Four things I learned from three years at Motown Mission Experience

This summer marks the third year I have worked for Motown Mission, so I would like to share the top four things I have learned from working at this outstanding nonprofit in Detroit.

  1. Working in the City of Detroit: Detroit is often depicted as a dangerous place full of crime. In three years working in the city, I have never run into any problems, in fact, the Detroiters who I have worked with are outstanding people who care about revitalizing their communities. This city has been through a lot, but it continues to work towards a stronger community and a better future. Detroit is an exciting place right now; there are many new businesses entering and thriving in the city, Detroit is considered the U.S.’s capital of urban farming, and there are many block clubs around the city working on improving their neighborhoods.

  2. Serving alongside the people of Detroit: Our goal at Motown Mission is not to just work for the people of Detroit, it is also to work alongside these people to transform peoples’ lives, the city, and the world. The people we work with are grateful to have help completing a home repair job that they have needed for years, or for working alongside the volunteers on an urban farm to provide fruits and vegetables to a community where good produce is scarce. Detroiters have been resilient throughout the tough years, and they are ready for the city to make a comeback. Serving with motivated and driven people is what makes the Motown Mission Experience such a unique experience. It is important to remember that we are not here to ‘save’ the city or its residents; instead we focus on bringing awareness to the work that still needs to be done, and to lend an extra hand to work where it is needed.

  3. Project Coordinating:This has been my first summer project coordinating for Motown Mission and it has been exciting and challenging. Before the groups arrive at Motown, they send in preferences for the work they want to do for the week; whether it is light home repair, gardening work, demolition, etc. It is then my job to take these preferences and create an ideal work week full of different projects and nonprofit work from around the city. Some days it can be a challenge to coordinate between project partners and volunteers, but I enjoy seeing the volunteers come back from their work day and tell me how great their service experience was.

  4. Working with Volunteers: Volunteer groups are what make Motown Mission so special. Groups come from all over the country to serve in the city of Detroit and every group is unique and brings its own set of gifts to the city. One of my favorite parts of working at Motown Mission is watching the youth experience a transformation in their love of service and their appreciation for the city. Volunteers’ enthusiasm for service is the reason I return to Motown year after year.

I always tell people who are interested in working at Motown that it will be one of the best/worst summers of their life. Motown has presented its fair share of challenges, and helped me grow tremendously personally and professionally. These summers have been wonderful, and I would like to thank all of the MME staff members that I have worked with and the volunteers for that.

Kaitlyn Szczypka is a senior at Michigan State University, studying public policy and history.

Haec urbs resurgit – This city rises


Early last week I was working on Detroit’s West Side, putting a fresh layer of paint on an old, wooden garage with a team of volunteers from Lambertville, MI. That morning, my colleague Will and I had—quite unwittingly—decided to wear matching maroon T-shirts. The maroon T-shirts were an old edition of the Motown Mission shirt that featured the organization’s logo on the front and on the back, “Speramus Meliora – Resurget Cineribus – FOUNDATION.

That afternoon, Will asked me what the Latin on our shirts meant. I’d studied Latin for a few years a while back and had a very rough idea of the meaning. I knew “speramus” was a verb meaning ‘we hope,’ “meliora” a sort of adjective meaning ‘better,’ “resurget” a future verb meaning ‘he/she/it will rise’ and that “cineribus,” judging from its ending, was a noun.

But it bothered me that after five years of Latin I couldn’t figure out what “cineribus” meant. Frustrated and embarrassed, I turned to my last resort—a Google search on my phone. I quickly found that “cineribus” is the ablative form of ‘ashes.’ Of course! The etymology seemed blindingly obvious—‘cines/cineres’… cinders, cinderblock, etc.

Translated, the Latin on our shirts mean, “We hope for better things – It will rise from the ashes.” After the Detroit Fire of 1805, French priest Gabriel Richard penned this double motto; the words have since become the motto of Detroit.

Father Richard’s words, though over two centuries old, are more relevant than ever and center my work with Motown Mission this summer. Our T-shirt this year is even more direct, with the word “Hopetown” emblazoned across the front.

I’ve now spent a month working in Detroit, and though we confront bleakness and blight nearly every day, far more compelling is the evidence of hope across the city.

A couple weeks ago I was in a neighborhood on the North End, shadowing some Motown volunteers who’d come all the way from Maryland. It was a trying, stressful, and hectic day, as my colleague Kirsten and I ran around, making sure volunteers had work to do at different sites, running to the church again and again to pick up supplies, and making runs to the hardware store for painting tools.

That afternoon, I met an extraordinary Detroiter. She owns a house in the North End and the structure is worse for wear. I’ve no intention to romanticize or sentimentalize her house’s condition, so I plainly state: the front porch is missing, half the exterior wooden paneling is gone, the rooms lack proper walls or ceilings, the house currently lacks running water, and there were no stairs to the second floor; the homeowner was using a ladder to get to her room on the upper level.

That day, skilled volunteers installed two brand-new doors at her front and side entrances. And once they finished doing that, they built new stairs for the homeowner to reach the second floor.

I see in this extraordinary woman and her home the very embodiment of hope within Detroit. You should’ve heard the way she talked to us, beaming, about her plans for the future and her family. She intends to continue remodeling the house, and even has plans for ecologically friendly practices such as solar panels and geothermal energy.

