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Reflections

As I sit here and type this, it’s hard for me to believe that this is the last blog post that I will ever write for Challenge Detroit. Twelve months, twelve blogs now almost complete.  How did this happen? How did time just pass us by?

This past year has been a blessing for me, one filled with life changing experiences. I was able to meet and get to know an incredible group of people over this past year. I was able to grow both personally and professionally and was given countless opportunities to learn new things. This past year has given me incredible growth opportunities and allowed me to see things from a perspective that many people have not been given the privilege to see. In a way, I was a given an insider’s perspective of Detroit.

So many thoughts go racing through my mind when I think about this past year with Challenge Detroit. To read some of these thoughts, see below:

1. Through our 5 week challenges where we provided both intellectual and hands-on capital to our non-profit partners, I got to see how not-for-profit-organizations are run. Better yet, I got a glimpse of just how much these organizations are helping improve the present and future of Detroit and was able to be a part of it. The passion for Detroit that was displayed by all of our non-profit partners was incredible to see. My top two favorite challenges this year were on homelessness with the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) and blight & neighborhood quality of life with Detroit Future City. These two challenges were the greatest learning experiences for me and the two organizations with which I feel I was able to make the biggest impact.

2. Thanks to my host company, Brooks Kushman, I got to work at a highly respected law firm in Accounting, Marketing and Trademark Law. Here, I met many incredible individuals who were great to work with and to get to know as people. I look forward to continue working with Brooks Kushman now that Challenge Detroit is over and I am incredibly grateful to them for all they have done.

3. I was also given the opportunity to be an official speaker at various events. I was an official speaker two times at my alma mater, Oakland University. That’s something I always wanted to do and I am thankful I got to! Thanks to Jeanette Pierce from D:Hive, I got to be a part of a panel speaker at the Live Work Detroit event at the Garden Theater, located in Midtown Detroit, where I spoke to a 100+ recent or soon to be college graduates. That was my favorite and most successful speaking engagement yet.

4. By attending our social and cultural events, I fell in love with my city even more through art and music. At events such as these,  the fellows got to know each other even better than before. Even outside of these social and cultural events, we all hung out and had fun together.

5. Lastly, I just want to say that truly, this city is my love. I am proud to be from Metro Detroit and I hope that more people will see all the great things that Detroit has to offer. The passion and hard work of both lifelong Detroiters and new Detroiters is what will help Detroit continue to revitalize. Although I am sad to see this chapter of my life end, I am thankful that I got to be a part of it and I am thankful to all of my family and friends who supported me throughout this program. I’m looking forward to seeing what new adventure life will throw my way next!

Adios!

- Shivani

Signing off

Friends,

10 months ago I published a Challenge Detroit blog post outlining the social media challenge, an opportunity to blow up my following with happenings in the D. I realized quickly that the value exceeded the fun of over-hastagging in that I created a trail of gluten free breadcrumbs that chronicles my first year in the Motor City. My digital footprint brings me to a host of new friends, old friends turned Detroit advocates, participation in and spectation of highly competitive sport, personal and professional travel, booming startup culture, tons of pretty coffee, and lots and lots of food.

I know mi gente all over the world are sick of hearing me say it, but it’s impossible to not acknowledge Detroit as one of the most exciting places to be as an ambitious youngster. A visual learner? Follow one of my accounts above.

That’s all folks.

Cheers to What’s Next

In February I wrote a blog post reflecting on my first months as a fellow, where I said: “it’s astounding how much Detroit has to offer you, and Challenge Detroit will give you the tools you need to experience this city to the fullest”

Sixth months later, as I am officially wrapping up my last week at my host company the MEDC and my time as a Challenge Detroit fellow, this statement could not be more true. In the almost exactly one year I have lived in Detroit, I have met more interesting and motivated people, attended more engaging events, volunteered more hours, and felt more at home than I have anywhere else I have ever lived. Part of this is Detroit itself- a city full of vibrant and welcoming people and lots of opportunities to get involved. For the most part though, it’s been my fellowship with Challenge Detroit and the experience of working with a motivated and engaged cohort of fellows that gave me the tools I needed to make this city my home.

