A beloved Detroit college campus that was once bustling with students is now the home of a business advancement program and youth education.
Marygrove Conservancy, a nonprofit, stepped in after Marygrove College abruptly closed in December 2019 to keep the campus operating with multiple educational resources for people of all ages.
The conservancy has a goal to help businesses, startups and nonprofits gain the knowledge and resources they need to grow in the community, said Racheal Allen, COO of the conservancy.
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Collaboration is encouraged among all of the businesses and nonprofits at the campus located near the Fitzgerald neighborhood.
“In a time where we are more isolated and separated because of COVID, a lot of our business owners and nonprofits were seeking a community where they didn’t necessarily have to work in isolation,” said Allen. “We’re up to about 30 organizations who are tenants now at the Marygrove Conservancy.”
The conservancy started the P-20 Cradle-to-Career Campus in November 2019. The end goal is to provide educational opportunities for students of preschool age up until 12th grade. Eventually, about 1,000 students will be supported on the campus.
“In addition to our teacher residency program that is a partnership between the University of Michigan and Detroit Public Schools Community District, U-M School of Education has worked really closely with the School at Marygrove to develop a social justice and engineering curriculum,” Allen said.
“We also have implemented a huge community component where our youth are engaged in actual projects that are helping to not only direct the future of the campus, but also the community.”
In addition, offices of five nonprofits are housed on the first floor of the Student Center, which includes Detroit City Lions Football Club, Detroit Youth Choir and Performing Arts Company, Detroit Phoenix Center, JOURNi and Pure Heart Foundation. The area is called the Community Impact Incubator, and contains local child and family-serving nonprofits.
Community Impact Incubator participants receive training for 12 months, which focuses on building strategy and planning, talent and operations, leadership, management, funding, organizational culture and program development.
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“Our desire there is to make sure that organizations get access to the resources that they need for capacity building,” said Allen. “Some of the barriers that keep nonprofits from growing are things that could be shared services across the campus. We will provide best in class facilities … making sure that business owners and nonprofits aren’t bogged down with the operations components of managing a facility.”
One of the nonprofits, JOURNi, focuses on empowering young Detroiters and teaching them to build websites and mobile applications through workshops, programs and internships. The nonprofit saw the Conservancy as a way to create a hub for young people in the neighborhood.
“A few years back, we had about five students that went to Mumford High School,” said Richard Grundy, founder of JOURNi. “We offered them some paid internships and our office was downtown. They were taking a bus three days out of the week to work for two hours and then the bus all the way back.
“We always wanted to come back to the Fitzgerald and have a hub inside of the neighborhood that offered those things that we were offering downtown.”
Last year, more than 700 young people worked with JOURNi. This year, even with the coronavirus pandemic taking place, JOURNi was able to provide 50 students with paid internships through virtual programs.
Across the hall, the Detroit City Lions Youth Club has an office that provides case management and support to young people between the ages of 5 and 24 who are involved in sports programming.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to provide healthy nutrition through supplemental meals, but also encouraging education and pushing academics first,” said Devon Buskin, president and founder of the Detroit City Lions Youth Club. “The goal is to develop academic athletes out of our program.”
Buskin said that when he played sports as a child, there weren’t many consistent role models available and there wasn’t an academic focus for students who played sports. He wants to provide the these opportunities to young Detroiters that he lacked while growing up.
One of the organization’s initiatives is to expose its students to careers in sports. With a small number of people making it to the big sports leagues, Buskin wants to show students that they can still have a career in sports by doing physical therapy, graphic design, sports journalism, kinesiology and many others.
Since 2018, more than 330 students have been served by the nonprofit. In addition, there are about 50 mentors who work as coaches and 75 volunteers over the age of 18. Coaches also take time to deliver food to families in the program who are in need.
“It’s not about just the win and the championships for us,” Buskin said. “It’s really about the encouragement and the full development of that kid on and off the field, the court, cheerleading competitions, you name it.”
The Detroit City Lions Youth Club has plans to learn from the Marygrove Conservancy program and utilize the space to create and grow.
In the future, the Community Impact Incubator will host food entrepreneurs and artists and creators. In three to five years, Allen hopes that the Marygrove Conservancy will become a hub for change in the community.
“What I hope to see on this campus in the future is a thriving, vibrant, active community where youth and families can get their needs met,” said Allen. “Ultimately, we really see this campus as being an anchor for the community where our residents and our participants know that innovation and excitement is happening.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Conservancy builds a place for community, learning on site of former Marygrove College