Carmen Mattia had been working for Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan for 30 years when Ford Fund contacted Gleaners about opening a center in Southwest Detroit that would provide critical services and programs.
"I grew up in this community, and I was very aware of what was happening in the community," Mattia said.
The services many Southwest Detroit residents needed often required traveling across town. However, transportation was a problem for the underemployed and unemployed.
"A lot of people have old cars, and gas is an issue because they can't afford it. Many were struggling to get basic services," said Mattia, senior managing director of the Southwest Detroit Ford Resource and Engagement Center.
Before opening the community center in 2013, Mattia and her team held meetings with residents to determine what wraparound services would help them reach their full potential.
"The idea was not to put in what I wanted, what Ford wanted or what Gleaners wanted. We found out from the community what their needs were," she said. "Now, through the generosity of the Ford Fund and numerous partners, all the services they need are in one location, making their challenges less extreme."
Today, the center improves the quality of life for 6,000-9,000 residents each month and is a beloved fixture in the community.
In one centralized location, people receive free legal support, help heating their homes through THAW, translation assistance, access to afterschool programs and more. Gleaners distributes food to about 1,300-1,500 families a week there, while La Sed provides citizenship classes. And SER Metro offers job search support, financial literacy courses and transportation.
"I've been here from day one," Mattia said. "The community loves having us here. People walk in here looking for support and walk out of here with the help they need. They walk in with no job, and they leave with a job. That's fulfilling to me."
Ford Fund operates a global network of Ford Resource and Engagement Centers that bring families and neighbors together to access support services that strengthen communities and help make people's lives better. We launched our first resource center in 2013 in Southwest Detroit and since then we have expanded our reach to serve other communities where Ford builds and manufactures – with centers on Detroit’s East Side; in Bangkok, Thailand; Craiova, Romania; and Pretoria, South Africa. Each resource center has a unique community voice. The residents advocate for the services they want and need – and by listening and designing solutions together, we’re able to address the daily challenges they face and give people opportunities and access they wouldn’t otherwise have.