I could spend pages reflecting upon the year I just completed and the role Challenge Detroit has played in that year, but right now I’d prefer to look forward. While I’m sad to lose my Fellow Fridays spent innovating, working, and laughing with my fellow-fellows, I’m excited for what the future holds not just for me, but the entire Year Two cohort. This time last year, we all attended a week long “boot camp” to prepare us for the fellowship ahead. In retrospect though, this entire year has been a “boot camp” for the rest of our personal and professional journeys. I’m confident that the skills we learned and the experiences we shared have more than prepared us for whatever might come next. Whether it’s another year at our (former) host companies, a career change, graduate school, or something else entirely, our Challenge Detroit experience will continue to inform our work and our decisions in the best way possible.

So cheers to my Year Two cohort and our first post-Challenge Detroit year. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish and how we continue to leverage the valuable tools, experience, and network this year has granted us all.

Happy One Year Anniversary: Mel in the D

A year ago to this date, a young woman took her largest leap of faith in life. She packed up most of her personal belongings to head to uncharted territory she spent half a year researching. She only knew one person that she felt would be helpful in this major transition in life. A year later she’s experienced amazing ups and realistically a few downs. No worries, those downs helped shape the resilient person she has developed to be a summer later. This blog post will be a conversation between myself a year ago with myself today. You’re welcome to take an opportunity to read about my experience through this dialogue below:

Mel a Year Ago: What was your biggest fear moving to Detroit?

Mel Today: What a way to start this conversation, I’d have to say is experiencing a year away from close friends and loved ones. I feared that I would be disconnected and they wouldn’t take the opportunity to understand what I’m doing here in Detroit. My family and friends, although not always understanding my decision to move to Detroit, remained my biggest supporters and champions during my team here. I have to admit the separation killed me but it was necessary for me to have this experience and distance for personal growth. They encouraged me, cried with me, prayed with me, amongst a variety of ways  in supporting me and continued to keep me grounded during my experience in Detroit. I’d have to say their support kept me sane during rather tumultuous times during the year.

Mel a Year Ago: What three lessons do you think impact who you are today, professionally?

Mel Today: I’m limited to three? I’d have to say be assertive, learn to fail quickly, and never turn down a challenge. During the year I developed to be passive aggressive out of frustration but realized how detrimental that could be not, only in the office, but virtually in all areas of life. It frustrated me that I would not take the opportunity to be clear, concise, and assertive. Assertiveness is well respected in the workplace and is necessary in effectively communicating with a team. It’s a valuable asset to superiors as they can depend on you to know what you want and know exactly what you’re talking about.

Learning to fail quickly is also important in the professional setting. I tried my best to be perfect and sometimes felt like I walked on eggshells when I made mistakes. It’s important to learn to fail quickly because people really don’t have the time to console your ego and provide assurance for your well-being. That’s not what you show up to work to do. You get in a position where you take on challenges head on and realize there is the potential to fail. If you do, do so quickly, accept the lessons learned and move forward. That’s very valuable lesson I learned early and often recite to myself when I prepare to panic after mistakes are made.

Speaking of challenges, never turn them down, ever! The best way to stunt personal and professional growth is avoiding challenges. It’s understandable that you may analyze a situation and your practical ways you’ll fail but you can’t harp on failing. Life is about continuous growth and it only comes from facing your fears and overcoming challenges.

Mel a Year Ago: What places in Detroit would you recommend to visit?

Mel Today: Living downtown and experiencing the majority of my day I would have to make honest recommendations downtown. My office itself is an experience in itself. Think Google offices on a whole other level. There’s a reason Quicken Loans receives awards for “Best Places to Work!”. It’s really amazing what Dan Gilbert and his amazing team has done with some of the iconic buildings downtown. I also am a fan of Campus Martius. This park in the heart of downtown is an amazing example of what placemaking can do to help drive people to want to mingle on the streets of Detroit. I also really enjoy visiting the neighborhoods as they each have a variety of characteristics that make that different. I enjoy the people here and they often have great stories to share about their Detroit experience. I also enjoy the Riverwalk. This outdoor gem is really an experience in itself as there are several amenities found along the walk!

Mel a Year Ago: What’s the best part about being a fellow in Challenge Detroit?

