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Reconnecting: A Wonderful End to a Wonderful Year

In a bit of a shift from the norm, the fellows were given a choice of how we wanted to approach the challenge this month, our “July Impact Project.” Options included working on a solo project of our own making, working with another fellow or two on a project of our own making or reconnecting with a past Challenge Detroit partner and working on a new initiative. Immediately I knew that the July impact project would be the perfect opportunity for me to reconnect with the challenge partner I enjoyed working with most, Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS). For our third challenge this year we worked with COTS on outreach and marketing strategies targeted at each of the groups of individuals that make COTS the incredible organization that it is: consumers, staff, volunteers, donors and partners. The challenge with COTS proved overwhelmingly successful and they have even begun implementing some of the programs that the fellows put together and presented.

As it turned out, Anna and Cody also shared my fondness for COTS, so we came tougher and are working to put on an event that will serve to connect COTS with a younger generation of donors and volunteers. The motivation here is for COTS to establish a relationship early on with individuals who have the potential to be donors and volunteers for years to come. The event is called “Turn Up, Strip Down: A Detroit Flash’ion Show” and involves attendees showing up wearing extra layers of clothes and preceding down a red carpet or catwalk while stripping off all the extra clothes. At the end of the runway will be donation boxes for the clothes, which will be donated to Thrift on the Avenue (TOTA) and the clothing room at COTS. Following the “Flash’ion Show,” we will have a happy hour where people can meet and interact with COTS and TOTA, learn more about the organization s and find out how they can get involved. The event will be fun and informal and provide a casual platform for interested young people to find out more about the work COTS is doing. Look out for event details coming in the near future!

As fellows we have had the pleasure of working with some truly incredible organizations over the past 12 months. COTS will always stand out for me because of just how deep their commitment to the city of Detroit and its people is. All it takes is a few steps inside the doors of COTS to see just how significant the work they’re doing is: providing a resting place for the weary, feeding the hungry, offering a slew of youth and family support services to those in need of some extra help. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. COTS is truly making a difference in the seemingly endless fight against homelessness. In Detroit the path from homelessness to self-sufficiency is one that can be successfully traveled in large part thanks to the support and help COTS provides along the way. I am honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to work with this incredible organization. It has truly been one of the highlights of my Challenge Detroit experience.


Until next time,


Detroit Youth Games

For the month of July the Challenge Detroit Fellows were tasked with coming up with their own monthly challenge. We were to find something that we were passionate about and put all our efforts for the month in addressing that passion. It took me all of two seconds to decide where I was going to focus my efforts. The decision that I made was youth and sports. The hard part was logistically addressing this vague topic. Thankfully there was a fellow with just as much passion as I had for youth and sports. She came up with the event, het and I recruited two other fellows that also had that very same passion, and we proceeded to plan for the event of the summer. The Detroit Youth Games was the name that we gave our event.

The Detroit Youth Games was to be a way that we could, “use athletics to engage and mentor the youth of the city of Detroit in a positive way.” All we needed was a keynote speaker, equipment, agenda, activity, volunteers, security, registration form, marketing strategy, marketing materials, partner organizations, sponsors, t-shirts, funds, and facility that could accommodate 100 children and 3 different sports simultaneously. Putting four of the brightest, most resourceful people that Detroit has to offer in a room for four weeks, can turn that daunting list above into a piece of cake.

Keynote Speaker: 3X Olympian and Gold Medalist Peter Vanderkaay. Check

Equipment: Between Amazon & Meijer (Slogan should be the only place that beats Amazon prices) we barely came out of pocket. Check

Agenda: Three college athletes planning for the sports they played , and assisting with the planning we had possibly the smartest fellow facilitating the meetings. Check

And I could “check” everything else but it will probably lead to me bragging about my team and everyone else that made this event a success(i.e. Olympic Gold medalist Peter Vanderkaay). So, lets move on to the most important part of the event. The kids that attended had a great time. The event did not attract the projected 100 participants that we expected, but the ones that did show up had fun and left with more than they came in with. Not only did they learn that day, but they also educated us on how to better serve them. This was the first Detroit Youth Games but it will not be the last. All of us involved in planning have already gave our word to each other that we will be back next year.

