At an intern bonfire (bond-fire) late one evening, the question was posed: how does one describe a summer at Motown? What do you tell people about this experience? The answers I’ve given to folks back home vary, though in every case I tell the truth. I might grin and say it’s wonderful to a friend, and then call home frustrated and upset and say it’s miserable. To give a fuller picture I thought I might detail a complete response here. Motown Mission has been, to quote fellow intern Kaitlyn, the “best-worst” summer ever, and it’s difficult to sum up what it’s like to live in intentional community, work with multitudes of people, and spend time in a city like Detroit. The idea of a “best-worst” summer feels accurate because it has simultaneously been one of the most difficult and incredible times in my life.
The workdays are very rewarding because our volunteer crews create a visible impact. The day may start off with peeling paint, weeds, trash, or broken sinks, but it always ends with a fresh coat, a clean bed, neatly tied bags, and new plumbing. The work we do makes a difference, and we receive great appreciation from the community. Personally, I feel like I have learned a lot about myself, and grown immensely in my independence, leadership skills, and problem solving abilities. I see myself as more confident, able to articulate myself, and in a better place in terms of discerning my call and mission in life. I met volunteers from all across the state and country, and Detroit natives that had been with city in good times and bad. The relationships I’ve built, with interns, volunteers, and homeowners alike, have profoundly affected me, with everyday interactions turning into deep connections. We say it at every evening devotional, but the city is truly full of hope. There is energy, art, beauty, and love all around, and being present in that is awe-inspiring, especially at a time when the city is moving to revival, resurgence, and renewal. Best summer ever.
In no way, shape, or form has it been easy. Adjusting to the realities of Detroit, and city living in general, was a change from my pretty sheltered life in Ann Arbor. Bulletproof glass, dilapidated structures, and abandoned lots are constant reminders of the history of Detroit and all of the struggles and challenges that still need to be overcome. For all of the abandoned lots we did clean, there are dozens to go and the dent we made is small. Among the interns, at times it was tough to navigate the shared roles of coworkers, roommates, and friends; and, as anyone who has ever worked in customer service knows, taking care of the needs of our volunteers and shaping their experience positively was draining.
Despite all the challenges and day-to-day difficulties, I find that the positive aspects of this summer shine out the most clearly. I’m going to remember late-night Mercury Bar milkshakes, indie art galleries, bike rides around Wayne State, shawarmas from Bucharest Grill, and sunsets and movies on the roof. I’ll remember sweating on worksites, singing at devotions, and praying for each other in intentional community. And, of course, I’m going to remember the many charismatic and caring individuals I’ve met throughout the summer; the relationships I’ve built with them and with the city of Detroit are connections I will treasure. Motown Mission has definitely been an experience, and I wouldn’t want to have worked anywhere else this summer.
Katie Grosh is a sophomore at Carleton College.