Building Partnerships and Programs that Make a Difference

  • Richard A. Wooten
  • District 11 Director
  • Wayne County Office
  • MSU Extension
Richard Wooten

In 2017, MSU Extension celebrated 100 years of programming and partnerships in Detroit and Wayne County. From the beginning MSUE has worked to help improve people's lives through an educational process that applies knowledge to critical issues, needs, and opportunities. To that end, our local partners have been invaluable in helping us learn how to build stronger families, mentor youth to develop life skills, assist local entrepreneurs, and teach residents to grow food as a part of a healthy, sustainable community food system.

The MSU Detroit Partnership for Food, Learning, and Innovation

The most exciting new venture that Extension is involved in, along with other units of the University, is the MSU Detroit Partnership for Food, Learning, and Innovation (DPFLI). This initiative, which creates a new MSU-DPFLI Center, is the result of a collaboration among multiple MSU units, several City of Detroit departments, numerous community-based organizations, and elected officials. More than three years in the making, the partnership started with a conversation between the former president of MSU and the current mayor of the City of Detroit.

The development process for the MSU-DPFLI Center was designed to engage area residents and community stakeholders in the planning of programs and activities based on the needs and expectations of the community. It involved several community meetings with potential stakeholders who provided input about desired programming and the initial design of the physical facility. While not all of the recommendations could be incorporated into the design because of financial constraints, some elements, such as a community space to be used by neighborhood nonprofits, did make their way into the initial phase. The goal is to open the facility this fall.

The Center creates a tremendous opportunity for faculty who are interested in urban agriculture, forestry, or food issues to conduct research in the city. To ensure that the community has an active role in the programming and research of this unique facility, a community advisory council was created to engage and support MSU as the full site plan is realized over the next five to ten years.

The Center will occupy the former Houghton Elementary School in Detroit's Riverdale neighborhood. Its director, Naim Edwards, is working to establish research projects with a focus on soil restoration, as well as activities that will engage local residents. When the MSU-DPFLI Center opens, Extension will provide ongoing educational programs for youth—gardening classes, nutrition, and social and emotional education—at the new location.

MSUE in Wayne County

MSU Extension reaches more than 20,000 Detroit residents and logs more than 60,000 program contacts in Wayne County each year. Many of these programs are low- to no-cost. Programs offered to the public include financial literacy and mortgage foreclosure counseling, Master Gardener training, and micro-business food counseling.

Extension also works with local community-based organizations to develop and start community gardens, train participants on issues involving food safety and preservation, and develop local food networks.

4-H programs help youth to develop much needed life skills to be successful in an ever changing world. They provide health, nutrition, and wellness workshops that teach participants how to make healthy food choices, how to be more physically active, and how to cope with the stresses of life through mindfulness and other stress reducing activities.

Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles

Illustration of the proposed new MSU-DPFLI building.

Extension offers two nutrition programs, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program. The two programs reached more than 25,000 participants in Wayne County in 2018. The delivery effort includes multiple nutrition curricula and the incorporation of physical activity as a part of healthy lifestyles. The programs target youth and adults, and occur with numerous partners throughout the City of Detroit and Wayne County. Extension staff engage teachers, community center staff, senior-center administrators, and other community-based representatives to provide educational curricula such as Eat Healthy, Be Active; Eat Smart, Live Strong; and Healthy Food, Healthy Families, along with others. The education is complemented with physical activity exercises and is conducted in up to eight one-hour sessions per program.

At the Detroit Service Learning Academy (DSLA), Extension staff conducted Fuel Up to Play 60. This program developed an active kids' committee and worked with cafeteria staff to promote healthy eating and exercise throughout the school. Mann Elementary, Charles H. Wright Elementary, and Division Elementary also participated.

Efforts included a collaboration between the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) and Extension to upgrade the DSLA play area with design graphics that promote physical activity and the nutritional My Plate.

To further Extension's nutrition programming effort, an MSUE staff member serves on the Detroit Food Policy Council. The Council was established in 2009 by approval of the Detroit City Council and consists of 21 members working to address healthy food issues in the city.

Another partner in Detroit for nutrition education is the Michigan Women's Golf Association. Nutrition classes were added to golf instruction for youth in collaboration with United Way, which provided free lunches during the nutrition component of the classes.

Social and Emotional Health

Social and emotional health programs are provided by Extension's Health and Nutrition professional staff and include such topics as mindfulness, anger management, and co-parenting and communication.

One parenting effort evolved from an identified local need from the Wayne County Third Circuit Court in the City of Detroit. MSU Extension provides co-parenting education and support to separated, divorced, and never-married parents going through break-up, parents struggling to parent across two homes, and/or those engaged in ongoing disputes regarding custody, parenting time, and parenting practices. As a result of Extension's partnership with the Court, a service agreement was executed in 2019 that funded a new program called Together We Can. This program incorporates early childhood and paternity education for single parents in Detroit and Wayne County. The program is held at Focus: Hope, the MSU Detroit Center, Franklin Wright Settlement, and Eastern Market to accommodate program participants living in the city. The overall vision of this effort is to improve social and emotional outcomes for children by working with one of the region's most vulnerable populations.

Partnership development is critical to the success of Michigan State University and especially to the work that is done through Extension. These relationships sometimes take years to develop before the numerous conversations and meetings actually produce a mutually beneficial outcome.

  • Written by Richard A. Wooten
  • Photographs courtesy of MSU Extension and Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture

Like this Magazine? Join our mailing list