Community service strengthens neighborhood and Wayne State teams

As an urban public research institution, Wayne State University plays a unique and influential role in Detroit, preparing students for life-changing careers, advancing the health and well-being of local communities, and contributing significantly to Michigan’s economic growth.

A guiding value of Wayne State University’s Division of Development and Alumni Affairs (DAA) is the belief that excellent service and kindness — for each other and the university — are the driving forces behind every interaction.

DAA staff are putting these values into action by partnering with Cass Community Social Services (CCSS), a Detroit-based agency with a person-centered philosophy dedicated to providing food, housing, health services, mental health support and job programs in areas of concentrated poverty.

On two occasions so far, roughly 30 Wayne State employees have helped CCSS move key projects forward. Last fall, the volunteers created a welcoming playground, and cleaned and painted the organization’s Fox Family Shelter on Webb Avenue in the Linwood-Dexter neighborhood. In early spring, they gave an adjacent home a much-needed makeover. Volunteers completed a landscaping overhaul outside and cleaned a portion of the home’s flood damaged interior.

Wayne State volunteers pose during a clean-up project

Ramon Griffin, Ph.D., DAA director of diversity, equity, inclusion and culture, planned both community service days. He is determined to positively impact the volunteers and the goals of CCSS. 

“This is an ongoing partnership, not just a one-day collaboration,” said Dr. Griffin. “We are planning to come back in June, July and August and more times after that because CCSS's work aligns so strongly with our mission. It is part of our responsibility as Detroit's only urban public research institution to contribute to the neighborhoods of Detroit.”

While working at the house on Webb Avenue, DAA volunteers were joined by staff from the university’s internal audit team. Under a cloudless sky, the united group removed weeds, leaves and garbage. They cut grass, hauled concrete blocks and laid mulch. What had been an overgrown field of tall weeds and litter became a tidy lawn and garden.

Volunteers also carried away appliances damaged by flooding in the basement. The stove, washing machine and dryer were then sold to a scrapyard, giving CCSS additional dollars to support its mission.

Members of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) philanthropy team, representing Wayne State's largest college (8,000 students and 65,000 alumni), were eager to participate.

Stephanie Hoenig, CLAS director of major gifts, said it was nice to take a break from her regular routine for a few hours, but it was even better to make a difference in Detroit.

“CLAS is home to tomorrow's critical thinkers, problem solvers and engaged citizens,” said Hoenig. “Community partnerships and service are at the heart of everything Wayne State does. This city is our university’s home, and we want to invest in it and everyone who calls it home.”

Angela Trajkovski, CLAS individual giving officer, helped remove soiled carpet inside the house with colleagues from other DAA offices and said the day was also a tremendous team-strengthening experience.

“It was great to be able to give back to our community alongside division colleagues I knew, but now know even better,” said Trajkovski. “We may work on different projects day-to-day, but we all share a common goal and commitment to serve.”

As Dr. Griffin plans more community service days, he seeks involvement from other areas of the university.

“We all work at the same place, but we don’t often have opportunities to work together,” Dr. Griffin said. “Getting involved with these community projects solves that while also helping great organizations achieve their own missions.”

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