BAB group finds their mojo in Motor City


Shannon McDuff

Zac Whitcomb, Seth Irwin and Sasha Yazdzik transport tires to be recycled

A Badger Alternative Break group focused on community development spent February break in Detroit, Michigan, working with Cass Community Social Services (CASS). CASS, whose mission is to work across the city of Detroit in areas of concentrated poverty and provide programs for food, health, housing and jobs, led the group through a week of service.

After the fall application process, the BAB group of 10 started to meet weekly. The meetings were led by group leaders Shannon McDuff and Rachele Funk — even though Funk had to virtually co-lead from Alaska during the fall semester. The rest of the members that participated in the trip were Gabe Densmore, Zac Whitcomb, Kaylyn Rood, Joe Smith, Seth Irwin, Sasha Yazdzik, David Coolidge and Erik Crosby.

Crosby, a junior who has participated in BAB for the last three years, noted that this was some of the most rewarding service he’s done yet on a trip.

“The service made me feel really good internally because I enjoy doing work for other people, and seeing how appreciative everyone was of our service made it all worthwhile,” said Crosby.

The JSC students on the trip participated in a variety of service projects including kitchen prep, trash pickup, raking, serving meals and loading food donations.

“We also went to pick up illegally dumped tires and brought them over to the World Center, where we gave them to CASS so they can cut them down and make flip flops and mats out of them,” said Crosby. “We even helped to make some of the mats. The process included taking the tires and measuring spots to make cuts on them. We then cut them with this machine, and we cut the tires into small, medium and large pieces. We then took those pieces and placed them on these metal rods we had at different station. After we put down certain pieces of the tires down on the metal rods, we then placed different colored beads in between each piece to make a pattern. Once we completed that, we bent the tops of the rods and then stamped the Detroit logo on them, and we had our tire mat.”

McDuff also enjoyed the tire collection process and thought that it was a neat experience to have.
“It was great to see them take these tires dumped everywhere and round the city and make a profit out of them as well as create jobs,” said McDuff.

Funk explained that the highlight of the trip for her was meeting so many people in Detroit and learning that most of the Detroit stereotypes we know are false. On top of this feeling, Funk also said the trip was eye-opening.

“The service made me feel privileged. Realizing and acknowledging that I have privileges is one of the best aspects of the trip,” said Funk. “Now that I have heard stories from women, children and men that work at CASS, stay at the shelters or just joined us for meals allows me to acknowledge my privilege and how I can best use it to positively change our local and global community.”

As the group worked daily to help Detroit residents, they started to see a divide between within the city between two different social classes.

“I learned that Detroit is really a tale of two cities. You have one city that is thriving and really has really been gentrified,” said Funk “On the other hand, you have a city that has one building that is livable and not burnt down within a two-block area.”

At CASS, the JSC students were led by different staff members of CASS including the volunteer coordinator, the director of CASS’s Green industries business and the director of CASS.

“Another highlight was definitely meeting the people at the organization we were working with and getting to hear their stories,” said McDuff.

One of the staff members of CASS that the group worked with was Sue Pethoud. According to McDuff, she had done a lot of public speaking on behalf of CASS and was also in charge of organizing service groups like the JSC team.

“Clearly she had been doing this for a while and was pretty good at handling any bumps along the way,” said McDuff.

The group also spent time with the director of CASS Ed Hingelberg.

“Ed is the head director of CASS, and I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who loves their job more than Ed does his,” said Funk. “He truly wants to help any Detroiter in any way possible. Need a meal? He’ll make it happen. Are you trans and deemed an undesirable applicant to most jobs in Detroit? He’ll hire you. He wants to help anyone and everyone.”

According to McDuff, Hingelberg made a real difference in getting the students excited about doing the assigned service.

“Ed … always made a point to introduce us to workers and members of the community. Suddenly you weren’t just cooking meals for people, you were cooking for Jerome or Isaac or people that you had gotten to know during the week,” said McDuff.

The group still has a few more meetings this semester before their post-trip service in April. The BAB program is looking for student leaders for next year and anyone who feels comfortable leading groups and is passionate about service are encouraged to apply through the SERVE office.