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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti Township to create a "makerspace" for area youth empowerment


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: Planned maker space aims to engage youth in Ypsi Township's West Willow neighborhood

New West Willow Neighborhood Association

Friends In Deed


Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is On the Ground Ypsi, a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community. We bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. And today, our focus is on what's being called a new makerspace or gathering space in Ypsilanti Township. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, who's reporting this week on the idea of creating a makerspace in the township that's planned and designed for the community's youth. Rylee, thanks for being here today.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks for having me.

Cathy Shafran: So, can you tell me a little bit more about what we're learning in your Concentrate Media article?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, the focus is on a new project done in the West Willow neighborhood for a makerspace, which is a place where folks can come in and learn about different computing and technology we've got. You can learn about and use 3D printers. You can talk to like-minded folks about projects that you're working on. And this makerspace is being created with the youth of West Willow in mind, so that these kids can learn the skills that they want to learn to further help themselves, their families, and their community.

Cathy Shafran: So, instead of a traditional community center where they're playing basketball and doing arts and crafts, this has been called a makerspace because they are making themselves into something?

Rylee Barnsdale: I think that's a nice way to describe it. And there are other makerspaces around the Ann Arbor area. This one is specifically going to be used for this community, mainly because of transportation and accessibility. There are all of these programs and these places that are available, but a lot of the folks in around the West Willow area are going to have to take a lot of busses or have access to a car to get to those places. The makerspace, in this case, is right across the road. It's super close by, very short drive or walk If the weather is nice. And these kids are going to be able to utilize this space not only for themselves and developing skills that they can use in their future careers, but also skills that they can use now within their community.

Cathy Shafran: I understand that the idea is being driven in part by a gentleman that we actually talked to a couple of shows ago who is in charge of the farmers market in West Willow neighborhood. Is that right?

Rylee Barnsdale: That's right. Josh McAllister is one of the individuals spearheading this project. He's done a lot of work with the youth and especially with the farmers market that we spoke about. These kids are able to not only volunteer for their community, but they're getting paid for the work that they're doing. And that can oftentimes be a real driving force when maybe your family needs a little bit of extra help every now and then.

Cathy Shafran: And is the project up and running yet?

Rylee Barnsdale: The makerspace is hopefully is set to open closer to the opening of the farmers market this year. So, around the springtime when it's a little bit warmer. So, the youth are going to have this not only the farmer's market resource, but also the resources at the makerspace.

Cathy Shafran: So, in your report in Concentrate Media, Rylee, I know that you talked extensively with Elisa Guyton. She's a community activist, and she's a part of the driving force in this project. Elisa is actually joining us right now in the studio. Thanks for being with us, Elisa.

Elisa Guyton: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Cathy Shafran: Talk to me about your interest in this. Why this project? And is there actually nothing like this available for the West Willow?

Elisa Guyton: Right. Correct. So, the whole reason of the why is because our communities, especially West Willow, we need safe spaces for youth to go. We need spaces that are youth-driven. And that is exactly what's happening is behind the scenes in Josh's basement. He's working with the youth right now--like everyone. You know, a creative makerspace can happen anywhere, and we're just trying to move it out of Josh's basement into an actual facility. And it's Friends in Deed, whose space is on Ecorse that we're looking at, and we're talking about what kind of options for us are there. And we're talking about building a true partnership where not only do we have the space at Friends in Deed, but we're helping them get their processes for their incoming furniture, because I don't know if you know Friends in Deed, but it's a 501c3, and they're all about assisting people who need help, who need furniture, who need homes, who need need.

Cathy Shafran: So, what's the vision?

Elisa Guyton: So, the vision is that we're going to, with the youth of West Willow, we're going to go in and develop some lean processes for Friends in Deed, for their furniture part. We're going to help start learning how to work on the furniture by helping Friends in Deed with the incoming furniture if there's stuff is broken and if we can fix that and then get it back out to the community. And so then, in the downtime, that's when we'll focus on the youths' projects and what they want to learn. We already have the 3D printer. The youth are already excited about one project that they're actively working on right now, but it's just all happening in Josh's basement, which isn't sustainable. But it's truly about building a sustainable program, not your one and done because trauma has happened, because these well-intended people and organizations come into the neighborhood, into a program, but it's, like, one and done. They get their stats, and they're out. And it really causes trauma because, you know, the youth especially, they are yearning to learn. Like, they are sponges, and it's just about providing them an atmosphere where they can learn and play. And, oh, by the way, they're going to get a stipend, you know, for the work that they do with us, so that they don't have to go to McDonald's and get a part-time job. We pay a stipend every time we interact or have meetings with the youth just to help them climb that economic ladder. A lot of these families--they need their teenagers to go get a job.

