Building Community in Metro Detroit

 |   Shelley Stern Grach

Ivoire Morrell Southfield Community Day

Last week, I had the pleasure to participate in the Southfield Michigan Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) Community Day. This is a volunteer and technology consulting day, hosted by our terrific staff at the Southfield MTC, and organized by the amazing Donna Bank-Hoglen, the Great Lakes Operations and Community Manager. Across the country, our Microsoft Technology Centers host Community Days, to support local nonprofits with their technology needs and to help local students learn about technology and careers in STEM.  While Community Days can take all shapes and formats, this one was super interesting as it included both an Envisioning Session with the nonprofit Southwest Solutions in Detroit and two classes with students from the Boys and Girls Club in Southfield, Michigan.

Southwest Solutions provides a broad range of programs in the areas of human development, economic development, and community engagement. These three areas together form a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy and effort that impacts more than 20,000 people a year. Microsoft Technology Specialists spent the day with the leadership team of Southwest to discuss both their internal needs (collaboration, combining databases, hardware and software upgrades, etc.) and their external needs (social media, outreach across a large number of nonprofits with different systems, Cloud access, etc.) Of special interest are the Workforce Development programs  to  help individuals acquire the education, skills, training, and job opportunities to secure sustainable employment. These programs are designed to address the particular needs and barriers of the individuals seeking work and greater economic security and success. Programs include:

Adult Literacy
An Adult Learning Lab in southwest Detroit helps adults improve their literacy, math and computer skills so they can be better qualified for employment. These services are free for eligible participants.

Center for Working Families
Our Center for Working Families (CWF) is based on a promising national concept and is designed to help low-income families reach financial stability, access income supports, develop educational and employment opportunities, build wealth, and move up the economic ladder. To participate in the program, eligible families and individuals must commit for at least three months. Participants are assisted by a financial coach, workforce development coach and benefits coach.

Earn + Learn
Earn + Learn is an innovative and comprehensive model of workforce development that has helped more than 1,000 jobless individuals in the Detroit area participate in training opportunities. Many have gained long-term employment.

Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP)
The Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) helps homeless vets find meaningful employment so that they can be productive members of the community. HVRP is funded by the federal Department of Labor. The program assists homeless vets with resources, vocational training and job opportunities.

PATH (Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope.)
PATH (Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope.) assists welfare applicants and recipients to become self-sufficient and integrated into the labor force, based on the workforce needs of Michigan’s current and emerging economy. PATH provides Family Independence Program (FlP) applicants and recipients with employment-related services, training and supportive services to obtain and retain employment. The program offers participants education and training opportunities and job search and job readiness activities to increase the participant’s income.

Supported Employment
Supported Employment Services (SES) is designed to help people with severe and persistent mental illness find work at employment opportunities that they choose and for which they are qualified. The foundation of the program is that work can promote recovery and wellness.

The Microsoft team will continue to work with Southwest Solutions to prioritize both their internal and external “pain points” and part with Southwest to develop technology solutions to increase their capacity and serve their clients better, with greater efficiency.

Concurrently, the Southfield MTC also hosted two large groups of students from the Southfield Boys and Girls Club (Oakland and Macomb Counties).

While familiar to many of you, it’s worth a few minutes to remind everyone of the remarkable mission of the Boys and Girls Clubs nationally:

To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Our Boys & Girls Clubs provide…

  • A safe place to learn and grow.

  • Ongoing relationships with caring, adult professionals.

  • Life-enhancing programs and character development experiences.

  • Hope and opportunity.

The students who visited the Southfield MTC and each group participated in classes learning to code and experiment with technology. Both programs were hosted by our Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell, who is also a volunteer for the Southfield Boys and Girls Club in his spare time. Ivoire worked with the students on coding, experimenting with Brain Pad and other fun games. This was a great way for the students to see a corporate setting and have a better understanding about future careers in STEM and with technology companies. Also, Ivoire is a terrific role model with the students—as a Computer Science major himself, he is a living testament to their future. What was especially great was to see the interaction, the high level of interest on the part of the students and the enthusiasm for learning about technology.

I’m especially proud of our volunteers throughout the country who support the MTC Community Days. It’s a terrific way to “open up” the walls of our innovation centers and extend the reach of Microsoft’s technology and volunteers. While I know the team at Southwest Solutions and the students at the Boys and Girls Club had meaningful programs and really enjoyed themselves, I also know that the Microsoft volunteers gained the higher benefit—knowing that you really made a difference in the lives of Metro Detroiters, helping people reach their full potential.

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Shelley Stern Grach
Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.