Growing out of pandemic, Engage@EMU resource guide transforms into long-term community asset

The Engage@EMU Resource Guide for Washtenaw and Wayne Counties offers a list of local supportive resources in ebook format and organized by categories.
A resource guide, created by Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Engage@EMU office for the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, is shaping up to be a long-term help to Washtenaw County residents.

The Engage@EMU Resource Guide for Washtenaw and Wayne Counties offers a list of local supportive resources in ebook format and organized by categories, including child care, COVID-19 information, food, and organizations that accept donations. Temporary resources are marked with a special icon to denote that the item may change in the future.

"It's easily navigable for people in a crunch situation, and it's a living document. We plan to update it every year and put out a new version each fall," says Tyler Calhoun, communications and operations coordinator for Engage@EMU. "It's an open process, and we always want people to reach out with things they have or know about."

However, the resource guide started as a humble spreadsheet created at the start of the pandemic by Janice Lee, who was then a grad assistant with Engage@EMU. The pandemic put many of Lee's regular duties on hold.
Engage@EMU Resource Guide creator Janice Lee.
"The school was shut down and we weren't sure what was going on, but everyone was realizing we had to pivot, to get together and figure things out," Lee says. 

Engage@EMU staff discussed how to gather all the resources they were learning about and put them in one place to share with people and organizations Engage@EMU was connected to. Lee says she created the spreadsheet mainly to keep things in order for herself so she could easily share the information.

"It was surprising how fast people were able to take what they or their organization had and shift it into something that was helpful and needed in the community," Lee says. "It was also surprising, the openness of everyone to being willing to contribute to and share the resource guide. It really grew out of everyone's contributions."

Lee finished her studies and moved on to another job shortly after creating the spreadsheet. When Calhoun came on board at Engage@EMU, he was offered the task of updating the guide.

"It was great and useful, but hard to read and difficult to find what you were looking for," Calhoun says. Luckily, Calhoun had recent experience using FlipHTML software to create interactive ebooks.

"I thought, why not find a way to take this resource spreadsheet and turn it into a book, an interactive guide where it's easy to find what you're looking for?" Calhoun says.
Engage@EMU Student Coordinator Denise Jimenez.
Student Coordinator Denise Jimenez was on the team that worked with Calhoun to update the resource spreadsheet and turn it into a book. It took some time to update the contact information for all the organizations, delete resources that were no longer available, and add new resources.

"We designed it to be accessible so that people who have e-readers can easily click on it, and it'll send you to [the homepage of] another organization," Jimenez says. 

Jimenez says student workers learned a lot about what's available in the community and what isn't. She learned, for instance, that the pandemic was hitting elders in the community harder than she expected in terms of being able to find transportation, get groceries, or meet other basic needs.

"I thought they had their own resources, but no, they needed more help than we thought," she says. "It's also nice to read about all the volunteer opportunities out there, from working at a food pantry to sending thank-you letters to making masks."

Calhoun says he was surprised by how many resources were available in Washtenaw County that he wasn't previously aware of, and how much need there is.
Engage@EMU Communications and Operations Coordinator Tyler Calhoun.
"So many resources are available, but also, so many are not. Some sections in the guide have 10 pages, and some only have three entries," he says. "In our county, a lot of specific challenges are getting support and attention, but I'm curious about where those gaps are, how they were made worse by the pandemic, and how they're being addressed. I'm interested to see what we change and what sections get bigger."

Calhoun notes that, while Engage@EMU staff and student workers put the book together, it was a community effort.

"Resources came from everywhere in the community," Calhoun says. He notes that staff at Parkridge Community Center and Ypsilanti Community Schools provided "a wealth of knowledge" and helped Engage@EMU expand its existing network throughout the community.

Calhoun says it just makes sense to collect information about available resources in one place.
The Engage@EMU Resource Guide.
"We live in a community of people that help people and rely on that kind of support," he says. "There are a lot of people in Ypsi who are connectors."

Jimenez says it was a "really great experience" working with other students to create the guide.

"We were able to complete everything and make our vision come true," she says. "The project overall was nice and surprisingly educational. I'm excited to see what it offers to other people."

Lee says she's astonished that the spreadsheet she created in early 2020 is still proving valuable.

"It became a much larger project than I thought it was going to be," Lee says. "The original spreadsheet wasn't what it looks like now. Now, it's so beautiful and organized-looking."

The Engage@EMU Resource Guide for Washtenaw and Wayne Counties is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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