Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

People who partner

Those dedicated to solving complex social and systemic issues know: collaboration is king. An individual can spark change, but to make and sustain change takes a movement of many.

Collaboration makes it possible—but it doesn’t make it easy. Of these basic steps, each gets harder: agreeing on a shared vision; settling on how to get there; and committing—individually and collectively—to great and sustained effort to bring the vision into reality. Rallying shared agreement, focus, and dedication typically makes for a slow process.

However, sometimes an issue is so urgent—a city in receivership, a school district facing bankruptcy, a pandemic shuttering schools—that broad consensus and eagerness to act are readily there.

Through the crucial work of building trust, relationships, and experience in making progress toward ambitious shared goals, Detroit built a muscle for collaborative changemaking. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke, Detroiters flexed. Individuals and institutions rapidly pulled together to help safeguard kids.

What follows is a few shining examples of collaborative responses to the pandemic’s impact on Detroit kids that The Skillman Foundation is humbled to be part of:

Equipping students with technology to stay connected and learning

More than 75% of Detroiters access the internet with devices not designed for online learning. When schools closed over COVID-19 safety concerns, community partners came together to ensure Detroit kids were equipped to learn in a virtual environment.

Connected Futures provided over 51,000 Detroit Public Schools Community District students and their families with devices, internet connectivity, and data plans, and technical support. The $24-million budget was met by more than two dozen funders including Detroit Public Schools Community District, Detroit Public Schools Foundation, DTE Energy Foundation, General Motors, Quicken Loans Community Fund, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

For Detroit kids who attended other schools, the Tech Fund for Detroit Students supported provided devices and connectivity. More than 8,000 students were supported, thanks to donations from the Deloitte Foundation, DTE Energy Foundation, Detroit Children’s Fund, Nancy and Arn Tellem and the Detroit Pistons, Harlem Children’s Zone, Idea Group, Quicken Loans Community Fund, The Skillman Foundation, and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.  

Offering paid summer work experiences, remotely

Getting technology into the hands of young Detroiters also helped them engage in paid summer work experiences through Grow Detroit’s Young Talent. Even with the pandemic hampering “business as usual,” employers, nonprofits, funders, the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, the City of Detroit, Connect Detroit, and Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation came together once again, engaging more than 8,000 youth in virtual career exploration, vocational and entrepreneurship training, and financial literacy. Fifty in-person placements were also offered by Barton Malow and Ford Motor Company. The program provided 120 hours of experience over six weeks, for which participants received stipends. The Department of Neighborhoods worked with a credit union to enable remote account opening.

Pooling funds for rapid response

Corporate, philanthropic, and individual donors came together to pool nearly $36 million into a regional fund facilitated by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. The COVID-19 Community Response Fund allowed for swift, coordinated distribution of dollars to support the urgent needs of families during the pandemic. Nearly 10,000 volunteers took action through the fund and more than 1,000 local nonprofit organizations received funding for their front-line efforts.

Informing and conversing with Detroiters

To connect Detroit residents with health experts and state leaders, 482Forward, Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, Detroit Parent Network, and Brightmoor Alliance mobilized a network of community organizations, in partnership with the City of Detroit and Detroit Public Television, to produce weekly tele-townhalls. The COVID313 Community Coalition tele-townhalls reach 12,000 families per week, serving as a central resource for Detroiters get the latest information they need to best navigate life during the pandemic. The COVID313 tele-townhall series was a finalist in the 2020 “Local That Works” national competition that recognizes powerful collaborations between public media and community. The tele-townhalls live stream every Thursday at noon on Detroit Public TV’s Facebook page. Past townhalls are archived on the Detroit Public TV’s website.

Making postsecondary education obtainable

Led by the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Detroit Regional Talent Compact launched in the fall of 2020 to bring together stakeholders from business, philanthropy, government, K-12 and higher education to accomplish two goals: (1) increase the postsecondary attainment rate to 60%; and (2) reduce the racial equity gap by half by 2030. The Detroit Regional Talent Compact’s vision is a Detroit with systems, policies, and resources that allow every resident to access and succeed in postsecondary education, leading to careers that fill our region’s talent needs while allowing our citizens to earn a family-sustaining wage and contribute to the economic and social well-being of our communities.

Retooling Michigan’s K-12 system

Launch Michigan—a statewide partnership of business, education, labor, philanthropy, and civic leaders, as well as parents—is working to transform Michigan’s K-12 system. Informed by local educator insights as well as national best practices, Launch Michigan gets recommendations in front of Michigan policy makers. To help lawmakers get a deeper understanding of the impacts of the pandemic on learning, Launch Michigan issued a statewide survey, conducted focus groups, and developed policy recommendations for immediate and long-term supports to buffer the pandemic’s impact on learning.

Coordinating Services for Kids

The Mayor’s Office, Detroit Parks and Recreation Department, The Skillman Foundation, and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, convened over 50 community leaders from parent organizations, schools, early childcare providers, city leadership, and youth-serving nonprofit organizations to ensure safe spaces for Detroit kids during the summer and fall of 2020. The collaborative identified best practices on how to open facilities safely, address youth and family needs, launch online resources for families, and foster shared planning and learning.

Literacy providers have been organizing together under 313Reads!, a coalition dedicated to increasing access to literacy support for young children in Detroit with the goal of every child reading at grade level by third grade. 313Reads! advances citywide change by democratically determining goals and facilitating communication between grassroots efforts and system-level leaders. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, 313Reads! partners BookNook, Developing KIDS, Center for Success, Wellspring Detroit, and Springboard Collaborative provided literacy programs to more than 1,500 children.


Detroiters have been working together, bridging differences in perspective and approach, and combining strengths to take on the city’s most pressing issues. Continued partnership between residents, nonprofits, public institutions, businesses, philanthropy, and civic leaders is critical to rebuilding a more just, prosperous, and healthy community.

We’re proud of the work Detroit has put in and we’re eager to see progress continue. Working arm-in-arm reaps many great rewards, but none greater than knowing we did it for our kids.  

The Skillman Foundation

The Skillman Foundation is a grantmaking organization established in 1960 by Rose Skillman. We have granted out more than $730 million and have served as a vocal advocate to strengthen K-12 education, afterschool programming, child-centered neighborhoods, youth and community leadership, and racial equity and justice.

We are in the process of developing a new strategic framework, co-designed with Detroit youth and their champions.

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