October 4, 2017

United Way and Merrill Palmer forge new partnership to put ‘Families First’

Herman Gray, president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, speaks at the Families First community forum.

Herman Gray, president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, speaks at the Families First community forum.

For 100 years, United Way for Southeastern Michigan and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute have been helping strengthen families and children in our community, and they recently teamed up to plan a future where they can do even more by working closely together.

A recent forum at Wayne State University, “Families First for 100 Years,” explored the roles of parents in early childhood development, healing childhood trauma, the impact of early arts education on preschoolers and the importance of early childhood health.

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor at The Detroit Free Press; Dr. Peter Lichtenberg, director of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development; as well as our very own President and CEO, Dr. Herman Gray served as keynotes.

“Collaboration takes time, and it takes time to get to know each other’s goals,” said Peter. “The goal is to bring both organizations together to tackle different issues. Our first focus is early childhood.”

The Tuxedo Project

During his keynote, Stephen shared his efforts aimed at helping the block where he grew up in the Livernois and Grand River area in Detroit. Called the Tuxedo Project, his former home is now a community and literary center.

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press speaks at the Families First community forum.

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press speaks at the Families First community forum.

Nearly half of the 40 homes on the block are abandoned.  Stephen shared a story of a young mother who lives as a squatter in an abandoned property on the street – one of the many neighbors he hopes the Tuxedo Project can help connect with supports.

Such situations are far from uncommon. Stephen shared other stories of residents in crisis, raising questions about how to get social services to resource-limited communities.

In a city that continues to make headlines for new downtown developments, Herman emphasized that the Tuxedo Project block is one of many.

“It helps us understand just how desperate the needs are in Detroit.”

Still, there is hope. Agencies and institutions coming together with common goals can have a greater impact.

“Partnering with a great university like Wayne State University is another tool. It’s going to help us find ways to improve the way we do things and help families,” Herman said. “I think it’s powerful.”