Youth Council Helps Build Benches, Community
When one thinks of neighborhood essentials, bus benches may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But for the Cody Rouge Community Youth Council, it is the small things in a community that can make the most difference.
Meet Sherrod, Jai’la and Dehvin, three members of the Youth Council and residents of the Cody Rouge neighborhood. On a sunny afternoon, the three Cody Rouge youth are hard at work painting wooden bus benches that will be placed at stops around the neighborhood.
Why bus benches? As those who use Detroit’s bus system known, reliable (and sturdy) seating options at roadside stops are often few and far between.
“The purpose was to make benches to put at bus stops so people don’t have to stand all day. You know, you could have a long day at work and now you have to stand and wait for the bus,” Jai’la said, paintbrush in hand. “There would be people, even in the winter, that would have to stand at the bus stop and when you get older you don’t want to stand all day.”
The benches are part of the council’s No Stand Zone project, an initiative created by the youth with help of the surrounding community.
“In May we had our No Stand Zone Day where the Youth Council along with kids from Cody High School and Westside Christian Academy came out and we built these benches together,” said Charday, an organizer of the program. “Now they are painting and preparing them to go out.”
The group also received support from Sit on It Detroit, an organization that focuses on building bus benches and other furniture pieces out of reclaimed wood from around the city. Additional funding was also provided by the Detroit 2 Nepal Foundation.
No Stand Zone is just one of many projects taken on by the youth council since its inception in 2007. As part of the Skillman Foundation’s Good Neighborhood’s Initiative, the council was created to ensure that youth had a stake in the revitalization of their community.
“The goal was to ensure that as the [Good Neighborhood] Initiative grew, that youth voices were a part of the development of the neighborhood,” said Kenyetta Campbell, executive director of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance, a group that helped spark the Youth Council.
By connecting with neighborhood churches, schools, and nonprofit entities, theAlliance brought together a group of youth who were active leaders looking to make a difference in their community.
Ten years later the council has evolved into an essential part of the Cody Rouge neighborhood and created a significant impact in the lives of its participants. Since 2007, 100 percent of the Youth Council members have graduated from high school, with a large number going on to college.
Now the council consists of seven members including Sherrod, Jai’la and Dehvin. The majority of the programming is run out of Don Bosco Hall in Cody Rouge.
“I’ve had a very humbling experience and I’m treated like family here. I was quiet at first, but as I started coming more and started getting to know everyone, I found my place here. I really like it, it’s a good environment,” Dehvin said in regard to his time with the council.
I'm treated like family here. - Dehvin
I'm treated like family here. - Dehvin
“It’s more than life. It’s where you can go when everything is not good, it seems so much better. It’s almost like you have a whole support system. And you’re supporting other people. You’re helping people that don’t got it, even if you don’t got it, all of us have something to give. It’s home,” Jai’la added.
Joining the three teenagers were two younger members of the Youth Council, Alexcia and Tiariel, who put the finishing touches on a green and white Cody High School themed bench. Both grade schoolers shared similar thoughts about their involvement with the council.
“[The Youth Council] caught my attention because I want to help the community make the world a better place,” Alexcia said. “You don’t see young people caring about the community much nowadays.”
However, the Youth Council is proof that anyone can have an impact on their community, regardless of age. Most importantly, the work being done by the council is part of an even larger shift in the neighborhood that is empowering all members of the community to be a part of its revitalization.
One of the senior members of the council, Sherrod, has been around to see this change within his community. The recent high school graduate has been a part of the council since he was in the fifth grade. “When I first joined, people didn’t really want to help out and they didn’t really care. We would do canvassing and they would close the door on us. A lot more people are open to us helping now, so I think the community is becoming more aware and helpful than what they used to be,” he said.
The valuable work being done by organizations like the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance and its Youth Council help make Cody Rouge a shining example of how resident-led community action can have a huge impact on a neighborhood.
As for the future, Cody Rouge residents are hard at work developing a plan for the next 10 years. Goals include attracting more jobs to the area and continuing to create a family-friendly environment throughout the neighborhood.
But for the Youth Council, goals for the future are focused on space.
“We need our building,” Jai’la replied when asked what the Youth Council needs the most.
“Having our own space would give us the opportunity to impact so much more than just locally. It seems like we only expand a quarter mile from Don Bosco Hall anytime we do anything. Having our own space would allow us to bring in our own people, we’d have more room. We’d have bigger youth nights the way we wanted to be. We’d get to do what we want, invite who we want. There would be more recognition for the Youth Council,” she said, putting the last coat of paint on her section of the bench.
As the importance and impact the Youth Council continues to grow, there’s no telling what opportunities await these talented young people.