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Washtenaw United: 'Friends In Deed' offers help to those experiencing poverty in Ypsilanti

Amtheyst Floyd (left) and Tracey Hoesch from Friends in Deed at the WEMU studio.
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Amtheyst Floyd (left) and Tracey Hoesch from Friends in Deed at the WEMU studio.


Director of Circles Washtenaw County since January 2022. Worked with the Circles Chapter in Holland, Michigan prior to moving to Ann Arbor in 2018.


Did my Capstone project with Friends In Deed while attending Eastern Michigan University. Joined the organization as an AmeriCorps VISTA after graduation. Became the Development Associate in December 2019.


Friends In Deed

Circles Program

Over the Edge


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. We call it Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair, and today, we're going to discuss the ongoing battle to combat poverty. The Ypsilanti-based organization Friends In Deed has its own way of addressing the issues and helping those in need, utilizing a three-pronged approach. It provides direct emergency assistance, and it has a poverty reduction collaborative that works toward systemic changes that perpetuate poverty. And it has what we're going to focus on today, and that's called the Circles program. We have two guests from Friends In Deed today. Tracey Hoesch is director of Circles Washtenaw County. And thank you so much for the time today, Tracey.

Tracey Hoesch: Thank you, David.

David Fair: And our other guest started as a volunteer with Friends In Deed and is now a development associate. Amtheyst Floyd, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Amtheyst Floyd: Thank you, David.

David Fair: Amtheyst, you describe yourself as Black, queer and disabled. All three can be targets for overt and systemic discrimination. When you decided to dedicate your career to service work, why did you find that Friends In Deed was the right organization for you?

Amtheyst Floyd: I think it's because they do have so many ways of addressing those who are struggling and stuck in poverty. It was interesting to see just direct help, and the fact that they didn't think to call it anything, like, a handout, it's instead just being there for your community members. And that kind of support and seeing each person as an individual was really important to me.

David Fair: Building community seems to be at the center of what Friends In Deed does. And, Tracey, what about your life experiences made you want to help build community through this avenue of work?

Tracey Hoesch: I think, for me, I've always personally experienced a strong sense of community, and I see the value of that in helping me grow as an individual. And so, I want to be a part of work that's extending that out to others who might not have had the benefit of such a strong and healthy community as I have.

David Fair: Circles Washtenaw County: it's among about 70 chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its goal to permanently lift families out of poverty. And, Tracey, permanently is a big word. It's an admirable mission, and it's ambitious. What methodology does Circles employ to achieve such high ambitions?

Tracey Hoesch: Well, it is definitely an ambitious goal, but the methodology of Circles is really centered around this idea of building community, specifically around people who are experiencing poverty. And being in poverty can be a very isolating experience. And so, the hope is that when your social network grows and strengthens, you have more access and opportunity to gain economic stability.

David Fair: 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United conversation continues with Tracey Hoesch and Amtheyst Floyd from Ypsilanti-based Friends In Deed. And, for all too many, poverty is generational. And it's often defined by zip code. It's defined by skin color. Amtheyst, when you work to raise money to help fund the work of Friends In Deed, and programs like Circles, how do you express the need for changes in social justice to potential donors and investors?

Amtheyst Floyd: I think it just comes down to debunking the myths, essentially, that there are structures in place. And even though you may not see them personally when you are higher income or experience them, working with individuals who do experience them and working alongside of them and just showing them, again, it's about building community and learning that each person is an individual and that the systems in place are what's holding each individual person down, that it relates to them because everyone has experienced injustice in some way or have felt cheated or has, you know, lost. And that relates to people.

David Fair: And how much of a barrier, Amtheyst, is the myth that surrounds poverty when you're trying to send out your message and build that community?

Amtheyst Floyd: It's pretty difficult because alongside, like, the myths, there's the actual clip effect which stops people from moving up financially because they may lose benefits. And that financial gain doesn't cover all the benefits they're losing. And so, putting together both the, like, very difficult-to-stomach issues and then also the hand-in-hand with actual financial difficulties, I think creates a bigger and better picture for a lot of people. And once they get there, once they see how difficult it can be that they just want to help. They just want to help.

David Fair: Tracey, how long is Circles Washtenaw County been operating, and how many people and families is it serving at the moment?

Tracey Hoesch: So, we are in our sixth year, and we are currently in our fifth cohort of Circle leaders and allies. So, we have seven leaders and 14 allies participating, and we are about to start our sixth cohort in September.

David Fair: So, when you talk about leaders, this is obviously about getting together and providing in-person support and the guidance and mentorship necessary to exit poverty and stay out of poverty. What would a get-together look like? What would that be like if I wanted to attend and needed to attend?

Tracey Hoesch: Yeah. So, we meet every Tuesday night. We always start with a meal for everyone that's participating. So, the leaders, those are the individuals experiencing poverty, their allies, which is their support network, the children, the volunteers, we start with the meal because that's part of building community. It's just dining together. And then, we have a children's program where the children can participate with the youth program. And then, we have topic nights where we bring in different speakers and guest workshops, or we just create space for the leaders and the allies to meet together and work on the leaders' goals.

