Detroit URC Board Partner Spotlight: An interview with Suzanne Cleage, Director of Neighborhood Growth, Eastside Community Network (ECN)
The Eastside Community Network (formerly Warren/Conner Development Coalition) has been spearheading community development on Detroit's east side for over 30 years.
They work with residents and partners to drive lasting, positive change in their neighborhoods and communities. This positive transformation is achieved through resident engagement, multi-sector collaborations, advocacy, leadership development, and innovative approaches to land development.
Suzanne Cleage, the Director of Neighborhood Growth, recently spoke with us about her work at ECN and how she benefits from serving on the Detroit URC Board: “I gain the ability to connect with other community leaders and researchers to gain insight and knowledge around health disparities. It also gives me the opportunity to represent my people.”
How did you first get involved with Detroit URC?
ECN has been involved with the Detroit URC since its inception in 1995. We were known as Warren Conner Development Coalition back then. As staffing changes occurred, different individuals get appointed to the Board. When I began my employment at ECN in 2015, a part of my responsibility was to represent ECN and the residents of the eastside.
The mission of ECN is to develop people, places and plans for sustainable neighborhood growth on Detroit's Eastside. How has Detroit URC helped you advance your mission?
Improving the health and wellness through a holistic approach, as well as addressing community/place-based needs, provides for sustainable neighborhoods. In working to address social disparities in health related issues, we continue to educate and empower residents to change their behaviors for a better tomorrow as well as advocate for better living conditions.
Working with the Detroit URC and its affiliated partners has helped ECN by providing educational information at Summits (ECN educational forums which address specific community concerns), and providing evaluation and consultation on health initiatives administered in the 48213 zip code, also known as the Chandler Park Healthy Neighborhood Initiative. The Detroit URC sat on the executive committee through the planning and implementation phases of that initiative that addressed type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
I also appreciate the fact that community input is valued in the decisions which impact Detroiters. The Detroit URC continues to believe and support equity and community participation in all the work they do. I have had the pleasure of reviewing grants and CBPR academy submissions to ensure the community voice and participation are always at the forefront.
Are there other ways in which your partnership with the Detroit URC is helpful for you and ECN?
Through the Detroit URC, ECN has developed a wonderful lasting partnership with U of MI School of Information and Technology. This new partnership has led to bi-monthly meetings with residents to establish neighborhood tours and create entrepreneurs in our community. The School of Information has also volunteered for over a year now- providing hands-on computer/technology assistance to residents on the second Saturday of each month in our “Bring Your Own Device” workshops. ECN has also been able to support researchers in the School of Public Health with a lung cancer screening tool by recruiting residents, and hosting focus groups that provided resident feedback and evaluation of the materials aimed at reducing the disproportionately high rate of lung cancer among African American males.
What initiatives are you currently working on?
We have neighborhood planning happening in the McDougall Hunt neighborhood- which is an extension of the communities that we've historically served. We are working on offsite credits for green infrastructure to build capacity in one of the neighborhoods that has more open space. We are working to re-establish the Mack Ave corridor as a viable business corridor, building a business association and connecting communities, the Grosse Pointes, along the corridor. We are working with 100 residents to remove barriers to poverty through our Partnership for Economic Independence program. We are creating entrepreneurs through our partnership with ProsperUS Detroit and Southwest Economic Solutions. We have recently opened a satellite office on Mack Ave to connect with residents. This site will also house our computer lab in which we will work to bridge the digital divide in our community.
In terms of youth development, we have, in partnership with Southeastern HS, created a speaker series with the 10th grade class on leadership, advocacy, community building and organizing. We also have a youth center, "the Vault," which provides after school programming Mondays -Thursdays.
What are your goals for next year?
My goal is to continue to build upon our existing work. For example, we are working on the opening of the computer lab and the building of community using our new space -- “Mack Market” on Mack Ave. We also want to connect more businesses and neighborhoods together- advocating for better conditions in our communities. We also want to create sustainable self- sufficient communities, empower young minds, and develop leads in our community. Lastly, we want to increase voter awareness and engagement among residents and continue to work with government/city departments on behalf of residents
What do you wish more people understood about ECN?
I wish they understood that we work from a holistic approach- addressing all aspects of quality of life- not just housing. Community development has evolved into so much more. It's the new social justice voice for communities.
For links to previous interviews, please click on a name below.