I’m a relative newcomer to Detroit, having moved here in 2012 to teach elementary school on the west side of the city. When I tell my friends and family on the east coast why this city is so special to me, the spirit of Detroiters always stands out in my mind. Everyone I meet is passionate and involved in something to create a stronger Detroit – whether it’s working with youth, rehabbing a home, starting a business, organizing a block club, volunteering in spare time, and much more. Doing all these things is not the unique part, but it’s the underlying purpose – contributing to something greater – that sets Detroit apart.
With all the challenges Detroiters have faced in the past and present, those who have chosen to stay and those who are moving here now share a common passion for making Detroit a better place. It’s an infectious spirit that has always made me want to play my part.
Roughly one year ago, I left my job as an elementary school teacher to start a new social venture, Detroit Horse Power. We plan to open a new urban equestrian center that repurposes vacant land and provides year-round programming for local children, helping them develop critical skills that set them up for future success. We have achieved a lot in one year: incorporating as a nonprofit, receiving tax-exempt status from the IRS, raising an initial budget of $6,000, organizing two successful pilot programs in June and August reaching a total of 18 kids, The vision was mine, but I can’t do this work alone and I am deeply grateful to all the different people and organizations that have helped Detroit Horse Power get where it is today.
It’s this trend that makes me most hopeful about our city. By unlocking the brilliance across Detroit, we have the talent and resources to achieve incredible things. Synergy will multiply our achievements – with potential partnerships like locally sourced hay for horses to eat, recycling dumped tires to create synthetic footing for our arenas, and composting horse manure to fertilize urban gardens. We are stronger together; Detroiters know this implicitly. Lifting each other up is the only way we can move forward because our collective success is tied to the fate of each individual. And if we have the power to help someone realize their dreams, we will all be better off as a result.
So as I reflect on a successful first year of Detroit Horse Power, I would like to honor many of those that have helped me along this first step in this journey. There are many to recognize and I’m likely forgetting a few. I hope this goes to show that your efforts are deeply appreciated and to let others know of these wonderful folks and the larger spirit they embody.
- The Build Institute has been tremendous to my development as a social entrepreneur between the Build Social class as well as events and networking with Build alumni and fantastic resources. After going through Build Social, I got to work with Eastern Michigan’s Center for Advancing Social Entrepreneurship, who generously donated their time to give me guidance, feedback, and connect me with critical resources. And Gingras Global LLC has worked with me one-on-one to put in place systems to document our finances and social impact.
- There are several other organizations that have taken an interest in our social mission and helped lift up what we are doing. Detroit Future City has been a great supporter of our plans for innovative land use and helped connect to valuable expertise and resources. Michigan Community Resources has a terrific pro bono legal services program along with valuable events. Two Wayne State programs – the Community/Business Law Clinic and Blackstone Launchpad have been great opportunities to get initial legal support and further develop our business plan, pitching in front of investors and Detroit stakeholders for grant funding. Lawyers from Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss and Olson Bzdok & Howard have also patiently answered many questions to support our strategic planning.
- Detroit Horse Power’s community partners in our first two pilot programs were Alternatives For Girls and Burns Elementary/Middle School, which both took a leap of faith on a new organization, entrusting me to successfully deliver on the program I had in my head.
- Those camps would not have been possible without our generous hosts at the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Center and Equinox Farm. These gracious folks made their facility and their wonderful horses available for our kids to have amazing experiences this summer. In order to get our kids to the second camp, Summer in the City gave us a sweet deal on using one of their 15-person vans.
- We had an amazing group of volunteers from across southeast Michigan (and even one from Indiana!) who gave their time and skills to make this program a success for our participants. A big thanks to the United States Pony Club, and FCA’s Motor Citizens Program (which also led to a grant opportunity). We also had guest speakers from different equine professions give up time in their busy schedules to spend time with our kids!
- And this couldn’t happen without the grants pledges we received early on from the Healthy Environments Partnership and Eastern Michigan’s Student Funders Group. I also have to plug for Detroit SOUP, which I pitched at last November when this was just a crazy idea and then returned to win the crowd’s vote in June.
- Support also came from the United Way Meet Up & Eat Up program, which provided free lunches to our campers. Meijer also contributed a gift card.
- Teach For America-Detroit has been a huge champion for us, giving support on data measurement, resources, networking, and media outreach – which led to a terrific article in the Detroit News. I’m also so thankful to the folks at Tell who produced an amazing video for us.
- I’d also like to thank Nancy Kotting who took the time to write a terrific piece about Detroit Horse Power in our early stages, which was published in the Huffington Post. Additionally, Kecia Freed has patiently worked through a half dozen iterations of our soon-to-be released logo. Kate Sumbler has been so generous with her time in working up our new website (also launching soon). Then there are dozens of individuals, family, and friends from around the country that have offered advice and perspective at various points in this journey.
Thank you to all who have lifted Detroit Horse Power closer to our goals through your generous contributions. The best way I know to honor your acts of kindness is to pay it forward. I know this collective spirit will lift Detroit to new heights.