Congress of Communities (CoC) held the grand opening of their youth-driven community house on Saturday, May 20th.
The home sits right at the corner of St. Hedwig St. and Junction Ave. surrounded by flowerbeds, a playground, and so much love from the youth who spearheaded this project.
The idea of the house came from the youth of CoC who participate in the organization’s daily programming. They first proposed the idea at a conference known as, Neutral Zone: Youth Driven Spaces, held in Jackson, Mich. three years ago. The mission of that particular conference is to foster youth and adult partnerships while also supporting the development of youth needs. The youth from CoC felt the need to do something tangible to contribute to their development as members of their community. And this was just the start.
“It started when a group of our youth from the youth council went to the Neutral Zone Youth Driven Spaces conference, and they pitched the idea. They said that they wanted a space that was for youth, by youth in Southwest Detroit where they could feel comfortable, participate in programming and also just be themselves and grow into leaders,” said CoC’s Youth Programming Director Chinelo Onuigbo.
And, that’s what they did. No decision about the house went without consulting with the youth of CoC and their input. Thereby giving youth a voice but also providing a space where everyone is welcomed regardless of age, race, gender, or abilities.
“It was mainly built up by the youth. It’s inclusive. It’s like everybody’s gonna like it cuz like we know the culture, you know, we know what’s comfortable these days, you know? It’s not outdated,” said Kayla Guerrero, a youth member of CoC.
In the house, you can find mental health rooms, nooks and crawl spaces, along with cool and fun gadgets and accessories that, at first, seem like just really cool additions. But, in fact, these exact things are just some of the many things that can support youth in their journey to become leaders in their community. With a focus on their well-being and accessibility, CoC created a youth home that is comfortable and welcoming to young folks to just be themselves.
“This is a space for them. This is a space where people can learn to nourish the leader within them. Because community is just a beautiful thing. We like to experience joy here, healing, and celebration,” said Onuigbo.
On Saturday, families, students, and community members from all over Southwest joined for the unveiling of the house accompanied by tours of the work that was done, music, Folklorico performers, food, games, and lots of support from other community organizations in the area.
“We’ve seen a lot of different groups come out today and you can just see and tell how many people care about this place, this place and space. And we’re very excited for all the youth to finally come and enjoy it,” said Joselyn Cortes-Samano, a youth member of CoC.
The CoC house, which is now open to the public, is a space for youth and community alike to come in and be provided with space to study, take a break, and find programming or resources from community partners. This house was built for the community and by the community it serves.
In the future, the folks at CoC are hoping this starts a trend in the community of Southwest Detroit and focuses on what having a community house provides to a community. And, what would it look like if there were more?
“We could show this as a model to have hubs in Detroit that are redone, big houses where people can walk to and get resources. And that we can have events like this and bring services in where we can bring the residents,” said Maria Salinas, Executive Director of Congress of Communities
The house, was funded largely in part with the Kresge KIP:D grant and support from the Skillman Foundation and their 10-year Good Neighborhoods initiative along with many other donors and grants given by the community. The list of all contributions made to the house is posted on the Donor Wall located at the entrance of the house.
Moreover, CoC hopes to continue to host community events along with their programming, and to bring in local residents as often as they can. To find out more about what they’re doing and many more of their upcoming community events, follow them on Instagram at @coc_swdetroit or on Facebook as Congress of Communities.
Juanita Zuniga is a graduate of Kalamazoo College with a degree in Anthropology/Sociology and English. She was born and raised in Southwest Detroit and still resides there today. She is very passionate about her community and hopes to serve her community through writing.