Ypsi residents celebrate city's bicentennial by writing Love Letters to Ypsilanti

The nonprofit YpsiWrites is distributing postcards for residents to write about why they love their city, and the resulting love letters will be displayed during bicentennial celebrations next year.
Referencing everything from their favorite local shops to the welcoming feel of their city, Ypsilanti community members are writing Love Letters to Ypsilanti in anticipation of the city's bicentennial next year.

Caroline Sanders, associate director for community relations and engagement at Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Engage@EMU office and a Washtenaw County commissioner representing District 4, originated the idea earlier this year. 

"I have heard many stories about people and their positive experiences in the city, and I thought [writing love letters] would be a lovely way to capture these experiences," she says. "It would encourage current and former residents to pen some loving words about their time in Ypsilanti that would allow for the creation of a collective archive of love letters that help celebrate the city's 200th birthday."
Engage@EMU Associate Director for Community Relations Caroline Sanders.
Sanders mentioned the idea at a meeting attended by Ann Blakeslee, another EMU employee and co-founder of nonprofit community writing center YpsiWrites, and Blakeslee asked how YpsiWrites could help. 

"When she asked if YpsiWrites could play a role in this bicentennial initiative, my answer was a resounding yes," Sanders says.

What makes Ypsi feel like home to you?

An YpsiWrites team took on the project, deciding that postcards would be a good format for most people to write their love letters. YpsiWrites volunteer Brent Miller says postcards are "sturdy, visual, and a pretty accessible format most people have engaged with."

YpsiWrites volunteer Carissa Mares developed a postcard prototype, and volunteers piloted postcards at various events this summer.

The team gathered feedback, revised the look of the postcards, and added a logo. The first of what will be a variety of love letter prompts is, "What makes Ypsi feel like home to you?" 
An YpsiWrites Love Letters to Ypsilanti booth at the Ypsilanti Depot Town Farmers Market.
Working with the city's bicentennial commission, YpsiWrites is hoping to gather responses from adults, children, EMU staff and students, current residents, and former residents. The format is open-ended and contributions don't necessarily have to be in the form of a letter. For example, visual art has also been accepted.

"We're already seeing a variety of different stories being shared," Miller says. "Some people write about silly experiences, or serious experiences like attending a city commission meeting. We're also getting drawings from children about their favorite things. One young person sent in a rendering of their school, and another wrote about their favorite shop, Unicorn Feed and Supply."

City residents can participate in a number of ways. They can pick up postcards from any Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) branch and submit them through a book return box. They can also respond through a form on YpsiWrites' website

"Online, people type in their responses virtually, or they can take a picture of their response and upload it," Miller says. "We're trying to get as many responses as we can and engage as many writers as we can."
YpsiWrites volunteer Brent Miller.
Additionally, YpsiWrites will staff tables where people can fill out postcards and submit them on the spot at various events through the end of 2022 and into 2023, including EMU's Homecoming week. Blakeslee says the team is working on ways to get more postcards into children's hands as well, possibly by sending love letter postcard packets to local schools.

"We'll be everywhere with this for the next year and a half," Blakeslee says. 

After collection, YpsiWrites will share the love letters in a variety of venues. YpsiWrites will host a rotating selection of letters on its website. Blakeslee also imagines creating a display of postcards at each YDL branch, or asking businesses to host a collection on their community bulletin boards. She says there will likely be a display at EMU as well.

Miller says some of the postcards will be shared via social media, and the YpsiWrites team members working on the project have discussed developing a performance based on some of the postcards. 

The power of letters

YpsiWrites will also offer a series of events that coordinate with the love letter campaign. 

"We'll host a series of workshops focused on all kinds of letter writing: writing for change, for ideas, love letters, thank you letters," Miller says.

The first of these is a virtual letter-writing workshop called "Dear Reader: The Power and Meaning of Letters." Postcards will also be available at an in-person Writers Room event Oct. 22 that's part of YpsiWrites' anniversary celebration.
An YpsiWrites Love Letters to Ypsilanti booth at the Ypsilanti Depot Town Farmers Market.
Anyone interested in hosting their own postcard-writing event can also request postcards by emailing ypsiwrites@gmail.com.

The Love Letters to Ypsilanti project is just one part of what will be over a year-long celebration of the city's bicentennial. The bicentennial committee's plans include a New Year's Eve kickoff, a special homecoming event in 2023, a time capsule, and more.

"My hopes and dreams are that the Ypsilanti bicentennial celebration will be an overwhelming success that will bring people back [to Ypsilanti] to celebrate, see the wonderful changes, and create lifelong memories for everyone involved," Sanders says.

More information about the Love Letters to Ypsilanti project is available here. More information about the city's bicentennial 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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