Next year the event will be even bigger, and I for one can’t wait. Detroit Youth Games on three…one, two, three DETROIT YOUTH GAMES!!!

Turn Up, Strip Down: Revealing a New Generation of Donors

For the month of July, the fellows were given an opportunity to design their own Challenge in the form of an individual impact project. Fellows were encouraged to reach out to a local nonprofit and use their particular skills and interests to impact the organization and their community.


Inspired by the work we did earlier in the year, two fellow fellows and I chose to spend 5 weeks working with COTS, Coalition on Temporary Shelter. COTS works to provide not only temporary shelter for families who have lost their home, but has a full suite of services designed to help people get back on their feet after life changing events. The staff at COTS is so passionate about and successful in the work that they do that it was a no-brainer to return to COTS for our July Impact project.



For our individual impact project, we challenged ourselves to use an event to attract and retain a younger donor base for COTS. During our original Challenge with the organization, they had expressed interest in a similar event and had also voiced a concern about a lack of summer event programming for donors. To address these issues, and allow ourselves a little event-based creativity, we decided to hold an event titled: “Turn up, Strip Down: A Detroit Flashion Show to benefit COTS.”


Girl swimsuitBoy swimsuit

The event will be in the flash mob style and will take place in a public, outdoor space (to be released soon). Participants will #turnup dressed in several layers of trendy, donatable clothes at a specific time and location. Then, cued by music and a makeshift red carpet, participants will walk down the red carpet and #stripdown to a modest bathing suit. Attendees will be invited to mingle and learn more about COTS and ways to get involved at a brief social hour following the event. The clothes collected will be donated to TOTA, or Thrift on the Avenue who will donate 30% of any proceeds made of off donated items to COTS.


Like what you hear? Stay tuned for more information on the event details. In the meantime, check out COTS and their partners to see how you can contribute!

Detroit Youth Games- Student Athletes

Hello Detroit,

I can’t believe it’s already July!  This month we had the opportunity to split up from the group as a whole and work on our own July Impact Projects.  My team of Carlos, Tiara, and Tom decided to host a sports mentoring clinic at Belle Isle for kids ages 8-16.

DetroitYouthGames1                    photo (13)


When I think of specific experiences that have helped shape me into the man I am today, I think playing soccer throughout my life plays a major role.  Soccer has taught me drive, determination, composure, patience, team work, communication, and most importantly leadership skills that are engrained in me forever.  All of these skills are adaptable to ones everyday life, and when you bring them to the work place along with a competitive nature, good things are bound to happen.  We wanted to have fun and teach the participants not only about the three different sports (soccer, football, and basketball) but also how to translate skills learned on the field to the classroom and eventually their careers.

Stay tuned for the month of August as we wrap up the fellowship!

Thanks for reading,

Roy Yewah

The Fastest Open Water Swim in the World (Detroit)

Three quarters of the world’s surface is covered by water. With more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 35,000 miles of streams, the state of Michigan has more fresh water coastline than any other state in the country. The city of Detroit sits on part of this coastline and connects two great bodies of water – Lake St. Clair to the north, and Lake Ontario to the south.

I ask: How can a region with so much access to water have so many people who don’t know how to swim?

See Also: Swimming in the ‘D’

Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of accidental funnestsportdeath amongst children in the US, and minorities drown at a rate three times higher than their Caucasian peers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 10 people drown every day in the U.S. Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowing by 88% among children aged one to four years according to Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

For existing swimmers in the community, there are very few events to participate in that promote the benefits of the sport. The nearby city of Ann Arbor was recently ranked the number 1 swim city in the country; however, in the Metro-Detroit community, there is limited pool accessibility and opportunities for swimmers to truly experience the sport. Understanding this, I created my design challenge question that defined the scope of focus for this impact challenge.

How might we foster an environment that empowers social interaction, philanthropy, and excitement for the Metro-Detroit swimming community that is repeatable year after year?

