Now almost 2 months since I first landed in Detroit, I look back to my fateful meeting with Paula, to the moment I first became passionate about working in community, and I see how far I have come. If my time with Paula and volunteering back at home showed me the importance of community engagement, then the DukeEngage Detroit program taught me how to create impact through nonprofit consulting.
I learned that work in the nonprofit space is never-ending and ever-changing. I came into this program expecting to work on program evaluations for TechTown, and I left having completed a database of contacts, alumni engagement recommendations, a client journey map, and much more. Looking back, this change was to be expected in the nonprofit world since nonprofits must change to address the needs and priorities of their community. From this experience, I learned to have the perseverance to work on many different side tasks without losing focus on my main goals.
Additionally, I learned that working in community means equal parts working and being in community. Because my project was practically completely virtual, I could easily work from my room. I could finish all my work this way, but then I would lose sight of who my work is for. Going to TechTown’s office, popular cafes, and other workspaces during the weekdays while exploring the city on the weekends helped me stay connected with the community I am serving. Not only did this ensure my final recommendations would remain relevant, but it also helped me truly experience Detroit’s culture and pride as a city.
Lastly, I learned that although my work may not be revolutionary, it is still valuable as a catalyst for future change. Sometimes nonprofit consulting feels pointless because I am telling the experts what they already know, but in reality my recommendations are validation and further evidence for TechTown to move forward with needed changes. TechTown and other nonprofits value DukeEngage students for our outside perspective, whether that be for new ideas or for validating and expanding on existing ones. So I learned to take pride in my work, remembering that change takes time, perseverance, and every valuable contribution from both within and outside.
These are just some of the things I have learned and only a glance at a portion of my overall life in Detroit. I sincerely thank Angeline and the rest of TechTown, my partner Mick, as well as Matt, Katherine, Madeline, and my fellows for making this summer an experience I will never forget!