Faces of Flint

Seventh Landing tenants share lessons
learned about a community in crisis

Seventh Landing tenants present a donation check to their Flint host, Catrina Tillman, of First Trinity Baptist Church

Back from the travel component of their Service Learning experience to Flint Michigan, Seventh Landing tenants reflected on the personal and service lessons learned and shared those with their local community in a thank you event on September 24, 2016. The group gave a brief demonstration about their adopted community at the Fresh Grounds Café in Saint Paul, sharing data, stories, and personal reflections about the activity.

The Service Learning project was initiated back in April, when a small group of Seventh Landing tenants under the guidance of Case Manager Kathleen Coolidge began the work to research the Flint Michigan water crisis and raise awareness in their local Saint Paul community (Community Reporter article).The group fund-raised the activity and ultimately traveled to Flint in early August with support from Volunteer Transport, where they distributed water with other volunteers and engaged the community on the ground. But the project didn’t end there. Tenants continued to meet and reflect on lessons and planned for continued support of Flint into the future. As tenant participant Nina Vongpheth reflected, “The work didn’t end at the end of the work day. We as a group continued to talk, share and reflect on our personal challenges and the way this work impacted us. Doing this as a group was very powerful.”

Critical learning experiences throughout the activity:

  • Seventh Landing tenants testified to the import of the water crisis to the Saint Paul City Council, receiving a resolution that recognized their efforts. They spoke of their personal work as residents of RS EDEN supportive housing and the way that making a difference to others improved their own capacities to make a better life for themselves.
  • Seventh Landing tenants testified to the import of the water crisis and the need to take action to Saint Paul community neighbors in door-to-door encounters and staged a fund raising event at Fresh Grounds Café. Together their efforts generated almost $3,000 – enough to cover the expense of the trip as well as provide a donation check to their volunteer host in Flint, with funds left over to continue a channel of water donation to Flint.
  • Tenants interviewed citizens, volunteers, and local infrastructure experts while in Flint about the impact of their experiences and the ways communities can recover and address such crises in the future. As tenant Marquis Boyd reflected, “I am a person of action. Before this trip, I thought I had been involved in my community. But I had never put myself where the needs are. I was struck by the way people who had worked all day, men who were retired, and residents with challenges… were still among the volunteers in Flint… and still had a smile and energy for others.”

Project facilitator Kathy Coolidge shared these reflections about the project:

“RS EDEN’s Service Learning Project is a continued mission to reach out to people, specifically tenants of Seventh Landing, by providing a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience by teaching civic responsibility and strengthening communities. Our project this year was The Flint Michigan Water Crisis. This journey involved commitment and endurance with building relationships with one another, and mastering the art of fund-raising and planning, both of which were challenges throughout the process. The four participants and I learned about the social injustice the residents of Flint have had and continue to endure. Statistically, Flint’s population is 56% African American, 82% with HS diplomas; 11% with bachelors degree or higher; 14% without health insurance; a median household income of $24,679. 42% of Flint residents are reported to be living in poverty.

Working on the front line with First Trinity Baptist Church and attending a seminar at the University of Michigan with Dr. Martin Kaufman, a nationally-known expert in the field of infrastructure who holds a doctorate degree in environmental planning, we were able to learn and see firsthand how the contaminated water, still undrinkable, has affected residents. One in six Flint homes suffers from lead levels above the EPA guidelines, making filters ineffective in some neighborhoods. Among other things, lead in the bloodstream causes lower IQ, speech and learning disabilities, and nervous system damage in children; memory loss, digestive and reproductive system damage in adults.

I am proud of the four participants who were able to work through personal issues and begin to see that community service and giving back is a gift that keeps on giving, not only to the recipients of the service but to ourselves.”

For more information about the work Martin Kaufman and others are engaging in Flint Michigan, see https://news.umflint.edu/2016/01/28/10668/.

For more information about the non profit Volunteer Transport, please see http://www.volunteertransport.org/.

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