DETROIT - As you travel some of the streets on Detroit's Eastside, it's possible to go for blocks and blocks and see nothing but vacant land and dilapidated buildings and houses. You say to yourself, "Somebody should do something about this." That somebody is Maggie DeSantis.
DeSantis was born on the Eastside and still lives and works there. She remembers how the neighborhood used to be. She has lived in this area all of her life, only spending time away early in her career for about three years, when she decided to go up north to teach.
But she says she missed Detroit and came back.
One might say that she is small in statue, but there is an awful lot of energy, brain power and dedication within her frame.
How would you characterize what she does? She is a community organizer.
"As a child, I always knew what I wanted to do, I just could not put it into words, but I just saw myself being busy within the community… doing something," said DeSantis.
Warren/Conner Development Coalition, where she has served as the Executive Director since it was founded in 1984, is the something that she knew she was going to do.
While working at New Detroit Inc, the nation's oldest urban coalition, she came across a job spec for a community specialist. Some organizations were coming together to fund and create a community development organization on the Eastside.
She thought, "Hey, this is me!" The rest is history and has become her true calling.
Under the tenacity and leadership of DeSantis, Warren/Conner has become one of Detroit's premier community organizations. The organization has been involved in a myriad of programs and projects, all designed to better the quality of life of Detroit residents.
As the employees went about their work, they recognized that the Eastside was losing residents and housing; burned down buildings were dilapidated and being abandoned; weeds and piles of garbage and stuff were rampant. They felt the problems and knew that this was not a quick fix.
They believed that this area was worth saving and decided that they could not let these occurrences become the nail in the coffin for this community that they so loved.
They decided to create LEAP (Lower Eastside Action Plan). Its mission is to reinvent Detroit's Lower Eastside with a focus on comprehensive, realistic planning on the sustainable reuse of vacant land found in their neighborhood.
At the table is a very diverse coalition of community development organizations serving Detroit's southeastern neighborhoods, along with service organization, universities, technical advisors and foundations.
Two phases of activities have been completed, which include surveying residents and businesses to see what they want and need in their neighborhood. Also, each organization has their own areas of specialty and has developed plans for projects in various communities for development.
Some might say, "Is this not the city's job to deal with this problem?" But others will say that the residents, also, have a responsibility to become active, come together and move to address the challenges of the neighborhoods; we should not wait for City Hall to solve all of our problems.
The organization has emerged with valuable lessons, which is a springboard as they relate to DetroitWorks and other city departments and plans relative to working with the City.
To plan and develop portions of the Lower Eastside is not an easy task. In order to get to success you have to work through adversity.
DeSantis has come a long ways and still has a long ways to go. She and her organization share an incredibly energy with others in her community.
Maggie DeSantis is an "Everyday Hero" who is Making A Difference in Detroit.
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