The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus is located in Washtenaw County, one of the
most economically segregated metropolitan areas in the country. Recognizing the university’s impact on the local community, Poverty Solutions pursues partnerships with a variety of government officials, service providers, criminal justice administrators, educators, business leaders, and community advocates in Washtenaw County to promote equity and reduce poverty.
Prosecutor Transparency Project
Poverty Solutions joined American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and U-M Law School in backing a Prosecutor Transparency Project launched in January 2021 by Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit. The aim of the project—which includes Washtenaw, Oakland, and Ingham counties—is to uncover potential racial inequities through the collection and analysis of data on decisions made by the prosecutor’s office, including who is charged with a crime, the nature of the charge, the race of the individual charged, and other crucial information such as plea-bargaining conduct. The results will be shared publicly through a data dashboard designed by Poverty Solutions.
“For the university to be an ethical partner in the community we have to think about the ways we can participate in work that extends benefits to communities,” said Trevor Bechtel, student engagement and strategic projects manager for Poverty Solutions. “I recognize the power and privilege of the university and think about how I can extend the resources of the university in a sustainable way.”
We know systemic racism exists in all facets of society, and the prosecutor’s office is no exception. This partnership will go a long way toward helping inform how we make decisions and ensuring that justice is dispensed in an unbiased manner moving forward.
— Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Prosecutor
Washtenaw County Opportunity Index
In 2018, Poverty Solutions partnered with Washtenaw County’s Office for Community and Economic Development to refresh the county’s Opportunity Index, which was originally created in 2015 to map a variety of metrics related to health, job access, economic well-being, education and training, and community engagement and stability by census tract. Working closely with county officials, Poverty Solutions provided technical assistance with revising the metrics included in the index, revamping the index methodology, data analysis, and developing a narrative to help users make sense of the disparities revealed by the Opportunity Index. The Office for Community and Economic and Development unveiled the new Opportunity Index in April 2021 (opportunitywashtenaw.org), and Washtenaw County Commissioners passed a resolution committing to use the Opportunity Index to promote equity when deciding how to allocate resources across the county.
“My goal as an elected official is to make Washtenaw County a place where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and be successful,” said Washtenaw County Commissioner Justin Hodge. “I envision us being a county where race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and ZIP code do not determine a person’s destiny, and I firmly believe that the Opportunity Index is a tool that will help make that a reality. Since formally making it part of our decision-making processes, I am already seeing the county be much more thoughtful about how we target resources and programming to address structural inequities. I am grateful for Poverty Solutions’ work and am excited to continue working together!”
We value making data easily accessible and putting it in context. We know it can help us start to ask the right questions and have the right conversations about systems and policies. We hope the Opportunity Index will inform this work and help lead us toward solutions for making the changes we want to see.
—Natalie Peterson, Poverty Solutions data and evaluation manager who spearheaded the Opportunity Index project
Since Poverty Solutions partnered with Washtenaw County’s summer youth employment program in 2017, SummerWorks has placed young adults in 433 summer internships and engaged over 150 mentors in programs that offer youth a variety of professional development opportunities. When the pandemic limited in-person job placements, SummerWorks pivoted to offer virtual internships and mentoring. The mentorship and internship opportunities continued in 2021 in partnership with MichiganWorks! Southeast, Washtenaw County’s Office for Community and Economic Development, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, and others.
In addition to evaluating the county’s summer youth employment program, U-M provided nearly half of all of the summer internships offered. U-M also welcomed program participants to campus for weekly professional development sessions and speaker events. The SummerWorks program will continue in the summer of 2022 and we look forward to identifying even more opportunities for youth throughout the departments and centers on campus and across the broader community.
Learn more about the SummerWorks program at summerworks.info.
Standards of professionalism are oftentimes rooted in White supremacy. Young adults who live in disenfranchised communities are not always taught these unspoken rules. As the pandemic changes workforce development, SummerWorks provides local employment opportunities, comprehensive mentorship, and tools for success that our participants may not have access to otherwise.
— Zoë Erb, Poverty Solutions’ SummerWorks manager
SummerWorks has allowed me to become the person that I want to be andhave the opportunity to grow.
— Asma Gundy, 2019 and 2021 SummerWorks participant