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#OTGYpsi: A local nonprofit provides positive experiences for Ypsilanti area youth and a coat drive!

In its second year, Ypsilanti youth arts nonprofit "Elevation Youth Corp" is planning to support the community with winter coats for those in need. WEMU's Lisa Barry and Sarah Rigg from On the Ground Ypsi talk with Yolanda Ragland, executive director of the group, about their satisfying first year and what lies ahead.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsilanti youth arts nonprofit uses pop-up shop to fund winter coats for those in need

Elevation Youth Corp


Lisa Barry: Focusing on what's happening in the Ypsilanti area, this is On the Ground Ypsi, here on 89-1 WEMU. I'm Lisa Barry, joined by On the Ground Ypsi project manager Sarah Rigg to talk about one of her online articles being shared this week. And also joining our conversation is someone she interviewed for that article. I'm going to let Sarah introduce that person and tell us what we're talking about. 

Sarah Rigg: This week, I got an update from Elevation Youth Corp. They're a local youth arts nonprofit. I actually interviewed them just a little over a year ago, and we did a story about how they got started in the middle of the COVID pandemic. And now, we're catching up with them a little bit more than a year later to find out what they're up to. And I brought with me the executive director, Yolanda Ragland. 

Yolanda Ragland: Hi, how are you guys? 

Lisa Barry: Good. Thanks for joining us here for On the Ground Ypsi. So what is new? What's the update for your organization? 

Yolanda Ragland: We're in our second year for Elevation Youth Corp. We just finished up our youth summer program, and that ran from July 1st to the end of August, where we had several workshops we talked about last year. We had our hip-hop workshop with Maurice Archer, shoutout to him, and Joshua, our African dance instructor. He taught Afropunk. And we also had our fashion workshop with me, showcasing many of our boys clothing. And it was just wonderful. And we ended it, taking the kids out to Cedar Point. And now, we have our coat drive coming up on November 27, down at 734 Brewery. And we also have our youth pop-up shop at Dreamland Theatre, and that's coming up next Sunday on November 21st. 

Lisa Barry: What is the age range of the youth you're serving, and where are they from? 

Yolanda Ragland: So, our summer youth programs were serving ages 10 to 17. We're located in the Ypsilanti downtown area, although our program is open to everyone. But we do specialize in the 734 area, downtown Ypsilanti I'm a resident of Ypsilanti, so that's where our heart is. But our heart is also with all of the youth. Our community service programs that we do, though, throughout the year are pretty much open to all ages, though. 

Lisa Barry: Sounds like you did some pretty fun things, but I'm wondering how are they doing these days? It seems like you are close to the youth of Ypsilanti area right now. Are they doing OK?

Yolanda Ragland: I want to just say we are in a state of emergency in Ypsilanti, actually. Overall, there is a lot of violence going on. There's a lot of positive things going on, too, that we want to showcase or highlight. But we are seeing that there is a high crime rate that is rising in Ypsilanti area, and it's involving a lot of juveniles. And I'm just so happy. I wanted to also shout out Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Victoria Burton, who asked me to be on the board for Washtenaw juvenile justice. They're doing something to help reform what's going on with these juveniles, helping them to get out of the system and setting things up, so that they have a better future once they were in the system. So, I'm very happy to be a part of that board and like we're doing, we're just trying to tap into their talents, try to provide a distraction in a safe environment, so that these kids can dream, and they can do other things with their time. So, we're just really excited about having 20 registered youth members this summer, and it would have been more with the COVID restrictions. We had to keep the numbers down. But everybody that was there really wanted to be there. And I think we're going to get twice as many next year inquiring, and we do keep in contact with these youth throughout the year. Like I said, we do our community service events, and we always reach out to our youth members to be involved in that. But we just kind of try to keep in contact with them throughout the year to just be a positive outlet for them.

Lisa Barry: I heard you use the word "distraction," and, as an Ypsilanti-based youth arts nonprofit, I can appreciate that. But, somehow, I have this feeling, you know what's really going on in their lives and why this is so necessary what you're providing.

Yolanda Ragland: Absolutely. As you all know that I lost a son to gun violence, so my heart is definitely in this cause to provide, like I said, a distraction, just another way out, you know, another way to dream, other things to aspire to be that are positive. And they are cool. That's the thing that we do, like, is that we see the smiles on their faces. They're having a good time. You know, they're not really introduced to things like Afropunk. This year, we'll be introducing dance styles. These are things that they may see on TV, but they never thought that they would get the opportunity to actually learn some steps. And you just don't know what that would spark in a young youth, you know?

Lisa Barry: Right. 

Yolanda Ragland: You just don't know. So, it's just exciting to see them all come alive and have a great time in class and in order for it to be just totally positive. You know, there was no negativity or anything like that. So, we just want to continue to provide those spaces for them. 

Lisa Barry: Sarah, what else will we read about in your online article this week? 

Sarah Rigg: I thought that they did such a wonderful job with their coat drive last year. Yolanda told me they gave out 86 coats, I believe it was. Mostly new, a few gently used. And they opened up that effort by not just running the coat drive, but then using the money from the youth pop-up shop to buy even more codes. What a great project. 

Yolanda Ragland: We're back again downtown with 734 Brewing Co. so a shout out to them. They allowed us to use their space again. And we've already gotten about 20 registrations. It's a two-coat limit. Lots of donations are steady coming in, and I just want to put out there that we're still collecting new and gently-used coats at Low Key Restaurant, at 734 Brewery, at Headspinner Salon, This and That and the Odder Things. You can also, you know, drop coats, new and used, off at those locations. We, actually, this year, the new part is we've gotten more clothing, donations, socks, and different things like that. So, because restrictions have let down a little bit, we may do a walk through where people can pick those items out. People are really generous this year. I think they saw the article last year, and we really appreciate you guys showcasing us. 

Lisa Barry: Do you need a certain size or style of coat for a certain age group? 

Yolanda Ragland: Yes, it's just for youth coats, so it can just be anything from 12 months all the way up to size 18 husky. It's all youth coats any size in between. 

Lisa Barry: And when is this go from? From when to when? 

Yolanda Ragland: Actually, we're collecting coats now, all the way up until the 21st of November. And the coat drive will take place on November 27. Just want to add that if you also want to come and show, you know, support the kids down at the pop-up, we'll be down there at Dreamland Theatre. They're going to be showcasing all of their products. It's going to be so exciting. My daughter, she has Eliana jewelry line, and we'll be collecting coats there. That would be the absolute last place that you can drop off coats. You can leave a donation and support your community. 

Lisa Barry: How would you quantify the need? How much of a need is there for coats and clothes for people in our community?

Yolanda Ragland: Honestly, I think that there is a big need. I've seen a few different people in the area that were trying to put together coat drives, but it was hard to collect the donations because obviously the community of who needs the coats. So, it's a little difficult when you're trying to ask for donations from the community that actually needs, the coats. So I'm really grateful for our sponsors. UAW Local 3000, Coalition of Black Union Trade, Print Giants, a few others that have actually joined forces. You know, local businesses in the area are the ones that really helped out with us being able to get enough donations. We're still reaching out to Meijer and Walmart and other larger facilities for donations. But it is difficult, I think, in the area to collect the donations, like I said, because the area is actually in need. 

Lisa Barry: Mm hmm. Yolanda Ragland, executive director of Elevation Youth Corp, and Sarah Rigg from On the Ground Ypsi. Thanks to both of you for talking to us here on 89 one WEMU. 

Sarah Rigg: Thanks, Lisa.

Yolanda Ragland: Thank you. 

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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