Michigan youth make big impact on Global Youth Service Day

Genevive Meeks

Genevive Meeks waited a long time for the community she lives in and the AmeriCorps program she serves with to come together.

On Global Youth Service Day – April 16 – the 21-year-old Detroit resident’s wish came true.

The AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program, Meeks, many of her neighbors, and nearly 100 volunteers cleaned up and secured the northwest Detroit neighborhood Meeks calls home by boarding up 13 vacant houses along Vinewood Street.

“It’s great that it looks more like a community instead of a vacant hole. Everyone is coming together as a community to make it feel more whole, it’s just so much better for us,” Meeks said.

The AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program works with the Detroit Police Department to locate crime hot spots and identify routes that children walk to school to make neighborhoods safer. The program has reduced crime in Midtown Detroit by around 50 percent during the last three years.

“Because there are so many kids on this block, it’s pretty dangerous,” Meeks said. “All the houses are open. You can see straight through them and someone could be lurking in them. When they board up the houses, it secures them.”

Volunteers included Roberto Esquivel, 6, who contributed by painting the boards used to secure homes along the street. He wore a poncho to protect himself from the paint and carried a long roller, twice the size of him. That didn’t hold him back, however, from painting an entire boarded doorway blue, green and red, with a smidgen of blue paint on his cheek he wore proudly as proof of his hard work.

Alongside him stood David, 11, who painted to help out his grandmother Cynthia Richards, an AmeriCorps member with the Urban Safety Program.

“I’ve done some volunteering, but I didn’t get started until I was an adult,” Richards said. “It’s important to get involved at a younger age because serving your community is just simply important.”

The Urban Safety Program was one of the 25 Global Youth Service Day projects funded by the Michigan Community Service Commission; as the state’s lead agency on volunteerism, MCSC distributed nearly $8,000 to the different projects.

One of those projects included improvements at the South Oakland Shelter, where Brianna Lotts, 15, pitched in by painting shelves.

“It feels good to know I did something positive to help people,” Brianna said.

At Starr Commonwealth in Detroit, volunteers convened to assemble and distribute 200 hygiene kits for the homeless.

“It’s great to get the youth thinking about their community,” project coordinator Tenia Denard said. “It’s a good way to show them that life is precious. It can help them understand there is a brighter future and things can change.”

Between April 15-17 nearly 2,000 youth volunteers completed close to 10,000 volunteer hours throughout the state.

Some of the highlights:

  • In Flint, around 200 youth volunteered for five service projects that included building garden beds, creating greenhouse tents from recycled water bottles, community cleanup and painting and preparing rain barrels.
  • Muskegon County 4-H Tech Wizards filled 10 trash bags and cleaned 100 memorial markers while cleaning up local beaches and a veteran’s park.
  • In Marquette, Northern Michigan University students assembled 64 sack dinners for children to fight youth hunger.
  • In Grand Rapids, Goodwill of Grands Rapids participated in a large recycling project.
  • In Fremont, youth volunteers with TrueNorth Services assembled 125 backpacks for children in need including a blanket, book, stuffed animal, personal hygiene products, a game, and a pair of socks.