The Fastest Open Water Swim in the World

Detroit-Windsor Open Water Course Map CoventryGardens-RivardPlaza

This short international crossing from Windsor to Detroit will usaswimmingfoundationsavinglivesattract regional and national talent to Detroit for this one of a kind event. While the event will inspire participation at the highest level, it will also be accessible to a large audience of swimmers from aspiring age-groupers to masters swimmers and triathletes. It will not only put a positive spotlight on the city and region, but also has the potential to raise significant dollars for learn to swim programs that are impacting the community such as Detroit Swims.

Obviously there are a number challenges Bosphorus Startassociated with organizing a race of this complexity between two countries in one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. It is feasible, and over the past few weeks I’ve been working with a number of organizations and individuals including the US & Canadian Coast Guards, and different race event services to make this swim a reality in 2015.

WATCH: Cross-Continental Swim: ASIA -> EUROPE

If this sounds interesting to you from a sponsor perspective weather it be promotional support, financial backing or just volunteering on the day of the swim, I’d love to connect with you!

Every year over a billion dollars of trade passes between the United States and Canada. It’s time that we take ownership of our iconic international border, and let the world take notice of what’s going on in Detroit!


The entrepreneur’s mantra and the first annual Detroit Youth Games     

During my last semester at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business, I took a class titled “New Venture Creation”. The premise of the class was that over the course of 14 weeks, students would build an entire start-up company from the ground up. To be clear, we didn’t actually have to launch the business (although some groups did) but rather do all of the work prior to launch. This involved building a financial model, creating a marketing plan and developing a launch timeline. While this was certainly an excellent activity (and one of my favorite classes), the course ultimately fell short in perhaps the biggest endeavor that entrepreneurs face—developing the product. Our professor, a career entrepreneur who built several companies, did offer one very important piece of advice about building your product—fail fast.

This mantra of the entrepreneur—fail fast—seems like odd advice at first (who wants to fail?) but when you look a bit closer it makes a lot of sense. Nothing is perfected in one try and so the faster you get a product to market, the quicker you learn how to improve it. Of course this advice doesn’t just apply to starting a business, but applies to anything new that we attempt to create.

For the month of July, the Challenge Detroit fellows were asked to create their own challenge to tackle. Having similar experiences with sports in our own lives while we were young, four of us teamed up to create an event to introduce the youth of Detroit to obtaining personal growth through sports. We all felt that athletics helps develop important life skills such as persistence, goal setting and positive attitudes. Thus the Detroit Youth Games was born.

The Inaugural Detroit Youth Games

Let me stop right here for a moment to say that I in no way think that the inaugural Detroit Youth Games was a failure. Indeed, my partners and I accomplished everything we set out to do with our event.  We organized an event at the new Belle Isle basketball courts in under 4 weeks that taught participants basic skills for basketball, football and soccer. After the drills, we held workshops that taught participants about goal setting and creative thinking. We even recruited Olympic gold medalist Peter Vanderkaay to speak to our participants (thanks Peter!). Finally, the kids participated in a relay-style challenge showing off their newfound skills to determine the winner of the first Detroit Youth Games.

Our biggest failing with the event was in marketing. We had originally planned to cap the event at 100 participants. After a weeklong social media campaign and an online signup form, we had zero participants registered. Upon asking for feedback from a few parents, we learned that we committed a very common mistake—forgetting who our consumers were. The parents told us that internet access was frequently not stable for children in the neighborhoods that we were targeting. Furthermore, parents don’t trust Facebook events as something they would send their kids to. With this information, we tried to reach out to make personal contact with parents using our own networks and by handing out flyers on the Detroit Riverfront.

Although our turnout was only four brave young girls, they participated fully in the day and all took something home with them—a sports ball to commemorate the day, a career goal (our participants were a future doctor, police officer, veterinarian and the first female NFL player) and a plan to get there.

Failing fast is exactly what we did with our marketing for the event, but now we know how to better reach participants for next year. No matter how much our annual event grows over the next few years, I will always remember this inaugural year as a tremendous success for the difference we were able to make in the lives of our four brave girls.


If you know me at all you would know that I love food. All kinds of food. It might be the hospitality major in me, but whenever I sit down with a group of people for a good meal, I am as happy as clam. This explains why I chose Detroit SOUP as my last Challenge for Challenge Detroit. This final challenge was called the “Detroit Impact Project”, a project in which I had the opportunity to leave my mark on Detroit by partnering with a non-profit of my choosing. Naturally, I picked the one non-profit that had to do with eating soup.

