Volunteers United to Fight Against Homelessness

Published on April 23, 2024 in

Every April, United Way for Southeastern Michigan celebrates Global Volunteer Month to reflect on those who generously give their time in support of others. This month, people who go above and beyond in lending their time and talents to better our community are recognized in 2024’s Volunteer Honor Roll.

Several of the selfless volunteers included in this year’s list work hard to change the lives of people who are unhoused in our region. Ericka Woods and Darvell Powell are two of our all-stars who have been hands-on leaders in this impactful service.

Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County saw the number of people experiencing homelessness rise 31% between 2021 and 2022, according to the Ending Homelessness in Michigan Annual Report. At the same time, Washtenaw and surrounding counties also experienced a 17% increase.

Ericka is unable to pass by and ignore the needs of people who are unhoused. Her empathy and volunteerism are rooted in her childhood experiences.

“The reason why I gravitate more towards the homeless is because growing up— I wasn’t homeless, but I didn’t have a lot,” said Ericka. “I kind of understand what it feels like not to have things.”

“When I got older and I was seeing people out on the street, it tugged at my heart.”

Ericka began volunteering to be a part of the solution. Not only is she involved in multiple clothing drives for people experiencing homelessness, but she also looks forward to being outside every Saturday with Elevate Detroit passing out food.

“When I go out and volunteer, I always want to give them the best,” said Ericka. “The last event we had, I got Chipotle catered because some of them have never had it and they get excited about that stuff, too.”

By providing exciting meals for people experiencing homelessness, Ericka has built a reputation for herself, and everyone lights up whenever she comes around.

“When they see me, they already know I’m going to have something good for them,” said Ericka. “One time, we made tacos, and they were very, very thankful — now one guy calls me the Taco Lady.”

Both Ericka and Darvell have been inspired to hopefully help turn the tide and make a difference with one of the most vulnerable populations. For Darvell, devoting his energy to this cause came naturally as he could see and feel the immediate need.

“Personally, I see homeless people as the utmost in need in an urgent nature,” said Darvell. “For me to walk past and see homelessness as a systemic issue and not to take action is inexcusable.”

“I’m inspired to support organizations to make their work more impactful and stop the bleeding that’s happening in the city.”

Darvell has collaborated with Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) to do just that. As a volunteer and the founder of the Black Young Professionals (BYP), Darvell brought both people-power and success to NSO’s efforts in eradicating homelessness.

Since 2016, Darvell and BYP have been instrumental in NSO’s largest annual fundraiser for people experiencing homelessness, Handlebars for the Homeless (H4H).

“When BYP volunteered at H4H, it just seemed like a natural fit— everybody enjoyed doing the set up,” said Darvell. “We made such a big impact in 2016, by the next year, we were actually also placed on the committee to help plan the event and that’s how it’s been ever since.”

This year will be the first that Darvell and BYP participate in the bike tour around the city instead of working behind the scenes. They will be able to experience their impact on the event firsthand and enjoy the fruits of their volunteering.

Ericka and Darvell have been powerful mobilizers in encouraging their communities. Thanks to their leadership in community organizing, hundreds of other moms and black professionals have devoted their time and talents to people experiencing homelessness.

“I incorporated my love for volunteering into the 1Mother2Another group as a bonding tool,” said Ericka. “Since 2014, I’ve found different places for us to go volunteer every month.”

Eradicating homelessness will take the collaborative efforts of community members. This Global Volunteer Month is an ideal time to find a cause that matters and use your energy and talents to make the world a better place.

“It’s really about understanding the responsibility to improve the conditions that are present today, for the youth of tomorrow,” said Darvell. “We are part of that narrative— and we are benefiting from work that others have done that we don’t even know about.”

Inspired to get involved? Visit UnitedWaySEM.org/GlobalVolunteerMonth to find the opportunity that’s right for you!