My top 5 Challenge Detroit experiences

By Amanda Gettgen, Third Year Challenge Detroit Fellow

Detroit is __________. What was the first thing that came to your mind? For me, the answer is simple – Detroit is home. But then again, what truly is a home? Home is where your story begins. Home is where you sprout and blossom. Home is where your have your shoulder to lean on, and your support system pushing you to be the best version of yourself. Home is where you feel a part of something. Detroit is my home. Detroit has given me the chance to be a part of something so much larger than myself – Challenge Detroit. For the past six months 34 other fellows and I have been living, working, giving, playing and leading in the Motor City. What’s been the best part of this adventure? Well, I’m glad you asked. From my eyes, here are five of the best moments of Challenge Detroit so far:

Boot Camp

As Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” After a four-month interview process, followed by four months of amplifying anticipation, we finally began our term as Challenge Detroit fellows in August 2014.

But before we could truly start our year, we had to learn more about each other, the program, and the city we would soon call home.

On our very first day of boot camp, we took a leap of faith at the Walled Lake Outdoor Education Center – literally. We spent the day challenging ourselves and each other in the trees on a high ropes course. Standing anxiously on a small wooden step 40 feet up in the air all of the fellows were encouraged to take a “Leap of Faith” – to jump off the ledge in hopes of grabbing a metal trapeze bar just out of reach. Together, we are all embarking on a new adventure in Detroit. The leap bonded us as a team, but the leap represents so much more. We’re ready to try new things, to take risks and to push ourselves far out of our comfort zones. Through all of these challenges, the Fellows and the people of Detroit serve as our safety harness to support us and encourage us on our adventure.

Completing the 1st Challenge

Completing our first challenge with RecoveryPark was, well, challenging. RecoveryPark partnered with Challenge Detroit to help advance its mission to create jobs for Detroiter’s with barriers to employment and to transform Detroit communities by converting blighted land into urban agriculture. We had to step out of everything we know and immerse ourselves in something new.

We overcame obstacles and time constraints.

We pushed ourselves to the absolute limit. But I suppose that’s where learning happens.

And, of course, worthwhile projects demand worthwhile effort.

This was undeniably worth the effort. RecoveryPark partnered with Challenge Detroit to help advance its mission to create jobs for Detroiter’s with barriers to employment and to transform Detroit communities by converting blighted land into urban agriculture. One of the best parts of completing our first challenge was learning from other fellows, and combining the experiences, pieces of knowledge and wide variety of experience and skills within the group. It’s so remarkably overwhelming to watch a talented group of fellows that work well together to create amazing deliverables. In the beginning of our first challenge no one had a clue how exactly we would produce something unique and valuable for the organization, but our hard work gleamed on presentation day. Watching the faces of the RecoveryPark stakeholders beam with confidence and approval during our presentation was the biggest relief and slice of reassurance for all of the challenges to come.

Year 3 Kickoff

After a very busy first few months, we celebrated Challenge Detroit’s the launch of third year and new class of fellows in late November.

In support of Challenge Detroit some of the city’s best and brightest gathered at the very top of the Compuware building in downtown Detroit. We heard from past and present fellows, the founders, the board of directors, and Challenge Detroit’s leadership. We celebrated how far Challenge Detroit has come over the past three years and the program’s vision for the future.

Together, we’ve been able to work with over 30 non-profits dedicated to positively impacting the city of Detroit.

Together we’ve achieved over a 90 percent retention rate of past fellows continuing to live the values of Challenge Detroit once their time as a fellow ends.

Together we are positively changing perceptions of the city.

Together we are making a difference. Sitting in that room I took a step back and realized that in the hustle of bustle of everyday life it’s easy to forget how special it is to be a part of a team that, together, is greater than the sum of all of its parts. Together, we are Challenge Detroit.

Planting Our Roots

At the starting line of our year long journey the fellows teamed up for a weekend volunteer event on Belle Isle. There we got our hands dirty planting nearly 17,000 daffodil bulbs and had the opportunity to tour the Detroit Yacht Club.

In the moment, volunteering on the island that day was another chance to hang out with fellow fellows, enjoy the outdoors and to plant a little bit of sunshine. Looking back now I realize how momentous that day truly was. A few weeks later a friend of mine shared a quote from Henri Matisse that really stuck with me – “there are always flowers for those who will see them.”

A few weeks later stumbled upon an article that described how a daffodil symbolizes the rebirth and new beginnings. To me, in a way, each fellow is a daffodil bulb – shipped from across the country and across the county to help Detroit bloom into an even more beautiful city. Together we planted ourselves in Detroit, a city we all share a deep passion for, to sprout our roots and embark on this adventure together. Each day we’re growing and blossoming as an individual, and as a team. We are a flourishing ecosystem that supports and challenges one another. And while we’re each beautiful standing alone, together we are a blooming field of daffodils, and a spectacle to be seen.

Connecting After 5

Challenge Detroit is built on five program pillars: live, work, give, play and lead in Detroit. After a long day of work at our host companies, volunteering and working on challenges we explore different ways to #PlayDetroit.

Thanks to After 5 Detroit, an organization that plans unique work events designed to build camaraderie, engage employees in the Detroit community and connects them with other professionals around Detroit, the fellows got themselves into some friendly competition for the 2014 Bowling Tournament. We unwound, bonded as a team and networked with other young professionals at the Garden Bowl on Woodward Ave., America’s oldest active bowling center. All lanes were filled for the tournament, and while the games were close and lots of fun, there was one clear winner at the end of the evening, and it wasn’t Challenge Detroit.  But, the dodgeball tournament in May is approaching and the fellows will be ready to bring the heat with our training plan – if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.