Mel Today: I think having a sense of family and belonging with an extraordinary group. This group of hardworking young professionals really make an impact in the Detroit community with their various contributions. The fellowship allows us to engage with each other bring an incredible “Brainforce” to the Detroit market. Among the 31 fellows I must say we have connected a very strong professional network. Beyond the network we have developed friendships. Many of my new friendships rapidly developed by joining together with so many likeminded individuals and individuals that have different experiences in but are contributing to my personal development as I do the same for them. I enjoy my Challenge Detroit family and look forward to seeing the growth over the next year!

 

Over and Out, Challenge Detroit

One year down in Detroit. It is hard to sum up what I have done and seen over the last 12 months, so here are ten things Challenge Detroit taught me this year:

10: If there is pizza always say yes

This is pretty self-explanatory.

9: You always need someone to push you further than you think you can go

This world is a crazy place and it is easy to get scared of the next step, so we all need a person who pushes us to the next level.

8: If you like it, defend it; if you don’t like it, leave it alone

There were a lot of times when I would hear people bash Detroit for a cheap laugh and then turn around and enjoy a Tiger’s game at Comerica or a show at the Fox. All I ask it that if you like something about Detroit, show it some respect. If you don’t then leave it alone.

7: Dream big and never settle

You deserve the best the world has to offer, so dream about it and strive for nothing less.

6: Things will happen that you don’t want to happen

Detroit (and all cities, for that matter) can be dangerous, and things will happen that can alter the way you look at the world. We can’t ignore this fact, but we can learn from our experiences and hope for better the next time around.

5: Always remember there is more than one side to every issue

Issues are very complex in the city of Detroit, so it is important to remember all of the pieces that go into creating a problem and remember that those pieces need to be looked at when finding a solution.

4: Take a leap, don’t worry; you’ll land

What you are thinking about doing right now – just do it. You won’t regret it.

3: Explore and be ready to be amazed

Keep your heart and eyes open, and the world around you will amaze – sometimes in the most unexpected of ways.

2: Never turn down a ticket

You never know what might be coming your way. Jump at every opportunity handed to you.

1: People make the world go round

Surround yourself with good people. Challenge Detroit knows how important people are, and I can’t imagine this past year without my 31 fellow fellows – some of the greatest people I have ever met.

Thank you Challenge Detroit for one of the most challenging and exciting years of my life.

 

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Full Circle

It was just under a year ago today that I packed all of my belongings in a trailer and drove an hour north on I-75 to my first apartment in Detroit. I’ll never forget how I felt when I shut the door on my parents and friends and went into my apartment alone: I was excited to start my first professional position and to meet the thirty people I would be spending the next year with. I was nervous about living in a massive high rise in a city I had only visited twice. And, like most people before their first day of work, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be right for the job. In short, I was completely overwhelmed.

Yesterday I packed (almost) all of my belongings into a U-Haul and drove less than a mile down the road to my charming new 3-bedroom house in Corktown. As I, once again sit amongst familiar things in an unfamiliar place, I can’t help but feel like my year has come full circle. In less than a week, Challenge Detroit will have officially finished and I will be faced with the terrifying reality of the rest of my life.

But this time, things are different.

For one, my location is different. No longer tucked away on the fourteenth floor of a tower, I am now living in Detroit’s oldest, and arguably most vibrant neighborhoods. I eat food grown in my backyard, walk to grocery stores, coffee shops and restaurants and chat with neighbors at the local dog park. I have traded in the amenities and views of high rise living for colorful walls and a tight knight community, and for me, it is a perfect fit.

My career is also different.The past year working for a rapidly expanding, nationally recognized environmental due diligence firm has given me access to incredible opportunities to explore new fields and develop skills I never knew I had. I have gained confidence in my abilities and have been supported by some of the greatest coworkers and mentors I have ever known.

Additionally, my community is different. Whereas a year ago I felt overwhelmed and isolated, now I am plugged into a powerful network of thinkers and doers who want to see their success and happiness multiplied in Detroit.

Furthermore, my values are different. Hands-on service, empathy exercises and critical discussions on culture and privilege have had a serious impact on how I see the world. While I still have a lot to learn, I have gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the issues facing Detroit and its residents as well as many other communities around the world.

