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#OTGYpsi: Fostering community collaboration in Ypsilanti


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Here's how a weekly meeting in Ypsi has fostered community collaboration for over a decade

Parkridge Community Center

Contact Info for Parkridge Monday morning meetings


Rylee Barnsdale: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. Every Monday, representatives from local Ypsilanti organizations are invited to the Parkridge Community Center to share and promote upcoming events and programs as a way to enhance community among Ypsi's municipal departments, businesses, nonprofits, churches, and more. The weekly Parkridge Monday meeting is one regular event in a host of many hosted at the community center, and their importance and impact on Ypsi's many organizations cannot be understated, with frequent attendees calling the gathering one of the most useful parts of their week. To help shed some light on the history of the Parkridge weekly meeting is event co-founder Anthony Williamson. Hi. Anthony. Thank you so much for being here.

Anthony Williamson: Thank you for having me.

Rylee Barnsdale: So, where did the idea for a weekly community meeting of this nature kind of come from?

Anthony Williamson: Well, I actually copied a meeting that was going on at the Harris Street Center where I was employed. It was called the Ypsilanti Health Coalition meeting. And it happened on Mondays. It was hosted in my space. I wasn't a regular attendee, but it was something that the health community got together and talked about different things as it related to health. And so, when WCC was moved over to Parkridge Community Center in about 2010, I adopted the same philosophy, except for the goal was to get all our community residents--I'm sorry, community partners--involved in providing support to all the new programming that we wanted to design at Parkridge Community Center. And although I had some great ideas, I felt that it was important that other voices be heard, so we can make the program as strong as possible.

Rylee Barnsdale: For those listening who haven't had the opportunity to attend one of these meetings, can you tell me a bit about how they're structured? What does it kind of look like when you walk in?

Anthony Williamson: And so, what I call is a very formal, but informal conversation about things that happen in and around Washtenaw County with a specific focus on things that happen in Ypsilanti. And what we do is we set the table up in a circle or in a square, probably have about 25 chairs around the table, and folks gathering to sit at, what we call, the lead table. Around the rest of the room, we'll have anywhere from 20 to 30 other chairs for those folks who come in afterwards, I always buy one dozen donuts from Dom Donuts. And I tell the folks who attend I make the second-best pot of coffee in Washtenaw County. That's how we started off. Folks introduce themselves. It starts off with an introduction what organization are you from and any updates you may have. And I usually lead off. And then, it's always to my right. So, the hot seat is the person to my right.

Rylee Barnsdale: You mentioned folks coming from all around Washtenaw to share with a special look at the folks from Ypsi specifically. But who is encouraged to come overall to these meetings. You know, what are the kinds of things that they're sharing?

Anthony Williamson: Well, everyone is encouraged to come from community residents to directors of nonprofits to educators, other social workers, social work students from both Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College and the University of Michigan. It's just an open meeting. There's no special population we want because, at the end of the day, we want folks who want to provide service within Washtenaw County to make folks aware of all the wonderful resources that we have in Washtenaw County, because I do believe we're research rich. However, because of the need of the special populations in Ypsilanti, especially for 48198/48197 ZIP codes, we always try to focus on services and things that's there. And then, how do we improve what's happening at Parkridge. And that's kind of the focus.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, chatting with Anthony Williamson, co-founder of the weekly Parkridge Monday meeting. So, Anthony, you mentioned this event has been going on, you said, since 2010.

Anthony Williamson: 2010. Yes.

Rylee Barnsdale: And how have things kind of changed or updated since then? You know, we're looking at 14 years now.

Anthony Williamson: So, it started off very, very small. But one of the things that was important was consistency. We're always there. We're going to be there rain, snow, sleet or hail. There's been times it snowed early, and I beat the City of Ypsilanti there. So, I shoveled the pathway, because we do have some seniors and other folks in the community who I want to make sure they have safe passage there. It started off slow. Then it started to grow. It really, really started to grow around 2015. I would say that where we would have standing room only--55, 60 people there. And the meeting that, unapologetically, had only lasted 60 minutes. So, at 11:00, it's over, maybe 11:05 11:07 if someone runs over because I thought it was important that, one, we respect people's time. I think it was a very well attended meeting. I think some very important people within the community attended where there's executive directors of nonprofits, local officials, sheriffs or police chiefs. Those folks always participated in the activity.

