U-M students wrap semester-long project in Sugarbrook neighborhood with holiday party

A University of Michigan (U-M) social work class' semester-long project focused on community engagement in Ypsilanti Township's Sugarbrook neighborhood will culminate in a holiday party Dec. 7. The event will include free gifts for children, gift cards for families, and an opportunity for residents to get to know each other better.


The project is a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley and the U-M School of Social Work, facilitated by the U-M Ginsberg Center. A $500 grant from the U-M Center for Resources on Learning and Teaching will fund the holiday party.


Ayesha Ghazi, a lecturer at U-M, had students in her Social Work 560 course immerse themselves in the Sugarbrook neighborhood for a semester to study engagement, policy, and community organizing in a real-life situation.


"Neighborhoods are places that can potentially lead social movements," Ghazi says. "And Sugarbrook residents are already leading one. They're transforming their environment, getting a school building dozed, and advocating for green space."


U-M students led a number of activities in the neighborhood and joined pre-existing neighborhood action teams with a focus on increasing resident engagement. Ghazi says a number of studies have shown that participating in events where neighbors spend time with one another improves mental and physical health outcomes, as well as feelings of safety.


As part of the semester's activities, U-M students and neighborhood resident Justin Hodge collected 70 signatures on a petition to be submitted to the Washtenaw County Road Commission for the purposes of implementing speed abatement measures. The U-M students also helped build three little free libraries in the neighborhood.


As part of the neighborhood action team work, U-M students helped rebrand the "Amenities" team to the "Community Enhancement" team, with a focus on safety issues and discussion of what to do with the former Kettering Elementary property located in the neighborhood.


Ghazi says that in the course of the semester-long community engagement project, the idea of a holiday party came up.


"A community member told us that the holidays are one of the most difficult times of year, because it's a reminder of what you don't have," she says.


That comment sparked the idea to write a grant for the holiday party, to be held from 4-7 p.m. Dec. 7 at Saint Mark's Church, 1515 S Harris Rd. in Ypsi Township. Ghazi says the organizers already have acquired 100 books to give away to children who attend. The event will include a gift drive for kids, cookie decorating, and other activities. The holiday party is open to residents of Sugarbrook and other nearby neighborhoods. Guests are asked to bring a dish to pass.


Any local businesses who would like to donate gift cards for families, or books or presents for children, may reach Ghazi at Ayeshag@umich.edu. Neighborhood residents interested in joining the Community Enhancement, Youth Activities, or Neighbor Relations action teams are encouraged to reach out to Habitat Community Development Coordinator Ceara Murtagh at cmurtagh@h4h.org or (734) 478-0250.


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.

Little Free Library photo courtesy of Ayesha Ghazi. Other photos courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley.

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