Impact Stories

First-person stories from people impacted by Ford Fund

How Detroit's Ruth Ellis Center Builds Supportive Communities

Six people marching in a Pride Parade behind the Ruth Ellis Center banner

At the heart of Ford Fund, we aim to bring people and communities together so that we can all move forward and upward. Ruth Ellis Center (REC) is one of our longtime community partners that helps make this aim a reality in Detroit. Founded in 1999, Ruth Ellis Center has established a national reputation for quality and innovation in providing trauma-informed services for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults, with an emphasis on young people of color experiencing homelessness, involved in the child welfare system, and/or experiencing barriers to health and wellbeing. Their mission is to create a supportive environment and community with LGBTQ+ young people.

"[Ruth Ellis Center] continues today because the community makes it so."

Mark Erwin, Executive Director, Ruth Ellis Center

Creating a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Youth

"To understand the impact of [the] Ruth Ellis Center, it's important to understand how it started," said Mark Erwin, Executive Director, Ruth Ellis Center. "It began with 16 strangers who heard the story of a young male who was experiencing family rejection and homelessness because of his identity. These 16 people met over Memorial Day weekend and drafted a plan to prove there is a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth in Detroit. Soon after, a 500 square foot building was purchased and in 1999 Ruth Ellis Center was opened. It wasn't long before the community outgrew the space — 40% of all youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+."

"Allies are incredible, but accomplices are even more powerful — an accomplice is in the work with us."

Drone view of Clairmount Center mural

Expanding Access to Health & Wellness Services and Career Opportunities

Today, Ruth Ellis Center reaches between 800-1000 young people each year. With over 10,000 sq ft of space, Ruth Ellis Center provides an extensive network of services including health and wellness services onsite in partnership with Henry Ford Health; the Family Acceptance Project in partnership with child welfare services to help families stay together; as well as one of their newer programs, Thriving Futures. With support from Ford Fund, Thriving Futures provides career readiness, life skills, financial literacy, cooking classes, and courses on knowing your rights. Ruth Ellis Center is still growing — their newest facility, the Clairmount Center, expands their ability to provide permanent supportive housing for young families in the community.

"[Ruth Ellis Center] continues today because the community makes it so," said Erwin. "Through volunteering, corporate support, and community members, people come together and create a supportive environment with the LGBTQ+ youth of Detroit." When asked how Ford employees might support the work of Ruth Ellis Center Erwin explained, "allies are incredible, but accomplices are even more powerful — an accomplice is in the work with us." At Ford Fund, we strive to be on-the-ground with our community partners and are grateful for the opportunity to help build supportive spaces for all.

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Community Partner Spotlight is a feature series that amplifies the organizations and people who partner with the Ford Fund to achieve its mission of moving people forward and upward.