The Soul of Service: The new Repair the World-Moishe House in Detroit aims to build a community of volunteerism

I should be long gone from Michigan by now. Like most New Yorkers who move here to attend school in Ann Arbor, I had no intention of staying.

Still, after graduating last December, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. First, I chalked it up to not wanting my college experience to end and not wanting to leave my friends, my house and, of course, Michigan athletics. But as I watched most of my friends and classmates pick up and move, I realized it was more than that. Michigan had become a part of me.

That’s why I’ll spend the next year of my life immersed in helping the heart of Michigan — Detroit — and joining one of the Jewish world’s most innovative new ventures: a residence dedicated to building a community of volunteerism.
This past week, I moved, along with three other 20-somethings, into a Repair the World-Moishe House in the Woodbridge area in Detroit. We didn’t know each other much beforehand, but we share a common desire to make a difference in the world.

The idea is simple, really: We want to build a center for volunteerism for other young Jews like ourselves. That’s why we will be inviting anyone we know — and anyone they might know — to join us for both social and service-related events and activities.

The House is an amazing chance for us to put into practice our ideas about helping others and activism, and to build something concrete around what for many our age may seem like a nice — but abstract — idea.

I got to understand the power of volunteerism when I was 16. I met Rodney, an 8-year-old boy who had recently lost both of his parents, and I had the honor of mentoring him through the Salvation Army Daycare in Hempstead, N.Y.

Since then, volunteerism has been a constant for me, whether it’s working with preschoolers at Head Start in Ann Arbor or setting up window displays at the Ten Thousand Villages in Austin, Texas.

In college, I learned about Detroit from textbooks and the news. Academically, I understood the city’s ups and downs. But it wasn’t until I took the last elective I needed for my public policy degree that I really embraced Detroit for all these ups and downs and started to connect my past volunteerism with a new passion. I realized that I wanted to help Detroit.

As I learned about incredible service opportunities here, for the first time I saw a career in helping others. I realized that if I really want to follow my heart and actually make a difference, this is the place to be.

This Repair the World-Moishe House project is designed for people like me.
My new friends and I, the residents of the Repair-Moishe House, will each have full-time day jobs. And in our spare time, we’ll work to encourage others our age to volunteer to help Detroit.

I’ll be working with underprivileged communities through AmeriCorps VISTA; Brad Snider will continue his urban development work in Mexicantown; Rachel Klegon will continue to run the nonprofit Green Living Science; and Josh Kantor will work with NEXTGen engagement at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

(In the coming months, they’ll each share with you in these pages more about their initiatives, thoughts and experiences. And, of course, we’ll give you updates about how the house is progressing.)

We spent most of the summer searching for a four-bedroom house in a neighborhood that is both accessible to young people and that would provide a solid home base for service projects.

After weeks of dead ends, we found the perfect house in the perfect location at 4446 Commonwealth St. in Woodbridge.  I can count the number of times I’ve been to Woodbridge on one hand. But it’s exactly what we wanted — a diverse and dynamic community anchored by organizations like the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation and Woodbridge Community Youth Center (WCYC), with which we will work closely.

We’re not sure exactly what all of our service projects will look like down the road, or what projects, programs and partnerships will fill our Repair-Moishe House.But we are starting close to home with our first volunteer event: Painting the batting-cage room in the WCYC to make it resemble a baseball stadium.
From there, we hope to create sustainable partnerships with other groups both in Woodbridge and broader Detroit to make a positive difference here.

I’m excited, and I embrace our House’s mission to mobilize Jewish young adults toward service in Detroit. Because, while I may still have a slight New York accent, and I’ll probably always say “soda” instead of “pop,” there is something about this place — its rich history and tremendous potential — that makes me proud to now call it home.

Devon Rubenstein works with underprivileged communities through AmeriCorps VISTA and is a resident of the new Repair the World- Moishe House in the Woodbridge area in Detroit.