DETROIT- Terry Ryan from the Michigan AIDS Coalition has organized the year-long AmeriCorps service programs for the past six years. At the July 6 end-of-service awards ceremony, he was full of gratitude and pride as he said goodbye to a group of young activists who worked hard during the past year.
“Every team takes on a collaborative personality,” Ryan said. “This team, of all the teams I remember, has required the least training and direction. They banded together from the beginning, and I admire their long-term vision.”
Working with area organizations such as the Michigan AIDS Coalition, Community Health Alternatives, Detroit Health Department, Transgender Michigan, Alternatives for Girls and Detroit Latinos, the seven team members created a remarkable list of accomplishments. They gave hundreds of HIV tests, worked at needle exchange programs and educated about AIDS prevention. The group volunteered at a Chicago animal rescue, transformed a run-down Detroit school storage space into a freshly-painted multipurpose room, sorted donations at a food bank and much more.
One project that particularly impressed Ryan was the 650-can sculpture of Faygo Red Pop containers into the shape of a larger-than-life-size AIDS ribbon. The sculpture was a conversation piece at Motor City Pride, and it’s now a reminder of AIDS awareness for visitors to Alternatives for Girls.
But the ribbon itself was not nearly as impressive as the way Team 14 pulled together to handle the obstacles that came its way. The team hoped to create a sculpture out of old car parts and to place it permanently at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit. But the plan came with a $50,000 price tag that the team ultimately could not raise in donations.
“We put so much time into the idea that we didn’t want to give it up completely,” said team member Heather O’Neil. The group wanted to stick with a Motor City theme, and that Faygo seemed like a good fit that was more in its budget. But there were still problems even after the change. “It fell apart a couple of times,” she said. “Finally we used a mix of wire, glue and clear tape and we finally got it right. But it took a lot of trial and error.”
In addition to learning team-building and problem-solving skills, the youth were able grow as individuals too.
Emma Krasicky transitioned this year, finding the work with Transgender Michigan a supportive place to live her first year comfortably as Emma. Serving as the first office manager for Transgender Michigan, Krasicky helped group establish its first brick-and-mortar location at the Community Pride Building in Ferndale.
“This has been the best year of my life so far,” she said. “I started my AmeriCorps year just after a month of beginning my physical transition. There were a lot of physical challenges and I’ve never volunteered in a group like this before.” When Transgender Michigan founder Rachel Crandall first encouraged Krasicky to do the program, Krasicky wasn’t so sure. Now she’s glad she did it: “It has really changed my life,” she said.
Michael Wallace shared his passion for online social media with his host organization AIDS United. He built the group’s following on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Juno. Wallace even captured the attention of Channel 7 Action News, which read one of his tweets and invited members of the AmeriCorps team for an on-air interview. Wallace will return next year as team coordinator for Team 15.
As Sarah Detloff finished her final day as team coordinator for Team 14, she wondered what the future would bring. “It will be strange not doing AmeriCorps next year since I’ve been doing it for two years now,” she said. “I’ll miss everyone so much.”
Another member, Chardae Rowe, has been offered a paid staff position at her host organization, Alternatives for Girls.
Ryan forward to running the AmeriCorps program again next year through his office at MAC. “In 26 years of fighting HIV, this is the most rewarding thing I do,” he said. “This group has renewed and revalidated for me why I am doing this.”
To learn more about AmeriCorps AIDS United Team Detroit, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TeamDetroit?v=info. To learn more about MAC go to http://michiganaidscoalition.org/.