From saving lives by ending distracted driving and helping young mothers get on their feet to horseback riding lessons for Detroit youth and showers for the homeless, check out 9 organizations lending a helping hand in our 2021 Metro Detroit Non-Profit Give Back Guide
BY JAISHREE DREPAUL-BRUDER
When it comes to major catastrophes — think hurricanes, wildfires, terrorist attacks — bigger charities may be the best place to park your dollars, thanks to their ample resources and highly efficient systems. But when you’re looking to make an impact closer to home, local, grassroots nonprofits are the way to go: They’re familiar with their community’s needs, and boots-on-the-ground support may lend a better chance of effecting change. But compared to their larger, national counterparts, local charities don’t always get the recognition they need — or deserve. That’s why we scoured the Detroit area for organizations that are working every day to improve the lives of local people (and, in some cases, animals). From a nonprofit working to save lives by ending distracted driving to one helping young mothers to get back on their feet, here are a few we think you should check out.
Brilliant Detroit creates what they call “kid-success neighborhoods,” with a mission to ensure that children birth to age 8 have everything they need to live their best lives. Created in 2015 by entrepreneurs Jim and Carolyn Bellinson along with Cindy Eggleton, the organization has helped more than 9,000 individuals by transforming vacant homes in the middle of neighborhoods into supportive, easily accessible community hubs.
To date, Brilliant Detroit has 12 locations across the city of Detroit (with three more in the works) that provide programs and services centered around education, health, and family support — everything from tutoring and parenting classes to cook-ing lessons and financial-literacy workshops. “We’re not just about teaching a child to read,” says Cindy Eggleton, co-founder and CEO. “What we’re going for is supporting everyone in changing their families’ paths from generation to generation.” The organization’s aim is to have 20 hubs by 2024, at which point they’ll be serving enough people that their outcomes will be able to show population level impact, Eggleton says. “We hope to create a future where ZIP codes will not predict whether or not a child will shine bright.”
The Kiefer Foundation
In 2016, Mitchel Kiefer was driving to Michigan State University, where he was a freshman in his first semester. On the way, he was struck by a distracted driver who was on her phone, and his car was sent across the highway median into oncoming traffic where he was hit by a truck, killing him instantly. In his honor, his family established the Kiefer Foundation with the mission of ending distracted driving.
In addition to raising public awareness through events and PSAs from celebrities including Tom Brady and Mark Wahlberg, the organization is also pushing for changes in state legislation. They’ve made big strides: In 2019, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Kiefer Foundation Chairman Steve Kiefer, Mitchel’s father and the president of General Motors International, to the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, and in July, the foundation helped create the Hands-Free Coalition to rally the public, businesses, and law enforcement to try and end distracted driving.
“We want people to realize that their negligent actions can harm others and they need to just drive,” says Blake Kiefer, Mitchel’s brother and the foundation’s director. “Ten people die every day in this country due to distracted driving. And often it’s not the distracted driver that’s harmed. The Kiefer Foundation is about keeping everyone safe.”
Jamie Daniels Foundation
In 2016, at age 23, Jamie Daniels died of an overdose while receiving treatment for a substance-use disorder. Believing one life lost to substance use is one too many, Daniels’ parents, Detroit Red Wings announcer Ken Daniels and Lisa Daniels-Goldman, launched a foundation in 2018 in their late son’s name.The organization, an initiative of the Children’s Foundation, is unique in that it focuses on young people aged 24 and under. Its mission is to provide education and guidance around substance use, and create the awareness and resources that may have perhaps led to a different outcome for Jamie. “The disease of substance use disorder is robbing our children of their potential,” says Chris Perry, the foundation’s executive director. “When we help young people recover and reduce stigma, we are giving them the chance to live and pursue their full potential.”
NOTE: You can support the Jamie Daniels Foundation at their upcoming Celebrity Roast of NHL Celebrity and All-Star Brett Hull event on November 22.
Green Door Initiative
“Everyone should have clean air and water, regardless of race, income or ZIP code,” says Donele Wilkins, president and CEO of Green Door Initiative. That conviction drives the Detroit nonprofit, which operates in a community that has disproportionately high rates of asthma and lead poisoning. The city’s auto-manufacturing history plays a major role: Every material needed in the car-building process exists here in its raw form, which is linked to poor health outcomes. Particularly impacted are people of color, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly who are concentrated in certain areas marked by poor air and water quality, Wilkins says.