But most importantly, I am different. The past year has given me a confidence in myself that I never thought possible. I have been given opportunities to develop my creativity, to grow my leadership skills and to learn from some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I have been surrounded by passionate, hardworking professionals and their personalities have had a positive impact on my own. I have had great successes and I have learned from my mistakes. And somewhere along the way, I have become a person who is less overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the future and more excited by its potential.

The rest of my life is staring down at me, sure. But thanks to the experience of Challenge Detroit and the amazing support system of Detroit’s community, I am excited to face it, to take on my next challenge. And for me, it’s all still happening right here in Detroit.

5 Things I Wish People Knew About Detroit

Detroit2 (1)

As my first year in Detroit comes to a close, I reflect on my time as a Challenge Detroit Fellow here—the many things I’ve learned, the many friends I’ve made, and the many ways I’ve grown—and I freely admit my story is just a minuscule part of what’s going on in this incredible city. There are so many inspiring people who live here and whose stories deserve to be heard. In fact, if you’re going to read only one thing in the next five minutes, please read this article by Brittney Cooper instead of my own. While not directly related to Detroit, the words of Cooper are ones I wish everyone would take to heart. I think if more people adopted her perspective, even more stories will be able to surface—stories that would have the potential to change the way we see the world and how we choose to live in it.

And yet, if you’ve decided to keep reading, I have tried to consolidate a few of the things I’ve come to wish people knew about Detroit. So feel free to review and reflect on my perspective of Detroit.

This city is alive.

Some people seem to view Detroit as being “past its prime” or stuck in the past, but my experiences have quickly revealed quite the opposite. Not only is there an invigorating, entrepreneurial spirit sweeping through the metropolis, there are also hundreds of thousands of people who have lived in Detroit their whole lives, who love this city and are continuing to make it the place they want to be.

Detroit has incredible housing stock.

Pictures that make their way outside Detroit are tragically one-sided. While Detroit is actively tackling the issue of blight, there are countless majestic properties that are impressively well kept and beautifully remodeled. From quaint, historic mansions to pristine, modern lofts this city has a competitive edge when it comes to property, land, and space.

It is unnecessary to be excessively concerned about your safety.

The stereotypical casting of Detroit as unsafe is one that I find particularly trying. As in most cities, I take simple precautions like ensuring no valuables are left in plain view or traveling in groups late at night, and yet I’ve never been in any situation where I’ve felt unsafe in Detroit. Please give the city a chance before arriving at conclusions about its security.

People here are wary of others coming in and changing their neighborhoods.

Just as you might be suspicious of some stranger traipsing into your community, uprooting your favorite haunt, completely rearranging the areas you painstakingly worked to create, and then inviting others to do the same, I’ve found that people in Detroit feel a similar wariness. There have been a lot of changes taking place in pockets across the city and it’s very important that those who live here have the opportunity to initiate, lead, and participate in any modifications that occur. Without the input and support of longtime residents, it is highly presumptuous to make any changes in this city.

There is incredible diversity here.

The city of Detroit, along with its surrounding region, is a place filled with diversity. From distinct regional pockets complete with unique cultures to lifestyle opportunities attracting anyone from techy entrepreneurs to artistic free spirits, Detroit has it all. Which means for those who have been here all their lives to those who are interested in visiting or even coming to settle down, Detroit has a place for everyone.

A Year To Remember

Detroit

Wow, I cannot believe Challenge Detroit is over. This past year has been a wonderfully transformative experience and I know that Challenge Detroit was the best choice I could have made for myself. I have grown personally and professionally, deepened my love and appreciation for the city, made many amazing friends, build a diverse network, and have become ingrained in the fabric of the city. I started this fellowship with personal and professional goals, and have been wonderfully surprised at how they have morphed and exceeded my expectations.

Challenge Detroit Fellows

Every non-profit partner we worked with was full of inspirational game-changers and I look forward to seeing how Detroit grows and improves with their influence. I am thrilled to keep in touch with each partner and continue to work together on making Detroit the best!

High Five!

