June 19, 2019

Auntie Na’s Village nets second $150,000 grant from Kresge Foundation

Photography by Lana Antwan

A Detroit community organization that inspired Wayne State University School of Medicine students to rehabilitate a vacant home in the Nardin Park/Russell Woods neighborhood into a free student-run medical clinic for surrounding residents has won a second grant from The Kresge Foundation.

Sonia Brown of Auntie Na's Village speakers with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib at an afternoon ceremony to award a $150,000 Kresge Foundation grant to the nonprofit organization on Detroit's west side, part of Tlaib's district.

Auntie Na’s House received the 2019 Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit grant of $150,000 during an afternoon ceremony June 15 at 12041 Yellowstone St. The event was attended by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Her district includes Yellowstone Street, at Elmhurst Avenue on Detroit’s west side, the site of Auntie Na’s House, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. The organization will use the funds to renovate the “Nutrition House” next to the “Medical House,” and will include a commercial kitchen for cooperatives, a free food bank, and space for nutrition education and counseling.

The Nutrition House will be part of “Auntie Na’s Village” -- houses being remodeled or rebuilt this year on the same street as Auntie Na’s, a colorful two-story home owned by Sonia Brown that has been in one family for six generations. A Kresge Foundation grant supported the Medical House renovation a year ago.

“Auntie Na’s Village is a great example, in my mind, of a community development organization that provides a unique opportunity for Wayne State students to engage with Detroit residents where they live,” said Lakshman Mulpuri, vice president of the Auntie Na’s Student Organization founded in 2017.

Brown told The Detroit News that she attributes the growth to the students at WSU who applied at the last minute for the grant and thought it was best to "provide a complete circle of food."

“We'll be using the garden to teach our children and community residents how to utilize fresh food from the garden, take it into the kitchen, teach them to can, preserve and prepare meals,” she said. “The community themselves will have access to these as well by taking cooking classes, and we’ll utilize the space for events and shared kitchen space for entrepreneurs. We want to show that healthy food is accessible.”

Mulpuri co-wrote the Kresge grant application with the help of medical student Zaid Mohsen and others on the team.

Wayne State University School of Medicine medical students Zaid Mohsen and Lakshman Mulpuri speak with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib about their vision for the Auntie Na's Nutrition House.

“Although Zaid and I represent ANSO, we also are deeply involved with the facilitation of projects at Auntie Na’s currently,” he said.

“Too often resources for Detroiters are confined to the boundaries of midtown and downtown for a variety of reasons. However, without a proper public transportation system or close locations, residents are unable to take advantage of all that the city of Detroit and Wayne State has to offer the city. By serving as an extension of the work Auntie Na – Sonia Brown – and her family has been providing for her neighborhood for decades, we have earned the trust of the community. Without her blessing, however, it would be difficult for us to facilitate these services, a problem frequently encountered by the city and other nonprofit organizations,” Mulpuri said.

Auntie Na has been a guiding light for those in need, especially those in crisis, by providing food, clothing and shelter, he said. They hope to develop services that help those who are most underserved, and also empower residents of Nardin Park/Russell Woods to better their health and their communities.

“This is why the nutrition house is such a powerful idea that I'm proud to say we can now implement. By working closely with residents and community members around Detroit, we can provide a sustainable means of improving our community members’ health with cheap, quick, accessible and healthy meals. This is further augmented by our urban farm and robust corner store program that we are proud to have developed,” Mulpuri added.

The student organization includes students from across the WSU campus, such as public health students, medical students, urban planning students and undergraduates.