Last month, Detroit and the surrounding metro area was hit with extraordinary rainfall, resulting in power outages and extensive flooding. Many of the city’s highways became filled with water and impassable, and flooding caused severe damage to homes and properties – including several buildings on Wayne State’s campus. The state has been granted a federal disaster declaration, which will provide aid to flood-affected individuals, and clean-up efforts continue – led often by volunteers who choose to come to a disaster site and help others in need.
In a gesture of goodwill and community, Wayne State coordinated with housing partner Corvias to open its doors to provide lodging and parking to volunteers supporting flood relief in Detroit. Approximately 50 volunteers from two national organizations were invited to stay at the Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments for the month of July. WSU hosted volunteers from Team Rubicon, a network of veterans who mobilize around disaster preparedness and response, and NECHAMA, a Jewish disaster relief organization that offers services following natural disasters.
The in-kind support from WSU and Corvias, valued at more than $50,000, was facilitated by WSU’s Housing and Residential Life team; Mary Lloyd, Secretary of the Michigan Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), and Ginna Holmes, executive director of Michigan Community Service Commission. The commission is the state’s lead agency on volunteerism and service. It is housed within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and serves as a liaison to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, AmeriCorps, and national and local agencies to coordinate and support services and volunteer efforts.
“These volunteer groups work wonders. They are extremely organized and efficient in their efforts,” Holmes said. “We are so fortunate they are here to work with local leaders to aid flood recovery and so glad to see the support they’ve received.”
While in Detroit, Team Rubicon and NECHAMA focused on supporting residential flood cleanup and remediation efforts. Team Rubicon volunteers came from across the nation, keeping with their mission of serving vulnerable and at-risk populations, who are often disparately impacted by the financial burdens of natural disasters.
NECHAMA brings together volunteers from across the nation to provide immediate services and lay the groundwork for future recovery efforts in communities affected by disaster. Some of NECHAMA’s volunteers are drawn to helping impacted communities because of their own personal experiences with a natural disaster, including Operations Director Dorothy Maples, whose hometown was impacted by an F-5 tornado in 2011.
“I had the honor to see what it meant for strangers to become friends and friends to become family when you stepped up to help one another. People came from all over the world to help my hometown and it forever changed me,” Maples said. “I knew from that moment I needed to continue to pay it forward. Our volunteers show up to assist those impacted by natural disasters and inspire each other to continue to serve in their communities. It’s important to find what inspires you and your community to make it a better place for everyone. It is our pleasure to be in Detroit assisting those impacted by the flooding.”
Christina Bowen, WSU’s director of summer conferences, coordinated efforts to ensure the volunteers had the best possible experience while on campus. The Anthony Wayne Drive apartments, WSU’s newest housing unit, are equipped with full kitchens, private baths and an in-building laundry.
“These volunteers have traveled away from their homes and comforts to help Detroiters,” said Bowen. “Hosting them on campus allows us to provide them a comfortable, convenient home away from home.”
The university has been generous with housing support in the past – in April 2020, Wayne State partnered with Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center to house medical professionals, who were working long shifts and had safety concerns about returning home from work during the height of the pandemic, at Atchison Hall.
“Even when Wayne State is dealing directly with the impact of a crisis, like the recent flooding or the pandemic, we remain committed to supporting Detroit,” said Tim Michael, associate vice president of student auxiliary services and chief housing officer. “These volunteers, who work tirelessly to support those in need, are an inspiration for us and we’re proud to be able to provide this service.”