by Devon Rubenstein and Emily Phillips

If you told us when we were still students at the University of Michigan that we would graduate to organizing monthly service days for Michigan State, we would have said, “Thanks but no thanks, AmeriCorps!” Of course, we are only kidding, but the rivalry did have a funny way of initially affecting our enthusiasm for the partnership. And yet the true colors of volunteering have overcome school colors to create Destination Detroit. 
Destination Detroit is a partnership of Repair the World and MSU Hillel, which brings diverse student groups together through service and shared experiences in Detroit. On monthly Fridays throughout the year, groups of about 40 students come from East Lansing to Detroit for a fun-filled day of volunteering, sightseeing and, of course, food. The participating groups include:
  • Arab Cultural Society
  • Asian Pacific American Student Organization
  • Black Student Alliance
  • Camp Kesem
  • Culturas de las Razas Unidas
  • The Greek Community
  • Jewish Student Union
  • Student Housing Cooperative (Co-Op)

For our most recent Destination Detroit, we partnered with Davison, a Detroit elementary and middle school known for its dedicated teachers and creative curriculum. For a testament to Davison’s commitment to education, look no further than Judy Robinson, who recently retired after teaching kindergarten at Davison for 39 years, still volunteers there, and was integral to bringing Destination Detroit to her school.

Davison has attracted a large population of Detroit and Hamtramck’s recent immigrants from Bangladesh. (More on Hamtramck below.) and attracts a large population of Bengali students. The diversity of both the Davison and MSU students enriched everyone’s experience, but the day’s theme — Science Rules! — showed us we had more in common than we thought.

Room One: Ecosystem Art!
How could college volunteers and elementary school students who’d never met before create individual works of science-themed art that would then be combined to beautify the school? Enthusiastically, it turns out. Each grade tackled an ecosystem — ocean, desert, and forest — with students and volunteers decorating their own sheets using found objects like pine needles, cotton balls, paper bags, and shiny fragments from old CDs (ones we feverishly broke prior with gloves and bolt cutters). While each kid’s picture was great on its own, the truly spectacular part of the project was seeing hundreds of these pictures collaged together and mounted in the hallway.

Room Two: Science Experiments!
Pennies don’t command much respect as currency these days, but they are are great for experiments. 1. Inertia: resting pennies on an index card on a cup and trying to get pennies to drop directly into a cup while only moving the index card. (It’s harder than it sounds.) 2. Chemical Reactions: testing to see whether dish soap or hot sauce (Sriracha, in case you’re curious) would clean the tarnish off pennies. If you’re anything like our friends a Davison, you’ll be amazed by which worked.

Room Three: Food Chain!
Classes created their own ecological rock-paper-scissors with predator, prey and producer — replete with pantomime. For example, lion eats antelope, which eats grass, which survives lion. Elementary and college students faced off repeatedly, transitioning accordingly (i.e. in Lion vs. Antelope, Lion stayed Lion and Antelope became Lion) and learning about ecological balance and interdependence in the most chaotic way imaginable.

Destination Detroit blends service and Detroit experiences in a way that always manages to excite, engage and exhaust everyone. After many hugs and high fives at Davison, the MSU students ventured into the cold for a tour of the amazing work by Powerhouse Productions, including the Ride It Sculpture Park, Sound House and Power House. Then, out of the cold — and, for that matter, out of Detroit — to Hamtramck, a city surrounded by the City. At the Polish Art Center, we learned from residents (experts and authors) about the rich immigrant history that preceded the current wave of Bengalis and Yemenis who now fill many of Hamtramck’s homes and storefronts. And the trip would not have been complete without pierogi, stuffed cabbage and more from Polonia.