The building where the Lincoln Motor Company was founded has found new life. It is a community center of sorts, with murals decorating the outside of the building, artist space in the middle of the building and a community education program that works closely with several Detroit schools.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, the parking lot is full of people. When the weather is nice, you can buy fresh produce or organic tacos from vendors stationed outside. The bees painted on the building seem appropriate given the buzz that happens at the corner of Holden and Lincoln in Detroit.
This community center is unique in one aspect, it is built on recycling. It houses RecycleHERE!, an organization dedicated to giving Detroiters an outlet for recycling.
“It’s not totally about materials, it’s really about creating a community in the City of Detroit,” says Matthew Naimi, director of RecycleHERE!.
That idea of community is important to Naimi. The city has long operated an incinerator and residents are used to throwing their garbage away with no outlet for recycling. By focusing on building a community, they have been able to grow quickly and build alliances within the city that helped launch the two pilot curbside recycling programs.
While the physical act of recycling is important, what Naimi and his team have discovered is that educating the community is just as vital. Staff is trained to help community members learn what’s recyclable. They have even developed a curriculum that can be taught in conjunction with science classes so students can learn why recycling is important.
Lauren Cooper, RecycleHERE!’s education guru is passionate about the program because it helps equip kids to participate in the global conversation about sustainability.
“Kids love talking about this stuff,” says Cooper. “They’re hearing about it in their lives. They’re hearing about these ideas but it’s being presented to them now in their classroom in a different way.”
The organization currently works with 10 Detroit Public Schools and has plans to do more. In fact, they would like to expand recycling to each school in the district while providing education about waste reduction, pollution and the ecosystem. To that end, they are currently looking for votes on the Pepsi Refresh website so they can win $250,000 in funding for the program.
Naimi knows this type of education is changing the way people in the city look at their household waste. He hopes it is part of a bigger movement that makes RecycleHERE! unnecessary.
“Hopefully within 10 years the City of Detroit will have a full-blown recycling program, but in order to get there, we need to make sure it’s going to work,” he asserts. “Buying bins for the homes is just a line item in the budget but actually getting people to use it is the most important part. So, I think this program is going to go towards more of an education based program in order to hopefully, basically put ourselves out of business.”
Its not very often you hear someone talking about putting themselves out of business. Its also rare to have a dynamic organization like RecycleHERE! spring up so quickly and change part of Detroit’s political landscape. There seems to be a little mojo left in the building that helped launch an iconic American brand.