High school students help their homeless neighbors

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

When 16-year-old Andrea Campa saw a man digging through a Dumpster on Saturday morning near her Southwest Detroit neighborhood, she acted.

“I told him he didn’t need to do that,” said Campa, who instead invited the man to a community picnic she and nine other Western International High School students held at Clark Park to help area homeless.

The teenagers are part of a partnership between the school, the nonprofit buildOn and UAW-GM Center For Human Resources. Launched two years ago, the students work on long-term community service projects with help from UAW and General Motors employees.

The collaboration with the students lasts six months and culminated Saturday in the students’ idea to hold a picnic and resource fair, where attendees received a meal, free hygiene kits, sleeping bags and warm socks.

“Sometimes people need a little push and help, knowing someone is out there to care for them,” said Campa, a junior at the high school.

Organizers say the teenagers learn a variety of skills from the experience, meeting with mentors six times a year and staying in touch via email in order to pull off projects.

The program and buildOn’s other work at Western was funded this year through a $50,000 donation by the UAW-GM Center For Human Resources. More than 500 students at the school work with the nonprofit, which focuses on empowering urban youth. Only 10 students were selected to work with the UAW-GM volunteers.

Last year, students initiated their own board up of a vacant home.

“It’s a misnomer when they say we are the mentors,” said Maurice Staten, a volunteer and UAW assistant director. “Are you kidding? This kids are great.”

“This was a no-brainer.”

Roy Jackson, a 52-year-old Detroiter who lives nearby, came by Saturday for a hot cup of coffee and a bag of items.

“There are a lot of people in the area that need this kind of blessing,” Jackson said. “And they do it with a smile. I don’t see it that much.”

“To be young and have a mind like that ... that’s wonderful.”

The program is set to continue next fall with a new group of students, said buildOn’s Erica Schlenker.