To combat that, she and the nonprofit are leading the charge against environmental injustice with a focus on protection for the area’s most vulnerable populations; changing public policy; and education around the health impact of exposure to bad air and water and other environmental dangers. The group also runs a free workforce development program for the environmental job sector that has successfully trained more than 500 minority workers and boasts a 92 percent job placement rate. “The premise is that not only do we need to help the planet,” Wilkins says. “We also need to uplift and empower people along the way.”
Detroit Horse Power
Since its founding in 2015, Detroit Horse Power has impacted the lives of more than 400 Detroit youth through free summer horse camps and a year-round afterschool program at horse farms outside of the city. “I started Detroit Horse Power to provide the incredible skill-building opportunities that horses can provide to youth,” says David Silver, a former Detroit elementary school teacher and one-time competitive horseback rider.
“By developing skills in the saddle, and by doing things like grooming the horses, youth learn care, self-compassion and self-belief. Those experiences build up inside of them.” Next up: Silver is planning to reactivate a large piece of vacant land within Detroit city limits to build a 14-acre urban equestrian center in order to serve children right in the community. It’s slated to open in 2023.
A Girl Like Me
When Tyra Moore became pregnant at age 15, she told no one. Correction: She told her mother on a Tuesday and gave birth that Friday. Unprepared for motherhood, Moore had no money to buy supplies for her baby. Thankfully, donations from friends and family poured in, resulting in essentials that lasted for two years.Today, Moore, whose daughter is now 14 (she has two other children with her husband, as well), operates A Girl Like Me as her way of “paying it forward.”
The Southfield charity supplies women up to age 25 with essentials like diapers, diaper wipes, baby formula, gently used clothing, baby strollers, and car seats. Sometimes new and expectant young mothers need less-tangible things, too — like advice, a ride to school, or someone to talk to their parents — and Moore will jump in to help or mentor. She says that her organization has helped nearly 300 women and children to date.“I tell every girl that there will be struggles, but there are people out there who care enough to support them,” she says. “It truly takes a village to make sure that no baby is hungry and [every baby] has diapers. That’s why my heart and our charity’s doors are always open.”
The first person to use the WAVE Project’s mobile shower service was a homeless man on his way to a job interview. Since that day in 2018, the small Macomb County non-profit has provided hundreds more showers to other people experiencing homelessness or who are without access to hygiene facilities. “We want to help people on the streets become the best they can be,” says Todd Gordon, WAVE’s executive director. (WAVE stands for Welcoming All Valuing Everyone.) “Our mission is to share love by providing mobile showers to those in need.”
Recently, the charity has expanded its services to include an Essentials Van that visits their mobile shower events and provides free clothing and basic hygiene items.“People can’t thank us enough,” Gordon says. “We hear all the time that when somebody feels physically clean and feels good that they’re more likely, and more able, to pursue that job or reach out to people for other help.”
Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control
As a sister organization for Detroit Animal Care and Control, Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control oversees the DACC’s volunteer program and helps to facilitate the adoption process for homeless animals. On average, the initiative assists 4,000 animals every year.
“The special thing about us is that we’re not just helping the animals, but helping people in our community,” says Stefanie Lee, a foster care coordinator and board member for Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control. “We send dogs and cats to their new homes with so many goodies and hold fee-waived adoption events.”
She adds that the group recognizes there is a lot of poverty in Detroit and the charity works toward supporting equal access to companion animals for people of all socio-economic status. Lee and a slew of volunteers work tirelessly to keep animals with their caretakers (and out of the shelter) by providing education, free vaccine clinics, and supplies like micro-chips, collars, and harnesses. “We’re about building a stronger, merrier community,” Lee says, “and helping people find the best friend that they didn’t know they needed.”
For Karen Moore, the most rewarding thing about her job as Sanctum House’s executive director is seeing the women that her organization helps take their lives back. Now in its fourth year of operation, the Royal Oak-based nonprofit runs a long-term residential program for adult survivors of human trafficking.
To date, 70 women have benefitted from the 24/7 holistic care that the organization offers. “We deal with a very complex type of trauma and support each woman’s very individual healing journey,” Moore says. A full mental health care program that allows each woman to get individual therapy two to three days a week, support for sub-stance abuse recovery, legal aid assistance and job readiness education are just some of the nonprofit’s initiatives.“We help give them a voice and a sense of self-worth,” Moore says. “That is something that can’t be measured or assigned any kind of dollar value.”