Augustan takes on Detroit

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Moving to Detroit seemed like a crazy idea to many people when Calyssa Lawyer told them her plans.

Calyssa Lawyer (second from right) works the Taste the Space during a nationwide event called Parking Day in Detroit.
Calyssa Lawyer (second from right) works the Taste the Space during a nationwide event called Parking Day in Detroit.

They expressed concern over her safety and lack of opportunity amid urban decay in a city that was once a bustling metropolis but this year became the largest city to file for bankruptcy in U.S. history.

But Lawyer saw only opportunity when she applied to Challenge Detroit, a yearlong program designed to bring young professionals to live, work and play in the city in the hopes of inspiring them to stay and spur revitalization.

Lawyer, who graduated from Augusta Christian and earned a bachelor of arts in public policy from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in May, was one of 32 chosen out of 700 applicants to participate in Challenge Detroit.

Each participant received a housing stipend in addition to salaries they earn working for partner companies. Each Friday, the participants meet to collaborate with a nonprofit to address challenges those organizations face.

Each month brings a new challenge with a new nonprofit, which will address issues related to multimodal transportation, homelessness, land conservation, community engagement, and land re-utilization.

Friday the group met with representatives from the University of Detroit Mercy’s Detroit Collaborative Design Center and Bleeding Heart Design to discuss ways to revitalize community arts programs.

“The first Friday (of the month), for each challenge, we will be given a presentation by each partner on exactly what they want us to do,” she said.

In the nearly two months she has been there, Lawyer has been getting to know the city and the other people in the program.

She has attended the Detroit Jazz Festival and a chamber winds concert.

“A lot of the fellows and I hang out after work,” she said.

Her job as a marketing fellow for the Detroit Lions also keeps her pretty busy. In addition to working regular hours, she spends game days at Ford Field, coordinating pregame activities and working on other community relations projects.

“There is so much to do here,” she said. “I really, really like it.”

Lawyer said she is not certain yet what she will do when the program ends next year. Many of last year’s fellows were hired for permanent positions with their partner company, and stayed in Detroit.

She does plan to attend law school in the future, and may also stay in Detroit.

“If there’s one thing I want people to know about my time here, the program or Detroit in general is it’s not this war zone,” she said.

She said while there are parts of the city where she doesn’t feel safe, there are many parts of the city where she does, just like in any other city, including Augusta.

“Detroit was a great place, is a great place and in the future will be an amazing place to be. More people should just come and visit Detroit and see what it’s all about,” she said.


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