“We love connecting people to things they need and supporting our neighbors in a real way.”

To say that Scott Alan Davis is busy is a gross understatement. Scott is the Executive Director of Vanguard CDC, a nonprofit serving Detroit’s North End. Something you need to know about him is that he greets everyone with a hug. That hug gives you great insight into Scott and the principles at work at Vanguard: connection, warmth, authenticity, community.

At our meeting various staff members were popping in and out of his office with questions about the Thanksgiving turkey donations to neighborhood churches and they were getting a new phone system installed at the same time. The office was supposed to close at 1:00 pm, but at 3:40 pm I counted 5 people still there scurrying around trying to get turkeys and food baskets ready for distribution. “My staff is incredible,” Scott tells me. “Why are we still here when the office is supposed to be closed and it’s a holiday weekend? It’s because we are all crazy…” he laughs. “No really it’s because we love what we do. We love connecting people to things they need and supporting our neighbors in a real way.”

I asked him about the types of resources they provide to residents; I was literally stunned by all of the ways that Vanguard connects their neighbors to things they need. Let’s start with their North End Community Connection telephone service. This is a weekly service that calls residents and shares updates for community events and news. If you miss the call, you can call in yourself or look on their website to find out what is happening. “People LOVE this!” he says. “We just did a survey to find out what residents liked best about what we offer here and the weekly telephone call was something that a lot of people said they found useful.”

Scott explained to me that the programs Vanguard offers fall into three different categories: Educational Development, Economic Development and Community Development. He mentioned that the organization started as a result of their educational programs, specifically before and after-school programs where they partnered with neighboring schools. Under the Educational Development umbrella they currently focus on early childhood education and youth development. One way they do this is through Camp Jump Start. This is a summer camp for children ages 5-11 that uses real-world experiences to teach math, reading and fitness. One of their largest goals is to begin the conversation about changing the education system as a whole (“our education system is janky, broken and tired”).

When we began discussing the Economic Development branch of Vanguard’s programming, it took three pages in my notebook to capture the services and programs that they offered. Milwaukee Junction Small Business Center was started in April of 2009. It is a small business incubator staffed by Vanguard that provides North End entrepreneurs with assistance in starting a business and also provides support to existing businesses.

A program that I found particularly impressive was the Next Steps Community Reintegration program. This program serves formerly incarcerated men and women who have ‘maxed out’ of prison (served their maximum sentence). Next Steps provides them basic needs (food, housing, transportation) and opportunities to build new skills, start a business, complete their educations and connect to their community again. Scott told me that they were just finishing with the first year of their AmeriCorps program. Vanguard hires 20 of the returning citizens from the Next Steps program to work for up to a year as an AmeriCorps and gives people a chance to work in and serve their community. These AmeriCorps run the Get it Done Team; this is a service that helps seniors and other neighborhood residents with everyday tasks or projects. They will help you move your furniture, mow your lawn, clean your gutters, haul away debris- you name it, they will ‘get it done’.

Impressed? I haven’t even told you about the Youth Leadership program yet! Partnering with the Skillman Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Bank and City Connect Detroit, Vanguard was able to hire 60 youth from various North End neighborhoods. With $60,000 dedicated to youth stipends, Camp Positive Influence allowed kids from ages 12-18 to develop marketable skills by doing work focused on community beautification, digital media and community awareness. At the end of the summer the youth had created 12 murals, participated in classes that taught them how to deejay and produced a documentary about domestic violence. In the fall they are using all of the skills they learned about creating and operating a business to launch a teen night on Friday nights where they will do the deejaying, marketing, coordination and run the concession stand.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Community Development ‘bucket’ at Vanguard. These programs help North End residents with food, utility bills, appliances, clothing, transportation and housing (Vanguard has built over 75 units of affordable housing). The Store House of Hope is a partnership between Vanguard and several area churches and is a pantry of choice for food, clothing and a place that you can do your laundry. ‘The beautiful part of this is that when someone comes to Vanguard and needs something, let’s say a stove or to pay a large utility bill, an email goes to the community members and churches and most of the time they can find what the person needs within the community…someone has an extra stove or can pay the other persons bill…without going to another agency for support,’ Scott tells me.

I also asked Scott to explain to me their somewhat unconventional slogan of ‘Connect to the Power of the V.’ He explained that they are harnessing the power of community connection to get everyone through difficult times together. Connecting to the Power of the V is connecting community members together so they can share what they have and get what they need. Makes sense.

Tiffany Lemieux-McKissic is CEDAM’s Manager of Membership and Communications. She spends time traveling around the state and meeting with CEDAM members to find out about all of the awesome things they are doing to help their communities.