Detroit SOUP is a monthly community dinner that funds micro-grants for creative projects in the city of Detroit. Community members come to SOUP and for $5 they get soup, salad, bread and a vote. Now, if you were me, you’d be sold immediately on the food aspect of that $5 deal – but that’s not even the best part. Before dinner, the audience hears 4 pitches for creative projects in the city. These pitches can range from flower gardens to clothing lines, but what they have in common is they want to make Detroit a better place. Community members have the power to use the vote they received with their five dollars to pick which pitch is the best for the city. In the end, the pitch that receives the most votes wins the pot of money collected through the $5-per-person admission fee. If this isn’t the perfect way to jump-start community involvement, fund creative projects and foster democracy to create a better city, I don’t know what is. AND YOU GET SOUP.

These past 5 weeks I have tried to submerge myself into the world of SOUP. With interviews, research and brainstorming, I have tried to come up with some ways that SOUP can create a plan for long-term sustainment. The most important thing that I learned was that this non-profit is the epitome of why Detroit will succeed.



There’s a modicum of apprehension that surfaces when faced with engaging, inspiring, and mobilizing youth. What will the children think of me? Will they wonder why I’m here? What if they think this is dumb? How do I get them to care? I’m sure this feeling is normal, at least for unseasoned aspirants like myself. Community engagement efforts at any level can feel risky. So much hope, vision, and energy goes into the planning process and yet a lingering insecurity remains: will others come on board or will this whole thing profoundly flop? And that’s the hesitant attitude I held going into our first Youth Engagement Meeting.

For my final month at Challenge Detroit, I had the opportunity to choose my own adventure. I was asked to select a topic or organization I was inquisitive about and to design my own impact project around that interest. For my independent Challenge, I opted to work with Hope Community Outreach and Development to shape and launch a youth engagement plan in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood.

And so I sat in the community room, wondering what was about to happen, if things would go well, and indeed, if anyone was going to show up.

My anxieties proved to be grossly unfounded as child after child walked through the door—some giddily animated and others more cautious and reserved—yet each entered with a determination to contribute and get things done. These children did not need to be inspired. When the youth were asked about their opinion on opportunities in the community, their eyes came to light and their imaginations went wild. When faced with the task of identifying needs in their neighborhood, the group became somber, honest, and still strikingly hopeful. By the end of the session, each child enthusiastically agreed they wanted to meet every day to continue working together. And now, only a week later, the group has more than doubled.

These children did not need to be inspired; all they needed was to be brought together and believed in.

The Detroit Youth Games

This month my fellows and I were tasked with coming up a project of our own that would impact the city of Detroit in a positive way. We were allowed to decide how we wanted to make an impact and the project I assisted on was the first ever Detroit Youth Games. My team put together a one day sports and mentorship clinic that took place July 25th on Belle Isle. The camp consisted of learning and fundamental building in the sports areas of basketball, football and soccer. After sports play we provided lunch to participants and brought in Olympic Swimmer Peter Vanderkaay to speak to the camp about goals and leadership. After mentorship activities we proceeded with a competition for campers to participate in and then games until we were all worn out. I am not sure who had more fun our campers or us fellows. It was a great event and I can’t wait to see how it evolves going into next year.

The reason I chose to focus my impact project around athletics is because of the role that athletics has played in my life. For as long as I can remember I was very active in a sport of some kind. As a child and even as a adult in college athletics taught me how to be responsible, be a leader, never quit and work hard (to name a few). These values play an irreplaceable part in my life and having the opportunity to be a part in instilling them in our youth is very important to me. Children are the future so there is no better place to start then with them. That is why my impact project was not only important to me but gives you an inside look at my childhood and the values I was brought up with.

Until next time

Camp Photo

Wi-Detroit: Empowering the Empowerers

Did you know that according to a 2012 Knight foundation report, 40% of Detroiters lack broadband internet access?! That fact that led to the formation of the digital justice street team, Wi-Detroit in spring of 2013. I was part of the 6 original co-founders of this initiative. We got our start thanks to a conference called the College to Career Pathways hosted by Similar to Challenge Detroit, the Mobilize event was fueled by the intent to empower millennials to make a difference in Detroit. I sat at a table with a community-conscious group of individuals dedicated to relevant collaboration as a means to solve our city’s problems. 