As cool as all that is, what affected me the most was her pride in her home, even with all the work that still must be done. She inherited the house from a family member. Once remodeled, the house will become a home for her own grandchildren.

There are far too many false, racist narratives about this incredible city and its citizens; narratives focusing on flight, stereotypes of African-American families and parenting, and ‘lazy’ people doing nothing to save their city. The homeowner I worked with in the North End is irrefutable proof of the lies and injustice of the naysayers’ words. She is a proud, tireless woman who is energetically investing in her family, her home, and her future. She is one of countless Detroiters tied to and tying this community together with family, decades-old roots, and a vision for the future grounded in the work of the present.

I chose to work with Motown Mission this summer so that I could take part in the vital mission before us. That is, working with and alongside the unshakeable people of Detroit to transform this city.

To tell the truth, I think “Resurget Cineribus” is a bit outdated as a motto. Why? “Resurget” is in future tense—it will rise from the ashes. But that’s wrong. Resurgit Cineribus… Detroit rises from the ashes of its past. Present tense.

Jonathan Jue-Wong is a native of Ann Arbor and a senior at Oberlin College, studying history and religion. This is his first summer with Motown Mission.

Forging a New Relationship

I grew up in Novi, which is a suburb 30 minutes west of Detroit. My family is from Detroit, though - my parents grew up in the city, and my grandparents and great-grandparents all lived in the city.

The dialogue about Detroit in my family has always featured a dichotomy of us and them. This thinking divides Metro Detroit across a variety of lines - race, class, and Eight Mile. Most of my family members had strong opinions about things that were going on in Detroit, but they were distinctly opinions of people who left the city, consistently affirming that decision. As a kid, I thought this was oversimplified, but didn't know any more than that.

When I moved to the other side of the state for college, I started to notice things that made it clear that I grew up in Metro Detroit. In my freshman year, I noticed that not everyone had a minor obsession with identifying car models, and that not all adults knew their way around Detroit. It was clear to me that I had some kind of relationship to the city, but I didn’t know what that was, or what it meant.

I’m here this summer because I want to forge that relationship for myself. I want to gain a better understanding of the city, independant of my family’s baggage.

I’m also here to foster spiritual transformation. In middle and high school, I didn’t like going to church, but I loved going to camp. For me, it was a place where I could connect with God on my own terms, and a place where I could ask questions. I felt like I was at home when I went to camp, a feeling that I didn’t have anywhere else.

When I was in high school, I also went to Appalachia Service Project. ASP is like Motown Mission - they send groups of youth to fix up homes in Appalachia. I found a great deal of meaning in the experiance of moving out of my comfort zone to serve others. It also made me want to find other ways to serve.

I doubt that I was alone in that. For a lot of youth, sitting in a church pew isn't much of a spiritual experiance. Even now, I feel closer to God when I'm working in the garden at Michigan Urban Farming Initative than when I'm singing a hymn indoors. Combining the outdoors, service work, and God has been transformational for me, and I want to provide that same transformational experience for young people.

Samantha Macy is a senior at Western Michigan University, where she studies Public Relations.

Let Me Introduce Motown…


“What is Motown Mission?”

“What do you do?”

“Why do you do these things?”

These are questions that I am asked frequently when I say that I’m a Motown Mission Intern. Allow me to field some of these questions for you. First, let me introduce myself. Hello, my name is Cameron Davis, Detroit native, recent college graduate from Adrian College, and third-time returning intern for this amazing program aiding in the revival of this glorious city I call home.

Now, let me answer those questions about Motown. Motown Mission is a non-profit volunteer commissioning program partnered with numerous project partners in and around Detroit and the greater-Detroit area. Currently, we are mostly a facilitating program focused on housing, feeding, and providing worksites for volunteer groups to do missional work. We are partnered with amazing programs revolving around home repair, greening, and feeding while dabbling in Bible studies and youth programs. We send our volunteers to programs like: Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), Motor City Blight Busters, Rippling Hope, Neighbors Building Brightmore, Joy-Southfield Community Development Organization, etc. All of our partners with an established name in their respective areas of work focus. With MUFI, we are trying to feed the North-End/New Center neighborhoods with fresh produce from their backyard. With Blight Busters, we are removing dilapidated buildings and turning them into manageable properties or revamping them into small gardens or other community-oriented structures. Neighbors Building Brightmore, Joy-Southfield, and Rippling Hope all aim at beautifying, upkeep, and minor home repairs for communities with disadvantaged homeowners who would, otherwise, have no means for making/keeping their living space livable.

Now, onto answering why I do this work. I work with Motown Mission because of the incredible stories, the tears of happiness, the smiles, the hard-worked, hot summer days ending with the satisfaction knowing what you did for the past eight hours made a visible and significant difference in the community. I also work with Motown Mission because this is my home. These are only a few of the reasons why I continue to serve through Motown Mission and hopefully some of these reasons resonate with you or others that can motivate and solidify the drive to serve this summer or any time in the future with Motown Mission.

Cameron Davis is a recent Adrian College graduate with a degree in business administration and three-time returner to Motown Mission. This summer you will find Cam in Metropolitan UMC’s kitchen, coordinating meals for Motown and handling all tasks dubbed hospitality.