High Five to a great year!! I am honored to have had the privilege to work with all of the fellows! Everyone had amazing empathy, creativity, forethought, and collaboration. Every one of us is destined to do something great and I could not be more grateful and proud to have such wonderful friends who inspire me.

 

Goodbye, but not farewell

I know this sounds cliche, but time really does fly when you’re having fun. It seems like just yesterday that my wife (fiancee at the time) packed up our Ann Arbor residence to move 30 miles east to Detroit so that I could start my year with Challenge Detroit. And now, here we are with me writing my last blog post of the fellowship.

A year in review

Thorough the 5 pillars of the Challenge Detroit program, my year has been an immersion into the city of Detroit. Living, working, playing, giving and leading has helped me understand both the bright spots and the hardships of the city. In my short time here, I have witnessed large change–Detroit going through the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the US, a new mayor being elected and the start of the M1-rail project just to name a few. I have written blogs on everything from Detroit politics to my top 5 restaurants in the city. I was given the opportunity to make a difference in the healthcare industry through my employment with Beaumont Health System. I took home a trophy with my fellow fellows in the Come Play Detroit sand volleyball league at the riverfront. And how could I possibly talk about the year without mentioning the heart of the Challenge Detroit program–the challenges? From developing a guide to starting a nonprofit organization with Bleeding Heart Design and DCDC to conducting a neighborhood blight assessment with Detroit Future City, the fellowship year has been filled with meaningful work in the city.  To anyone that is not familiar with the work of the fellows, I would encourage you to browse the main challenge Detroit blog, where every challenge was documented and produced into a video. I was very excited when we learned midway through the year that Challenge Detroit officially received enough support to continue on for its third year of the program. As my class of fellows leaves the program and the new class of fellows arrive, I leave the reflection of my year with one piece of advice to the new class: keep your ears and eyes open and be prepared to learn. Design thinking seems simple enough at first, but to truly learn to empathize with a population, that is a skill that is incredibly difficult to master but is of the utmost importance if you hope to succeed at creating positive change in a community.

Tom Schuelke, Signing Off

Before Challenge Detroit, all I really knew about the city was what I saw on my way to Comerica Park and what I read in the papers. Having lived, worked and played in Detroit over the past year, I can truly say that neither of those activities does the city justice. Detroit is a very exciting city with a rich history and a bright future. I challenge anyone that thinks otherwise to intimately interact with the city for a year and then form their opinion. While I don’t yet know what my future holds as far as a career, my wife and I truly hope it keeps us here so that we can call Detroit our permanent home.

Tom Schuelke can continue to be reached at thomas.schuelke@challengedetroit.org.

Passion Is Synonymous with Detroit

Detroit Michigan was an unlikely destination for a girl like me. For someone who a year and a half ago, had never been to Detroit or the state of Michigan, I’m sure none of my friends or family thought I would end up in Detroit. Yet I moved here just a mere three months after graduating from college because of a little known fellowship opportunity called Challenge Detroit; an opportunity that has had a profound impact on my life.

I’ve learned so much in this past year; more than I could ever remember to write here. Some are more concrete such as design thinking or project management. Others are a little more intangible: the importance of being passionate and affecting those around you in a positive way. Those last two lessons are crucial, especially in Detroit. From developing a dozen of new relationships and working on our challenge projects within the community, I’ve learned about Detroit’s significant mark on American history. Now that sounds crazy, but before actually moving and living here, I knew very little about Detroit. I knew Detroit was the birthplace of Motown and the Motor City, but through living in Detroit and meeting new people, I’ve been able to explore its diverse culture and history firsthand.

People in Detroit are some of the most passionate, energetic, innovative and compassionate people that I’ve ever met, and their love affair with the city is never ending. From several of my fellow Challenge Detroit colleagues, to my colleagues at Focus: HOPE, I’ve grown just by surrounding myself with amazing people. I know just how important it is to live out your life with fervor and determination. To be fearless, gritty and most of all resilient. Detroit and it’s people are all of those things. I’ll always remember my year with Challenge Detroit and how it’s introduction to one of America’s greatest cities shaped my life. Just like I used to say growing up in the military: home is where the Army Sends You. For me now, home is Detroit.


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