I get a lot of news releases. Most of the time, I scan the email’s subject line and hit ‘delete.’ From time to time, a piece of news demands my attention. This is what happened last week, with an email about a youth-based initiative out of Detroit.
The email from a stranger shared news about an interesting Collective spearheaded by a 501c3 nonprofit called Grace in Action (www.graceinactiondetroit.org). Grace in Action is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The Collective’s mission statement is as follows:
“Grace in Action Collectives is a welcoming, grassroots community that animates residents, both youth and adults, as leaders in Southwest Detroit through education and cooperative economic development.”
I learned that youth unemployment in Southwest Detroit is close to 80%. Grace in Action serves this very market. This Collective was formed about a year and a half ago to provide this group with marketable skills and help them earn money.
What interested me so much is this: their Stitching Up Detroit Collective caters to the youth in Detroit by training them in graphic design, screen printing, and technology design.
Meghan Sobocienski, the Director of Collectives, started this youth-run, print and design Collective in 2013. The site is worth a visit: www.stitchingupdetroit.org. Not only do I love the group’s name, with its rich literal and figurative meanings, but I also admire the site’s contemporary, hip design. (I learned from Meghan that it was built by an 18 year old – who’s now at Princeton.)
This “stitching-up” team is composed of high school students who are learning screen printing and graphic design. (Get this: middle schoolers are also getting involved. They’ll be creating and selling cards and postcards.)
I had a nice phone conversation with Meghan, who would love for the printing community to learn about her group. That’s why I’m writing this post about it.
“We are super-rooted in the neighborhood and community,” she said. “We started as a congregation and a nonprofit.” There were kids interested in art and design. About two and a half years ago, they held a camp and brought in a small-business person from the neighborhood, who was a printer. He proceeded to teach the kids about screen printing. One 12-year-old participant was so inspired that he went on to apprentice with the printer.
A year later, they further developed the idea, because more kids were interested in printing. Meghan and another colleague put together a business plan. They started the Collective with eight kids and funds from Wheat Ridge Ministries. It was the first of several official groups. (There’s also the Radical Productions Youth Technology Collective, where students learn and provide web site and app design services, and Accion Cleaning Cooperative, which is made up of women from Southwest Detroit who are available for cleaning services.)
The newly formed Stitched collective bought one screen press and a flash dryer to start. The members worked with John Opio, who was from Freedom House, an organization that works with recent refugees. Mr. Opio had done screen printing in his native Uganda.
Currently, there are about a dozen youth involved, mostly high school students. The program runs 12 months a year. Each student commits to the program for the duration and must attend at least 10 sessions before he or she is considered for acceptance. They’re training all the while. Once they become proficient and spend about two years in the group, they earn a MacBook Pro. After three years, they can be paid for training. Payment is in technical products. All told, it is a four-year program.
The Stitching Up Detroit program demands a real commitment. The group meets at least once a week, producing T-shirts and hoodies. They have several paying customers, and while the largest order to date had been for 260, they recently got an order for 600.
Meghan shared that in 2014, which will be their 2nd year of operation, they’re going to bring in about $10,000 in revenue. This money will go into more MacBooks for the members.
The group is staffed with volunteers, including freelance designers. Juan Lopez, a local screen printer from Box of Ideas Printing, has also helped. He has been very influential in their training and in their ongoing work, noted Meghan.
What makes this story compelling for members of the print industry?
Printing is an industry that’s shrinking. It’s also having difficulty attracting young people. To know that this organization exists, and to see how motivated city students are to acquire new skills that are part of printing and the graphic arts is, well, marvelous.
How far can their enthusiasm for the graphic arts take them – and others like them?
This Collective and its members inspire me – and I hope they inspire you. If you are part of this industry, especially if you’re located in Detroit, why not reach out to Meghan and learn more. Perhaps you’ll come up with ways to further their education and knowledge. At the same time, you’ll be helping to nourish an industry that could use a little youthful boost.
Here’s Megan’s information; I know she’d love to hear from you:
Meghan Sobocienski, Director of Grace in Action Collectives
© 2014 Margie Dana.