Cathy Shafran: Instead of looking at this as a community center where you can go and play and have fun and quote unquote, get off the streets, you're framing this as employment, as a job: learning upholstery skills, learning carpentry skills, fixing the furniture, and using technology like 3D printers to create other objects.

Elisa Guyton: Exactly.

Cathy Shafran: Where does the funding come from?

Elisa Guyton: Well, right now, that's a really great question. We're talking to different partners. You know, we want to get some STEM programming coming through, like, when we get this going, because it's not when, it's Josh. We're already working with the youth, right? It's just solidifying our partners of how we're going to structure them. And that's what we've been working on through the winter right now. Like, what structures, what process can we put in? Who can we call on as mentors to help really cultivate that programming that the youth wants?

Cathy Shafran: Does it have a name? Is it just a makerspace?

Elisa Guyton: West Willow Creative Makerspace. Keeping that creative in there because creativity in art is what is so needed, especially with the youth.

Cathy Shafran: And when do you anticipate it moving into the Ecorse facility?

Elisa Guyton: So, it's just a matter of having all of our ducks in a line, so to speak, and planning that first date of, "Okay, here's day one. We're going to go in with the youth." And then, we'll have a callout for volunteers in the afternoon because we want to paint the space. We want to really, you know, have the youth design and, you know, what do you want? How can we do this?

Cathy Shafran: Do you believe that the youth in the community know what's going on, or is this going to have to be an outreach thing or word-of-mouth where they say, "Hey, there's there's a job available over at an Ecorse road where I can learn a skill and do things." Do you think that's is something that you're going to have to build an interest in, or do you think it's there?

Elisa Guyton: So, it's already there because of Josh's work through the community garden and the farmers market. Like, the youth are already there. They're already really being empowered to work in their community. Through Josh, they mow the elders' lawns. They do snow removal for the elders' sidewalks who can't do that. So, this organic is already happening and it's progressive and it's different and it scares a lot of people out there that they don't need to be scared because this is really, you know, empowering the community. And the quickest way to empower the community is to empower the youth.

Cathy Shafran: And do you see this overall changing the community?

Elisa Guyton: If we can empower the community's youth, yes, ma'am!

Cathy Shafran: To give them an alternative purpose.

Elisa Guyton: Right. It's showing them that they have opportunity, and it's really showing them that, you know, what are you passionate about? What excites you? And how can us adults fuel your fire, so that you want to keep learning and keep focus on whatever makes you passionate, so that becomes your job. It's not you have to go to school. You have to learn it this way. It's really giving children the safe space to find out what do they like. It gives them that space to get really nerdy on this one thing and then next week, they're done with it.

Cathy Shafran: If your fundraising efforts go as you hope and the space moves forward as you hope in a year's time, what do you expect this will look like? What will be happening at this facility and what will be happening in the community?

Elisa Guyton: Right.

Cathy Shafran: Paint a picture for me.

Elisa Guyton: To paint a picture, it would be a hub where youth are coming in, and they're bringing ideas to the table and saying, "I want to create this!" And, you know, there's this caring slate of adults who we call and say, "Oh my gosh! We've got a new project! You want to come? Come be with the youth and teach and, you know, give them their wisdom." And the kids know that it's a safe place that they can go and that not only that they're there and learning, but because they're there and learning, they're also putting money into their bank account, helping their family really climb the economic ladder. It's a place where kids can have dialog, and it's really, like, giving them this field of repair is what I like to call it.

Cathy Shafran: Thank you so much, Elisa Guyton, a partner in this new maker meeting project for the youth in Ypsilanti Township and Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale. Both of you, thanks so much for joining us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.

Elisa Guyton: Thank you.

Cathy Shafran: I am Cathy Shafran, and this is 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti. It's public radio from Eastern Michigan University and online at WEMU dot org.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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