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University of Michigan students, Habitat for Humanity increase resident engagement in Ypsilanti neighborhood

Joint efforts boost resident engagement, community development

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A class of students from the University of Michigan School of Social Work has joined Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley and the residents of Ypsilanti’s Sugarbrook neighborhood to promote community change and development.

Through a partnership developed with Habitat for Humanity, and facilitated by the U-M’s Ginsberg Center, students have used their resources through the U-M to further neighborhood development plans.

Building upon work started Habitat in 2016, the students joined Sugarbrook residents at local meetings to help local action teams in pushing for neighbor relations, creation of activities and programs for Sugarbrook youth, and to help residents in promoting community safety and amenities.

Over the course of the past months, students and the action teams leveraged their joint resources to create a meaningful impact on the neighborhood.

This included:

  •  working with Ypsilanti resident Justin Hodge to collect the number of signatures required to petition the Washtenaw County roads commission for speed abatements 
  • presenting research on land-use policies for the green space left after the 2018 demolition of Charles F. Kettering Elementary school to Sugarbrook residents
  • encouraging residents to apply for a grant that could help the neighborhood take ownership of the vacant Kettering lot
  • building three little libraries 

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Created by Habitat for Humanity, the four action teams were a reaction to the results of a need survey presented to residents in January. Habitat has also rehabilitated 7 homes and has performed over 80 home improvement projects within Sugarbrook since it was invited into the neighborhood in 2016.

Habitat will also be renovating three more properties within the neighborhood over the next 18 months.

Celebrating engagement efforts

On Saturday, the U-M students, residents and Habitat will hold a holiday party at Saint Mark's Church to celebrate their joint efforts over the past months and to strengthen relationships between those in the Sugarbrook community.

According to U-M School of Social Work professor Ayesha Ghazi, who leads the community engagement course, the pot-luck style party will be a way for residents of Sugarbrook to celebrate their wins over the past months.

The party, supported by a grant from the U-M’s Center for Research on Learning and Training, will continue to motivate residents to engage in their community as well as bring residents together to network and discuss their local resources.

Ghazi said that the party is also a way to give back to the youngest members of the community. She said that students organized a gift drive after learning about the difficulties faced by Sugarbrook’s youngest residents during the holiday season. There will also be activities for residents, like crafting, cookie decorating and a holiday raffle.

Currently, the student group is accepting gift card donations for a holiday raffle to be held during the party. Those interested in donating can contact Ghazi at Ayeshag@umich.edu

Those interested in learning more about Habitat for Humanity’s work in the community can visit the volunteer-driven organization’s website.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.