Rylee Barnsdale: And I'm curious, talking about change in the way things have evolved over the years about how the meeting was affected by COVID in 2020. You know, folks obviously couldn't come in person to sit down and talk with each other. So, how did Parkridge kind of adapt to that?

Anthony Williamson: So, during COVID, not right in March, but sometimes in the following months, we started just doing it via Zoom. At that time, I wasn't the host anymore. My manager and assistant coordinator, actually, were the host and co-host, and we started doing it via Zoom. I wasn't a fan, although we have to adapt to the challenges and changes that were going on. So, I still attended and participated, but I always wanted it to come back to a in-person sort of setup. And so, what we end up doing, I believe, sometime in 2023, we just did a hybrid. So, people came in person and some people, most people, still come via Zoom. I think it's somewhere around 35 people who still attend via Zoom. And maybe, on a good day, 5 to 8 people come in person. I don't know if we'll to get back to the numbers we had pre-COVID, but I'm sort of an in-person kind of guy.

Rylee Barnsdale: Sure.

Anthony Williamson: I think it's more effective or more powerful in person, but I think it's still very effective because I think people understand and value it. And so, even when new people start jobs, they're told that they need to come to this meeting.

Rylee Barnsdale: And you'd say that the effectiveness of the meetings hasn't really been impacted by having that hybrid option.

Rylee Barnsdale: Not at all. I think it's still a very impactful meeting in the community, although I don't attend as much. Probably once in a while.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm talking with Parkridge weekly community meeting co-founder Anthony Williamson. Anthony, something I think it is important to mention that we've kind of alluded to is that, after over 20 years of hard work with WCC and Parkridge, you actually retired very recently.

Anthony Williamson: Right.

Rylee Barnsdale: Does that mean the collaboration is still ongoing between you and Parkridge? Are you trying to ease back? What does that look like for you?

Anthony Williamson: It was definitely still ongoing. I think the work that I've done in the community is just looked upon as just being really positive. And so, as a social worker, as a person who started his work in community advocacy on that part of town, I'll never leave it. I'm just not employed at Washtenaw Community College. But I still attend events at Parkridge. I'm still there every Saturday doing a program for teens. And I'm still in that neighborhood all the time, always participating and things, always being visible because the work still needs to be done.

Rylee Barnsdale: Someone like you with that level of commitment and experience, what do you think is keeping people coming back week after week to the Parkridge meeting?

Anthony Williamson: Well, I'm just going to use my social work lens to say it. It's from a place of hope. People know that there's still a lot of things going on in our community that needs to be improved, changed, rectified, reversed, whatever term you may use. And they have hope that, with a strong group of folks still supporting things, there's some positive things that are still out there on the horizon.

Rylee Barnsdale: And we'll wrap up our conversation looking at the future. You mentioned a little bit of what the future could look like. Obviously, things are under new management now. But what does the future of the Parkridge Monday meeting look like for you?

Anthony Williamson: I think it'll still continue as it is. I think we're going to work and see how we kind of pivot and change directions. A lot of people are concerned with the fact that I'm not there and things are changing. But not all change is bad. Change is just different. I think that the people and leadership at the college and in our community still want change to be effective and positive. So, those things will still happen. You just won't see me there all the time.

Rylee Barnsdale: Anthony, thank you so much for being here with me today and giving us a look behind the curtain on such a long running community event here in Ypsi. And, hopefully, some folks listening are marking their calendars to attend next week. For more information on today's topic and links to the full article, visit our website at wemu.org. On the Ground Ypsi is brought to you in partnership with Concentrate Media. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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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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