Students and community enhance Fitzgerald Neighborhood

August 15, 2018

Detroit Mercy freshmen kicked off their college careers by performing a day of volunteer work throughout Detroit on August 22-23. This effort is part of the University's “Prologue, Transitions and Viewpoints” (PTV) program, which works to orient students into their college career and the Detroit Mercy Jesuit and Mercy traditions of service to the community.

More than half of the new students helped with the revitalization efforts in nearby neighborhoods including work in Martin Park with the Princeton Street Block Club and Paul Robeson/Malcom X Academy. Another large group explored various ways that Detroit organizations are dealing with issues of food insecurity, from community gardens, to food distribution centers like Forgotten Harvest, to soup kitchens and food pantries.

Students pose for a photo while cleaning up an alley in the Fitzgerald neighborhood.The largest project focused on the continued work of reclaiming the alleys in the Fitzgerald neighborhood, which was the top request by neighborhood residents. Students cleared trash and overgrown weeds from lots and assisted with gardens, among other efforts.

“The number of students helping in the neighborhood during PTV has grown each year,” community leader Gaston Nash said. “The students are always eager to help and they always surprise themselves at how much they actually get done.” 

This year, Tim Hipskind, S.J., director of Detroit Mercy’s Institution for Leadership and Service, estimated nearly 400 new students and more than 100 volunteers participated. Detroit Mercy faculty, staff, alumni and several members of Detroit Mercy facilities participated in the work.

“Our goals are to offer first-year students an experience of the Detroit Mercy mission in action and to let them see that there are very positive things going on in Detroit,” Hipskind said. “I am happy to see that a number of students have come to know neighborhood residents through this orientation service project and have developed their own, ongoing way of working with residents in revitalization efforts for these communities. Both the students and neighborhood residents are really energized by this partnership.”

Hipskind is also encouraged about the “Campus Kitchen” track this year, which will expose students to the many efforts that deal with food insecurity. 

“Students and volunteers will come together after their service at these various sites, look at the bigger picture and discuss how we as a part of the community can contribute not just to the short term, but also more long-term solutions to food insecurity,” he said.

The cleanup introduces incoming Detroit Mercy students to service learning and reinforces the mission of the University.

“I think part of what we are doing during PTV is to really engage the students in the community and to show them that no matter the location or economic status, the people in Detroit are one of a kind and have overcome more than we as students can imagine,” Detroit Mercy Orientation Director Tavala Luciow said. “In addition, I believe Detroit Mercy is trying to really make a lasting impact on its neighbors by showing that we are here in support, as well as to get to know one another better.”

The event is part of the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project initiative by the city of Detroit to stabilize and strengthen the Fitzgerald Neighborhood, which is the area west of Livernois between Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College. The initiative has received significant funding support from the Kresge Foundation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Enterprise Community Partners and the Speedwell Foundation.

Detroit Mercy students clean an alley in the Fitzgerald neighborhood.
Students pose for a photo while cleaning up an alley in the Fitzgerald neighborhood.