DEARBORN - Both Ford and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan have worked to aid and improve communities within the greater Detroit area for decades. But what exactly does the organization do and what role does Ford play? To answer these questions, @Ford recently participated in a tour of several facilities aided by United Way efforts. From the United Way 2-1-1 Call Center, to Osborn High School – a “turnaround school” in the city of Detroit - and onto the Ford Resource and Engagement Center, to experience the tour read the full story below.
The day began at World Headquarters with an introduction from Mark Fields, Ford chief operating officer and the 2013/14 United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Campaign Chair.
“We’re a company that is 110 years old and we have a history of giving back to the communities we work within. In the past six years alone we have contributed $70 million to the greater Detroit area,” said Fields, “But we really wanted our team to understand this is not just about writing checks. It’s about really understanding how we give back to the community and making that personal connection.”
According to Fields, to bring the leadership team face-to-face with the struggles some Detroit-area residents experience, they toured United Way facilities and met with people the organization had helped. One particularly poignant part of their tour involved listening in on calls for help that came into the 2-1-1 Call Center.
“If listening to these calls doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, nothing will,” said Fields.
Next Stop: United Way Headquarters
Before visiting the Call Center, @Ford met up with Michael J. Brennan, president and CEO of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. He described the United Way as an organization that focuses on three things; education, basic needs and building financial stability. This all occurs through collaboration with various public, private and non-profit entities working together to meet these needs in the community.
Brennan described several efforts currently underway including the “Turnaround Challenge” which focuses on increasing graduation rates in some of the metro region’s lowest performing high schools and the initiative to increase Alexis de Tocqueville Society membership – a group of philanthropists committed to donating $10,000 or more each year. No matter the initiative, Brennan said Mark Fields, brought skill and determination to the plate.
“We have a leader in Mark Fields, when he stepped into it we learned he doesn’t do anything half way,” said Brennan. “He is all in. He recruited a very dynamic cabinet to help fulfill the mission.”
Brennan said he felt this same level of commitment whenever he came across Ford team members volunteering in the field.
“Ford Motor Company is the gold standard in our community in terms of community involvement. Most people think of the generous financial contributions that come from the Ford Fund and the company as well as the employees, buts it’s also a really wide engagement of the workforce,” said Brennan. “No matter where you turn in the community you see Ford employees deeply engaged.”
Experience: 2-1-1 Call Center
Nestled within the headquarters, is the 2-1-1 Call Center that takes calls from citizens in need 24 hour per day and 365 days each year. The program began in December of 2005 and has answered more than 300,000 calls for help in 2013 alone. There are eight call centers in Michigan and the Detroit facility answers calls from Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw, Macomb, Monroe and Lapeer counties.
Call Center Manager Hassan Hammoud has been with the United Way for four years, “I work at United Way because I want to help people. I grew up needing a lot of help from the state and other avenues and I really wanted a job where I could give back.”
According to Hammoud, the majority of the calls are utility related, meaning the caller had lost power, heat or water service – a frightening experience for citizens with health issues and rely on these services being fully operational. With a database of 2,000 agencies operating more than 12,000 assistance programs, Hammoud’s team is well equipped to handle these requests and any number of other issues that arise.
“We would not be able to do the good work that we do without the help of corporate partners like Ford – absolutely not. It takes all of us. One of our tenets is It Takes All of Us, we’re a community and we need everybody’s investment to be able to do what we do.”
In Action: Osborn High School’s Collegiate Academy of Math, Science and Technology
Once one of 30 Detroit area High Schools determined to be the lowest-performing in the metro Detroit region, In 2008, Osborn High School’s Collegiate Academy of Math, Science and Technology (MST) accepted United Way’s Turnaround Challenge - to obtain an 80 percent or higher graduation rate for the incoming freshman class and beyond in return for funding from United Way. In the years since, the school and the students have experienced great change.
“We’ve been at work for five years and our first network of kids graduated last year and moved that graduation rate up to 78 percent – one point higher than the state average,” said Michael F. Tenbusch, chief impact officer for the United Way Community Impact team and a key component to the success at Osborn High School. “These are schools that traditionally had a graduation rate of about 50 percent.”
Osborn’s principal, Tanya Bowman, credits help from community resources like United Way and the unique atmosphere teachers and leadership have established for the success of the students. “At MST our premise is to expose our kids to as much engineering, science and technology as we can, but we also changed the way we looked at teaching. Instead of teaching the mind first, we decided to teach the heart first. We’ve begun to develop this trust among one another so they are clear in knowing that the teacher that sits before them every day loves them and trusts them and supports them.”
For many Osborn students, this teaching style has been life changing. TyJuan Robinson, a senior at Osborn High, is just one example of the positive impact the school has on students. “I like Osborn a lot because I came from a rough neighborhood where everybody was dogging you and trying to pull you down and when I came to Osborn they were like family, pulling me up and helping me,” said Robinson.
Coming to Osborn was a turning point for Robinson. Before enrolling Robinson was in a gang and the school not only improved his live academically but helped him to get off the streets and onto a more fulfilling path in life. Robinson has worked hard and will be attending Lane College in Tennessee next fall.
In Action: Ford Engagement and Resource Center
The Ford Engagement and Resource Center (FREC) is located in southwest Detroit.
Carmen Mattia, FREC senior executive director, shared how Ford transformed the building into a thriving community center, “Originally this building was closed for a very long time, but through partnerships with Ford and Gleaners Community Food Bank we decided it would be a great service to the community if we created a community center that under one roof somebody coming in for food assistance could also receive services for tax preparation, legal services, immigration, classes and more.”
With the Zumba class in full swing at one end of the center and volunteers busy packaging meals and organizing the on-site food pantry on the other, it was evident a lot of good was happening in the center in just the short period of our visit.
What’s more, area residents are using the facility and gaining access to resources they maybe weren’t aware of previously.
“I hear the feedback from the community and people come back and tell me this is such a wonderful center. Ford and Gleaners have done a good thing by investing back into the community, the people are very appreciative. The food pantry provides so much and people are especially thankful because otherwise they would not know where their next meal would be coming from.”