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New partnership cleans up Detroit

One group places the unemployed in jobs, another cleans up Detroit neighborhoods. In their new partnership, Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit and the Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative are coming together to revitalize more than 65 miles of the city.

Three days a week, eight hours a day, workers are out in the neighborhoods removing trash from the streets, sweeping sidewalks and maintaining green space on the boulevard medians around seven test areas in Detroit. Their current routes include greater Boston Edison, the North End, East English Village and Morningside, Grandmont-Rosedale and the 7 Mile-Livernois area.

Supervisor James Higgins works alongside his team to clean up Detroit's streets

While change starts with picking up trash and beautifying neighborhoods, it doesn’t end there. “When an area is clean, there’s the perception that it’s safe too,” says Monica Smith, director of Community and Philanthropic Affairs at Next Detroit.

That’s not to say taking out the trash is a small feat. Take a look at the raw numbers from Lindsay Chalmers, vice president of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit:

  • Each worker covers and cleans up around 5 miles in a day
  • A single worker picks up around 100 lbs. of garbage in an average day.
  • Together, workers remove around 3.9 tons of trash from Detroit’s streets in 36 days.

“Everyone wants to talk about revitalization in the city,” Chalmers points out, “but this is step one. It’s as base as it gets, but it makes a huge difference.”

The difference becomes whether or not someone considers moving down to the city. Sometimes this difference is even whether or not they’ll visit. “The Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative had a pilot program in 2007 around Boston Edison. We’ve seen a number of people move to this neighborhood since,” Smith notes.

Of course, one of the more poignant differences comes in the community itself.

James Higgins supervises the cleanup crew. “The best part of my job is when people come up to me, ask me about what we’re doing and say thanks,” he beams. “The longer I’ve been in certain areas, the more I notice other people picking up their own trash. They get in the habit of keeping things clean.” Lindsay Chalmers and others involved have seen the same thing.

Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit placed 1,400 unemployed people into positions this year, and many have been through the Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative. “In this economy, there’s little chance for our clients to regain a place in society.” Chalmers explains. “But we’re doing this work because this is what they deserve.”

So what does the future hold for this collaboration?

“We’d like to continue our work and even expand to more work days in new neighborhoods,” Smith says.

The aspiration is an expansion to five days a week while staying committed to their current neighborhoods and branching out to new ones in Southwest, Northeast and Indian Village.

For more information on Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit and the Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative, their partnership and other programs, visit http://www.goodwill.org and http://www.next-detroit.org.

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