Ypsilanti Township's West Willow neighborhood will soon have a new resource to take pride in: a maker space planned and designed with the community’s youth in mind. New West Willow Neighborhood Association
(NWWNA) President Josh McAllister has already done a great deal of work within the West Willow community, including spearheading the bi-weekly West Willow Farmers Market
, but he's furthering his efforts for the community by leading the maker space project.
"The kids wanted to do something fun," McAllister explains. "It’s all about helping them a little bit more than the standard way."
A maker space is a place in which people with shared interests, especially computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. McAllister noticed that younger West Willow residents had a desire not only for fun, but also for learning. Elisa Guyton, an Ann Arbor native with a passion for service, approached McAllister with the maker space model. She felt the space would be beneficial for the youth involved to learn about taking care of their mental health while also learning practical technological skills like coding alongside McAllister, a trusted member of their own community.
"A lot of people say, 'Send in the therapists and get these kids into talk therapy, because most of these kids aren’t going to open up and tell you what’s going on if they don’t feel safe.' If you’re just a stranger off the street, it’s not going to work," Guyton says.
New West Willow Neighborhood Association President Josh McAllister.
Guyton says McAllister already has tools for the kids to learn to use, and now they need space to allow kids to use the skills they’re learning with McAllister.
"Josh’s approach is: they want to learn it, so we learn it together," Guyton says.
Accessibility is one challenge that both McAllister and Guyton have encountered in the process of developing programs for West Willow’s youth. Many groups and facilities host programming for youth and teens on a regular basis throughout Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, but the reality is that many youth in the area don’t have access to reliable transportation, rendering them unable to attend. The solution, McAllister found, was in a nonprofit on the opposite side of Michigan Avenue from West Willow.
Friends In Deed
, which opened its doors to the Washtenaw County community in 1983, has an overall goal of lifting individuals and families out of poverty by helping to furnish homes with free furniture, car repairs. Its Circles program
also aims to "permanently lift families out of poverty by building relationships to help participants develop the resources and social capital they need to achieve economic independence."
Elisa Guyton and Josh McAllister in the future maker space location at Friends In Deed.
McAllister has been working closely with Friends In Deed Executive Director Sarah Thornburg to utilize Friends In Deed's building at 1196 Ecorse Rd. for the upcoming maker space. Thornburg sees the maker space as an opportunity to further Friends In Deed’s mission statement of "breaking down walls" to strengthen community.
"A thriving, healthy community means fewer people will be in poverty," Thornburg says. "[If you] bring young people into a space where they can learn and do and be valued and appreciated, that builds community not only in the space, but also with the adults who are interested in their long-term success."
McAllister and Guyton both say the maker space's overarching goal is to eliminate poverty and homelessness, which only serves to strengthen their connection with Friends In Deed. McAllister has also pursued those goals through his work with the farmers market and his own nonprofit organization, 2Marines
, which assists veterans and their families experiencing homelessness.
"This is revolutionary in the fact that we’re showing kids a new way of living and thriving," Guyton says. "Through the work that they’re doing, they’re really getting a sense of community pride and ownership."
"I think 2023 is going to be the year where we all get our second wind," she says. "On the east side of Ypsilanti, this is just another breath of fresh air, and I’m really excited."
McAllister is aiming for the maker space to be up, running, and functional by March, in order to coincide with the planning for the West Willow Farmers Market reopening on June 17. Those who wish to volunteer time or donate resources can visit www.nwwna.org
"Anybody that comes around to help in their spare time, I’m super grateful," McAllister says. "There might not be a Josh here tomorrow, so we’ve got to make sure that things are ready for the next person who comes in to volunteer for their community."
Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
All photos by Doug Coombe.
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