As conversations about revitalization and Detroit’s growth progressed, our table noticed a pattern in the solutions proposed. They all revolved around ideas that relied on internet access. Opportunities are easy to access online, but only if you have internet access! As for the near 40% of Detroiters without access to the Internet; students, families, and work-ready millennials miss resources available online (networking, education, and job opportunities.) I had just applied for Challenge Detroit a few weeks prior to the Mobilize event and I imagined how difficult it would’ve been without internet access. We quickly pitched our initial street team idea, gained funding and hit the ground running full steam ahead making partnerships, strategies and installing mesh networks.


Now fast forward a year to July 2014, the final culminating month of Challenge Detroit. The fellows were gifted the opportunity to work with an organization of our choosing. I thought, what better way to round out my year than by working with the Wi-Detroit team!?

The fellows had to pick an organization that could benefit from our help, utilizing the design thinking process as a guide for solutions to a challenge it was currently facing. Because Wi-Detroit was founded by a bunch of college and post-grad professionals, the Wi-Detroit challenge was easy to pinpoint. The group’s efforts had been heavily affected by busy schedules, GRE tests, grad school transitions, job stress and even a wedding! Juggling several life events had it’s toll on the original founding members of the team. So much so that Wi-Detroit went from a team of  seven to four to three; three women who were all working full time jobs or enrolled in grad school. Decreasing membership affected the efforts of this digital justice initiative and the work had become stagnant for its remaining founders. After all, we’d been working for almost a year and only successfully partnered with one community group in the Brightmoor neighborhood. And we were just starting to partner with Challenge Detroit partner organization, COTS.


The original founders of Wi-Detroit and PassionClass: Detroit

So with my impact project, I proposed the following challenge to my fellow Wi-Detroit teammates:

How might we thoroughly evaluate and assess the current effectiveness of Wi-Detroit in order to course correct the group’s efforts and promote the benefit of the initiative to prospective partners and communities?

There were a few things I did during this challenge to help our group address this question:

First, I interviewed the fellow team members as well as prospective partners, like some of the Detroit Digital Stewards to gain empathy and capture insight. We learned how each group defines and shapes the digital justice scene in Detroit and compared/contrasted that with Wi-Detroit’s current effectiveness.


Wi-Detroit co-founder Katie and I learning about the Detroit Digital Stewards and helping them prepare for the Allied Media Conference

After that, I worked with my team to evaluate our group’s current progress in 3 areas: Brand perception, Community Outreach, Strategic Partnerships and used these findings to create an efficiency report.

After these steps, we discovered that Wi-Detroit had been investing its remaining energy in the wrong areas. Since losing the tech guru and the community organizer we realized that our muscle for meeting the community’s immediate needs weren’t as strong as they once were. However what we realized is that the remaining founders have strengths in the areas of marketing, branding and strategy  coupled with an extensive professional network in the city.

With this insight we were able to remodel the group strategy and mission to one where Wi-Detroit serves as a convener of resources for existing digital justice stewards/groups on the ground working to alleviate the problem. Why reinvent the wheel when you can help others to spin it faster? I created a recommendations report that included the suggestion to shift Wi-Detroit’s focus from directly helping communities to helping the people who are already helping the communities to be more effective (like the amazing Detroit Digital Stewards we interviewed). This strategy alleviates competition over funding and works well with the bandwidth of Wi-Detroit’s remaining members.

With this new direction I was able to create a recommendations reports and a new manifesto that will help Wi-Detroit to re-steer it’s efforts, utilize its strengths to meet its new mission and create a more effective plan for progress and promotion. The best part of this project is that our group has a renewed sense of confidence in our ability to affect change in digital justice for Detroiters.

In junction with our new mission, we hope that you support the Detroit Digital Stewards in their efforts to bridge Detroit’s digital divide. They are currently raising funds to expand their 7 existing community mesh networks. You may ask “why?” But Wi-Detroit asks “Wi-NOT?”! Learn more about their amazing work and current campaign here!

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