“The city’s bankrupt, poverty levels are ridiculous, unemployment-rate levels are crazy and 60 percent of the kids are living below the poverty line.” So said Cameron Hughes, special correspondent for Katie, when he recently visited Detroit as part of the Katie show’s ‘Challenge for Change’ initiative. It was an unvarnished description of a city that’s become the embodiment of a lot that’s wrong with urban America, but Hughes was in town for a special reason; to champion Alternatives for Girls, a Detroit-based nonprofit serving homeless and high-risk girls and young women, and it was hardly by coincidence that the place he went to for help was Wayne State University.
In just a few hours, over a weekend of exceptionally bad weather, the ‘Challenge for Change’ mission was to help fill 200 holiday wish lists for Alternatives for Girls, yet Jeff Block, Assistant Vice President of Special Events at Wayne State, was unfazed. “You came to the right place,” he told the Katie crew. “We’re Warriors, we’ll get this thing done.” And the Warriors did get things done in a way they always do; with a bit of cooperation and a lot of heart. “The lists consisted of comparatively simple things,” explains Wayne State University Bookstore Manager, Jodi Young. “Socks, notebooks, pens etc., so it was really the two-fold challenge of how we could put together some products, and then get people here to participate.”
The store’s General Merchandise Manager, Emily Tobin, coordinated the gifts and generated donations from the college, campus store and from staff members themselves. The college’s athletics department also chipped in with help from over 20 student athletes. Helped by an announcement on the bookstore’s Facebook page, the ranks of helpers swelled by mobilizing the entire bookstore staff, many who appeared in Wayne State gear. By Monday morning, the Katie team left town with thousands of dollars worth of apparel and gifts.
That the University was able to meet such a challenge, particularly at a commuter school on a weekend, and at such short notice, is a tribute to the kind of relationships the store enjoys with the university, particularly with the special events department and athletics teams. “In a matter of a few phone calls, we knew we were going to have a couple of hundred people there dropping off donations – we’d find a way to make it happen,” says Young, but that kind of effort is hardly exceptional at the bookstore. Literally, at the heart of the city, Wayne State has a reputation for giving. During a recent charity tee-shirt swap, 250 tees were donated in less than two hours, and the bookstore also participated in the annual Toys for Tots Noel Night, a large mid-town holiday charity event Detroit hosts every year.
“At Wayne State and in Detroit in general, there’s a measure of pride when something happens in the community. It doesn’t matter who it is, or where it’s from, this whole community will jump together, very quickly, to help,” Young says. When not managing her store, Young likes to change people’s minds about the kind of city that often gets overlooked amid Detroit’s more dramatic headlines. “Even if you look at the graffiti downtown, for every gang slogan there’s another inspirational one, raising up the city,” she says, “There’s such a spirit of helping people get by,” she adds “and sometimes, when it seems like we’d need a miracle to pull it off, it always amazes me just how much these students will give.” All in all, not a bad testimonial for a city that may be financially troubled, but certainly isn’t deficient when it comes to the act of giving. And, as Katie special correspondent Hughes described it, still a “city with an incredible heart.”