Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance looks to the future while uplifting residents today

At Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance (CRCAA), we focus on three core areas: community development, neighborhood stabilization, and youth development. We’re responsible to be the voice of the neighborhood and to make sure the young people, senior citizens and families who live here have a say in what happens in their community.

As founder and executive director of CRCAA, I’m deeply connected to this neighborhood where I grew up and graduated from Cody Rouge High School. It’s a personal passion of mine to be able to give back, and to make sure young people feel safe here and have a pipeline of leadership toward helping their community thrive.

We've spent the last 15 years developing programs and wraparound services to help meet the needs of not only our youth, but of our community as a whole. We want Cody Rouge to be a place where residents thrive. One of the long term goals we’ve met was to create a community center centrally located in the neighborhood. We've been able to attract investors and nonprofits to that facility to provide many services for our families. 

Over the past few years, we've been able to make home repairs to over 30 houses in the neighborhood. Supported by Michigan State Housing Development Authority and Quicken Loans, this work has continued throughout the pandemic. We’ve helped some of our senior citizens and disabled residents gain better access to their homes through rebuilt front porches. We’ve also purchased a few homes in our neighborhood from the Detroit Land Bank and have renovated those for sale.

As one of Detroit’s Strategic Framework Neighborhoods, we work closely with the city on our youth-centered neighborhood framework plan. Through this process, we’ve been focused on environmental issues happening in the neighborhood, and have identified projects our community wants to see happen. Some are around stabilizing commercial corridors. Within the next few years, streetscapes and businesses on Warren Avenue and Joy Road will receive major improvements. 

I always think of Cody Rouge as the hidden jewel of Detroit. One of our great assets is our parks. Rouge Park is larger than both Belle Isle and Central Park in New York. It’s a state-of-the-art greenspace, boasting a renovated swimming pool, basketball courts and a running track. Cared for by Friends of Rouge Park, and hosting D-town Farms, it’s something our community really takes pride in. Stein Park, located near Cody High School, has been a focus of our nonprofit for many years. This past summer, we completed a pavilion there and are working toward an amphitheater and concession stand. In 2019, Kaboom! partnered with us and many foundations, organizations and volunteers to build a 10,000 square-foot playground and obstacle course for our kids to play.

The people who make up our tight-knit community are another of our assets. Many grew up here, and some whose parents have gone on to be with the Lord now actually live in their childhood homes. Those that do leave the neighborhood always come back to be a part of our cleaning projects, house board-ups, etc. Alumni have really invested here.

Throughout CRCAA’s existence, our youth have been integrated into our decision-making. The Cody Rouge Youth Council is one of our longest standing programs. Young people from the neighborhood sit on our board, work at our community organizations and work closely with the city of Detroit’s Planning Department to implement our neighborhood’s strategic framework plan. They’re learning how and why certain decisions are implemented in a neighborhood and are being exposed to potential careers.

One of our greatest challenges during COVID-19 has been to address the needs of our senior citizens. There are many homeowners who’ve been here for years who don’t have transportation or family members here to help take care of them. Some are connected with us, but I’m sure there are still many who we haven’t tapped into. To help eliminate the digital divide for our senior citizens, we recently secured a grant from the State of Michigan to acquire tablets and voice-activated devices. They’re using the technology to stay in contact with loved ones and for important health reminders. As a community organization, our next phase is to ensure this population is not left behind.

Crime also continues to challenge our neighborhood. I think we’ve done a great job to address it, but it’s been difficult that we’ve lost investment in our neighborhood over the past five years. We used to have federal funding for our Safe Routes to School program and a patrol during school hours. This is an important area where we need more support. 

As a community action alliance turned social service agency at the height of the pandemic, it’s been heartbreaking trying to address the needs of the community while personally having friends and family members go through and pass away from the virus. My entire household had it at one point, and it was a struggle to work. But my team has done a phenomenal job. I'm so proud of how they've been able to care for the needs of residents while also experiencing personal loss.

Before COVID-19, our young people indicated that mental health was something they wanted to address. They wrote a grant to do art therapy, and are in the process of implementing that through the support of Generator Z. Mental health challenges have amplified during the pandemic, not just among young people, but throughout the entire city and the world. In response, we’ve been working to attract mental health professionals to our neighborhood to support our residents. 

This pandemic is both a blessing and a curse. I say this because it shines a light on how greatly some people in urban communities struggle. I think it's caused people who haven’t gone through the same COVID-19 challenges to be more sensitive toward those who lack resources, who’ve lost jobs, who are struggling to educate their kids or don’t know where they're getting their next meal. I'm hoping that, as a society, we can continue to address the many challenges people in this world face.

I pray that people who've lost loved ones are able to make it through those trying times and continue to move forward. It's difficult. We've lost so many people in our neighborhood, leaders and politicians that've been a part of our community or have served our community past. Many people won't be there when we gather again. It's going to feel different. I hope we can figure out ways to continue supporting one another as a whole.

Kenyetta Campbell is the founder and executive director of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance.  This piece is also part of Second Wave Media's Nonprofit Journal Project, a series that invites nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts on contemporary issues. This entry is also an Op-Ed from a Community Development Organization participating in Model D's Resilient Neighborhoods series, which  examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods.It's made possible through the generous support of the Kresge Foundation, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.