David Fair: So, in the six years that it's been running through Washtenaw County, is that enough time to take a look and kind of assess the progress that's been made to helping people move out of poverty?

Tracey Hoesch: Yes, absolutely. We have a really good track record of keeping progress of our leaders and the alumni leaders. And so, we've been able to watch many families work their way out of poverty and into economic stability over the past six years.

David Fair: We're talking about combating poverty with two representatives from an Ypsilanti-based organization whose mission is to do exactly that. Tracey Hoesch and Amtheyst Floyd from Friends In Deed are Washtenaw United guests on 89 one WEMU. Certainly, no secret that help people get and stay out of poverty.--it takes money. And one of the more fascinating and interesting fundraisers we've ever had in this community is Friends In Deed's Over the Edge event. And this year's is coming up in September. Amtheyst, describe the rather intense and fun event that is Over the Edge.

Amtheyst Floyd: Absolutely. Over the Edge is a peer-to-peer fundraiser, which means that there are a few people who say, I plan on raising $1,000 to rapel, and, in that, I am giving towards a nonprofit that services Washtenaw County. And it's really easy. You just set up a donor profile. You start sharing the message about both yourself, why you're interested in Friends In Deed, or even if you're just interested to rapel. And if you make it to $1,000, then you will be rapelling down Hill Hall on September 23rd this year. And if you don't, then, worst case scenario, you know, you've raised some funds for a local nonprofit.

David Fair: I think the idea of rapelling down an 11-story building like Hill Tower on the Eastern Michigan University campus might be a little daunting to some. So, obviously, you can contribute and support others that want to do that. But I want to ask, Amtheyst, have you done this event in the past? Have you gone down the side of a building?

Amtheyst Floyd: I have. I've gone down a 14-story building a couple of times, and it seems really scary before you go. But once you are rapelling and taking your time, it's just an absolute beautiful view. It is a wonderful experience. And, also, if you're still scared up until that point, you can have someone go in your place and just really see it as your fundraising for someone else to experience it.

David Fair: Now, Tracey, have you deemed it appropriate for yourself to go down the side of a building?

Tracey Hoesch: I have not deemed inappropriate for myself, but it was appropriate for my husband to go down, so I cheered him on from the bottom last year.

David Fair: And it was probably rewarding for both of you.

Tracey Hoesch: Absolutely.

David Fair: Now, Tracey. It's called Over the Edge. And I've been thinking about is there a metaphor involved for what Friends In Deed does: the issue of poverty and the Over the Edge title of the event?

Tracey Hoesch: Yeah, really. I think, you know, we understand that combating poverty is a stiff climb. You know, it's a hard goal to reach and it's one that we believe that we ultimately can do. And so, we're going to keep fighting, and, hopefully, we get as many families as possible over the edge of poverty.

David Fair: Amtheyst, Over the Edge and rappelling down the side of a multistory building sounds like an idea that could only come out of a development department. How exactly did it originate?

Amtheyst Floyd: So, there are a lot of Over the Edge events across the U.S. And the director of development and communication at the time had heard about it and was like, "Let's go! Let's take it to Washtenaw County!" And it wasn't a big hit at first. It was a little scary, obviously, for the idea of fundraising that much and for rappelling down multiple story building--

David Fair: The first three were in Ann Arbor, right?

Amtheyst Floyd: Yes, the first three were at the Graduate Ann Arbor. That was 14 stories. And it was really hard, you know, just trying to convince the location to let us do it, because everyone's a bit scared about the liability.

David Fair: Right.

Amtheyst Floyd: But the truth is it's incredibly safe. They have not had any accidents. The nonprofit that does this event and works with us is amazing at their job.

David Fair: So, Tracey, how can people get involved if they would like to scale their way down an 11-story building on the Eastern Michigan University campus?

Tracey Hoesch: Yeah, they can go to our website. We have all the information there where they can sign up to be a rapeller and the information is there to raise the funds.

David Fair: I would like to thank you both for making the time to spend with us today and kind of fill us in. And I wish you the best of luck with the Over the Edge event.

Tracey Hoesch: Thank you, David.

Amtheyst Floyd: Thank you.

David Fair: That is Friends In Deed Circles director Tracey Hoesch and development associate Amtheyst Floyd. For more information on Friend In Deed, the Circles program, and the Over the Edge rappelling event September 23rd at Eastern Michigan University, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


Friends In Deed is a current recipient of United Way of Washtenaw County’s Community Impact Fund— which provides multi-year (3 year) funding to organizations that are actively mitigating and disrupting the Impacts of Racism, Poverty, and Trauma among United Way priority populations and communities.

Friends In Deed will receive an award of $30,000 per year (July 1, 2022—June 30, 2025) for general operating support and wraparound services that meet the basic needs of families in Washtenaw County.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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