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North Carolina teen’s letter to Detroit goes viral

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

When 16-year-old Cassie Mattheis first learned she’d be visiting Detroit as part of a national church youth gathering, she admits she was intimidated by the negative things she’d heard — a “scary and dark” place.

That perception changed after she visited last week. The teen from a small North Carolina town penned in a blog posted Wednesday a love letter to a city she found so positive.

“A Letter To Detroit From A National Youth Gathering Participant” quickly went viral.

“I was expecting a city filled with broken dreams and shattered glass, a city devoid of life and hope,” Mattheis wrote in her blog. “I expected a scene of desolation against the backdrop of a dead city. But you are not dead. You are so very much alive. You destroyed all of my preconceptions the minute I set foot on your gorgeous river walk and was exposed to the cultural diversity and breathtaking views you offered me.”

Mattheis was among some 30,000 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from across the country who gather every three years for their Youth Gathering to worship, enjoy fellowship and perform community service. The teens were in Detroit July 15-19.

To prepare for the trip, Mattheis said she received four pages of safety tips.

“I was expecting it to be scary and dark,” she told The Detroit News on Friday. “This is not at all what the picture was that was painted for me.”

Mattheis is from Lenoir, North Carolina, where she said the largest building in town is a Walmart. She plans to be a medical missionary and help human trafficking victims.

A member of St. Stephens Lutheran Church, Mattheis joined the youth gathering in Detroit with four other church members.

The teens ventured beyond downtown into other parts of the city to work on community service projects, many geared toward beautification.

Johnny Albers, 18, from Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church, right, pulls weeds on Lawton Street with other youth on July 16. The youth were  among some 30,000 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who gather every three years for their Youth Gathering to worship and perform community service.

Mattheis writes of the sights she saw during her time in town.

“Over the week, I saw your bad side. (the area around 8-mile road was pretty sketchy),” she writes. “I saw your homeless, your penniless, your dirty and your somewhat terrifying drunk Tigers fans. I saw your houses adorned with neon-yellow signs that read, ‘Will Demolish.’ But I also saw your beauty. I saw your culture. I saw your parks. I saw your police; on boats, cars, horses, and bicycles. I saw your sports. I saw your riverwalk. I heard your music.”

Mattheis said Friday she was surprised by the thousands of views her blog post has received. Her blog had mainly been viewed by people from her church and her grandparents.

“I’m still taking it all in,” she said. “It’s been good. I have to give all the glory of it to God. It’s not my doing. It may eventually sink in, we’ll see.”

Will she return?

“Absolutely.”

“If I had one thing I wanted people to know, Detroit is worth visiting,” she said. “Make your own conclusion. Don’t go by what other people are saying.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2311