We must all step up to transform Detroit

Alison Oglesby
The Detroit News
Friday, May 23, 2014

SCA Alum Alison Oglesby in The Detroit News

I’m 18 years old and I have already seen Detroit at its worst. But I’ve also seen the powerful effect that community service can have on my hometown. If more people would give their time to make this city better, we could transform it into the vibrant metropolis that it once was and can again be.

I began my service two years ago with the Student Conservation Association, a national organization that puts young people to work in conservation. My first year, we removed invasive species, like honeysuckle, on Belle Isle, watered trees throughout the city and cleared brush.. Last year, we helped out at D-Town Farm, the community garden on Detroit’s southwest side. There I met people who symbolize the volunteer ethic that should permeate Detroit.

The 7-acre D-Town Farm was created in 2006 to take on one of our city’s biggest problems: food deserts, those areas that don’t have access to grocery stores or even little mom-and-pop shops that sell fresh produce. Run by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, D-Town Farm was initially staffed completely by volunteers and still relies on them today. The organic farm began with 2 acres, but private donations and government grants have allowed organizers to expand it to its current size.

Imagine what could happen here if numerous initiatives focused on public safety or economic empowerment grew roots as deep as D-Town. There are programs all over Detroit that could use a helping hand.

Parents need to lead the way and take their children with them, instilling the spirit of service early on. That’s what happened to me.

Growing up in Rosedale Park, I lived in a pretty nice area, but it was obvious that much of the city around me was distressed. My mother made sure that my three brothers and I never took anything for granted, and that community service was a regular part of our lives.

What I discovered was that, in addition to making a difference for Detroit, community service was fun — in my case, a chance to get outdoors, experience nature, and understand what’s involved in caring for it. The work added more structure to my life, because there were goals to be met and deadlines for meeting them; it taught me the value and pleasure of teamwork, because we could only achieve those goals together and had to depend on one another.