Detroit–May 17–Volunteers on National Arab American Service Day brightened Detroit streets and parks, planted trees and shrubs, gave face painting and kite flying fun to children, and built common ground of shared experience and trust with neighboring ethnic communities.
The purpose of the National Arab American Service Day is to “foster and encourage volunteerism and service among diverse communities, build bridges and connect people through the common experience of service and highlight Arab-American commitment to serving their local communities.”
This was the fourth year that ACCESS joined a nationwide consortium of Arab-American not-for-profits to reach across to other groups of people in volunteer activities.
This year about 2,200 volunteers nationwide participated in 22 cities, the volunteers representing 17 different Arab-American not-for-profit community centers. The volunteers worked mainly on typical urban restoration projects like park cleanups, painting park equipment, and painting murals to cover graffiti, but there were also some unique and interesting projects like beach cleaning and habitat restoration in the Golden Gate forest in the Bay area of California.
Last year, the Detroit branch of the event was coordinated by ACCESS on June 2 in the multi-ethnic community of Hamtramck. Volunteers helped plant bushes and trees, and picked up litter and made some small repairs to public areas.
Taleb Salhab, the National Outreach Director for ACCESS, explained that “This is always a great event,” and he explained that this year there are “a couple more projects than last year.”
In fact this year was in some ways similar to the previous years, namely in that it was well organized and showed impressive energy and community engagement. But it was different in Detroit in that it was much better than before, because this year a large Family Fun Day for children was organized at Lapeer Park. This was attended by hundreds of children who engaged in kite flying, face painting, potato-sack races, and much more.
Mr. Salhab explained that all of the community organizations involved in the nationwide network are “independent, community-based not for profits that can apply to join the national network.” “The whole initiative started in ‘02,” he said, “and has grown from eight to 17 members.” Not just any organization can join; they must be grass roots organizations.
The service day this year also involved cleanup work at Corktown in Detroit, and a cleanup and garden-building effort in the Warrendale community. The Warrendale event was in coordination with the Warrendale Community Garden Project–a “integrational, multicultural, community building project,” as described by its membership chair Carla Thomas.
Ms. Thomas explained that the Warrendale community is composed of people of African, Arabs, Mexican, and Polish descent.
At the Warrendale park the volunteers succeeded in repainting in bright colors all of the slides and animal sculptures and swings and other play equipment. They dug channels in which to plant the garden that Ms. Thomas has planned for there, and dozens of volunteers cleaned up grass cuttings with their hands.
The Warrendale garden, she explained, will yield crops, “fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals.” She explained the community would harvest and sell the fruits at the Eastern Market. Some of the food grown there would be given to a local food bank.
Perhaps it was Ms. Thomas who summed up the event best: “Mostly I just want everybody to come together,” she said.