information she gleaned during sessions and discussions.

“Given the pace and volume of projects in Metro Detroit it is important to hold convenings that highlight transformative projects, keep community leaders engaged and inspired, and que discussions that challenge the status quo,” she says.  “I look forward to future events that will professionally develop community leaders and equip them with knowledge that will “move the needle” on topics important to our region.”

The event also featured a series of discussions from practitioners and organization leaders on topics such as homelessness, food insecurity, and education policy. We invite you to meet a few more of the practitioners we learned from:

Kellie Boyd
Director of Double Up Food Bucks Program
Fair Food Network

Kellie Boyd sees nutrition as a cornerstone for good health that leads to independence and self-sufficiency. And directing the Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up) program for the Fair Food Network has been the perfect way for her to give back to the community while promoting nutrition. “I love seeing the difference the program is making for low-income families,” she says. Although her role is more administrative than her prior roles, she has become passionate about her work and keeping the program sustainable.

The symposium allowed Kellie to connect with old and new colleagues, a networking benefit she believes will help her efforts with the Double Up program. “It is crucial to bring local nonprofits together so they can have a larger impact and learn more about others’ programs,” Kellie says. “ I would love to see this symposium happen again, potentially across the seven-county region as opposed to the tri-county region.”

About Kellie
As Director of the Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up) program at the Fair Food Network, Kellie helps individuals receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (also known as food stamps), to have access to more fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and grocery stores. At participating locations, Double Up Food Bucks provides a $1:$1 match for fresh fruits and vegetables. Double Up started in Detroit in 2009, but it now serves as a national model. The program is a win-win-win as it provides access to fruits and vegetables, assists local farmers with sustaining their business and keeping dollars in the local economy.  Prior to her work with the Fair Food Network, Kellie worked in the nonprofit world for over 20 years and has addressed a variety of topics including mental health, substance abuse, independent living services for the elderly and disabled, and early childhood education.

Learn more about Kellie’s work and the Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up) program. | PDF

Meghan Takashima
Homelessness Solutions Director
Department of Housing and Revitalization, City of Detroit

Meghan believes that having greater access to data can significantly help the vulnerable population that moves between shelters and the criminal justice system — and ultimately help with her work combating homelessness in Detroit. According to Meghan, the symposium was a way for experts across fields to come together to tackle some of the most pressing issues related to poverty. “It was a nice change from the human services world, where conversations are limited to like-minded professionals,” she said. The conference helped Meghan connect to others working on complex topics related to poverty, such as mental health, food insecurity, and basic needs.

About Meghan
As Homelessness Solutions Director at the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, Meghan oversees grants for the Housing and Urban Development department (HUD) used to operate shelters, establish permanent housing options, and advertise. Meghan is also a member of Detroit’s Continuum of Care (CoC), and one of her roles within this board is to measure homelessness rates over the past several years. There has been a 33% reduction since 2015. She is proud of this significant progress, and continues to be a huge advocate for supportive housing, landlord engagement with tenants, and data sharing to implement programs more effectively.

Learn more about Meghan’s work and her presentation on the Continuum of Care. | PDF

Terry George
Director of Research and Learning
United Way for Southeastern Michigan

As head of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Department of Research and Learning Terry provides a data-driven approach to better serve the community, enabling both the United Way and its partners to be more effective and efficient. “One of the underlying goals for this symposium was data sharing and efficiency,” he says. Likewise, many of the participants discussed the power of data and how it can inform their own processes and programs within their respective organizations.

About Terry
Prior to his role as Director of Research and Learning for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Terry spent most of his career as a school administrator in and around Detroit. His latest role was as the principal at Hamtramck High School, which worked with United Way to improve graduation rates and student achievement.  This connection brought him to his current position. He approaches this work with a data-driven mission and an emphasis on innovation and collaboration.

Learn more about the work of the the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Dig Deeper

As we learned at this event, it takes a broad, united, and committed community to make progress on Southeastern Michigan’s poverty challenges. To learn more, access the presentations and information from the day’s discussions below and contact with questions or ways to get involved.

Thought Leaders United Symposium Presentations