Young Detroiters are often deprived of the knowledge, resources, and support to pursue their vision of a healthy, connected, and powerful life. This is reflected in some shocking statistics: Young Detroiters are disengaging from traditional education and employment in record numbers with 17% considered ‘disconnected’ (neither working nor in school), the highest rate in the country (Measure of America). The documented difficulty in ‘reconnecting’ our youth underscores the need to engage youth before they disconnect. For those who are attending school, only 1.6% (80 DPS students) scored a ‘college-ready’ 21+ on their ACT preparation test (Skillman 2012). These factors result in high dropout rates (32.8% amongst high school seniors) resulting in an almost 50% decrease in median future annual income compared to their counterparts holding bachelor’s degrees (from $45,000 to $22,860) (NCES 2014). Detroit high school students frequently report a lack of positive adult role models and mentors. In addition, youth often report a sense of alienation from their community, lack of pride in their city, and low hopes for their future. Many young Detroiters find themselves with little to no project-based learning, and few opportunities to take action on many of the pressing challenges they see each day. COVID-19 has only exacerbated youth disconnect, leaving many families struggling to maintain consistency in these troubling times.
As young leaders, particularly those from underserved schools in communities like Detroit, move from elementary towards high schools, the numbers of opportunities focused on their age group diminish. Over one half of young people in Detroit (58%) live in poverty and experience preventable diseases like obesity (32% of youth, 13th highest in the nation), diabetes (11.2%, 17th), and hypertension (33.1%, 18th). We focus our program pathway on growing youth leadership through the vehicle of food, engaging young Detroiters each year in building thriving culinary projects and learning lifelong wellness skills. Although we are socially distanced at the moment, our programs continue to offer hands-on opportunities for students to experiment, learn and grow together.
Students will learn culinary arts, nutrition, healthy cooking, and be exposed to wellness resources and leadership skills in order to broadly impact their communities by sharing their learnings with their peers, families, and friends. The young people we serve are mostly youth of color in a majority Black city that has been substantially impacted both by deaths and illness from Coronavirus and the loss of income due to shutdowns of many traditional retail businesses that provide essential employment. We know that Detroit youth do not receive the resources they deserve, and our program works to address this by offering the resources, community connections and support that youth leaders need to thrive now and in the future. When young people are inspired to grow as leaders, nourished in body and mind, and connected with their community, our whole region benefits.
Since the start of the pandemic, DFA has transitioned all programming online, cooking with our students each week. Our team has translated our program online, creating safe and engaging spaces for our youth to learn about culinary arts, food justice, and entrepreneurship safely from home. This format has allowed us to connect our youth with even more mentors from across our region, hosting virtual panels, question & answer sessions, and digital business tours with our thriving food community. In response to a large jump in food requests, we piloted a home delivery program, beginning the week after the schools shutdown in March, to bring groceries and supplies to our youth. Initially using personal vehicles, we raised funds this summer to purchase a dedicated delivery vehicle and learned to use logistics & mapping software. This allows us to serve hundreds of youth with home deliveries, bringing local Detroit-grown produce, groceries, kitchen equipment, PPE, and cleaning supplies to our students and families across the region.