Students grow from community experience
This summer, Michael Malloy left the green of MSU’s campus to introduce an environmental initiative in Metro Detroit.
Malloy, a social relations and policy sophomore, spent his summer working in Detroit suburb Highland Park, Mich., as a participant of the Green Economy Leadership Training, or GELT, program.
“I was really excited to not just end up at home for the summer,” he said. “This was definitely more productive (and) fulfilling”
The program, which was created by two MSU alumni in summer 2010, aims to build a large-scale, environmentally conscious economy while educating and training its participants.
“I wanted to create … a program that offered different entry points for young people to actually get technical skills,” GELT co-founder Scott Meloeny said.
Participants took part in one of four group projects — building a playground, renovating an abandoned house, building a greenhouse or experimenting with solar energy — and in various individual projects.
“All of (the projects) are rooted in creating revenue for the city while also giving folks hands-on experience in the community,” Meloeny said.
Participants lived in an apartment complex in the city and typically worked more than 40 hours a week.
“We moved to Highland Park (for the summer) because we recognized in order to actually create some of these things we were talking about, we needed to be residents,” Meloeny said. “We needed to be a part of the culture and the community.”
GELT provided Malloy, who spent most of his time renovating an abandoned house, an opportunity to immerse himself in a new culture.
“(Highland Park) is a really stark contrast to the kind of environment I’m used to,” he said.
International relations junior Kenneth Laskowski, another program participant, also said Highland Park and its residents made an impact on him this summer.
“It’s a real eye-opener, most definitely, to (the) life some people live,” Laskowski said.
Laskowski helped build a playground for neighborhood children using resources from the community. The finished product — a play structure shaped like a dragon — was created using more than 100 old tires.
In addition to providing participants with an opportunity to gain skills and experience a new culture, Meloeny said he wanted to provide a service to the residents of Highland Park.
“When (residents) walk out their door, they see (the changes, and) that’s something that they’re getting that they’ve never gotten before,” Meloeny said. “That ultimately gives them a sense of hope (and) a sense of pride.”
Meloeny said he plans to expand the program, and in 2012, GELT will be year round, taking place in several locations, such as Chicago and East Lansing. Participants will be able to donate as much time to the program as they wish, rather than committing themselves for the current full nine weeks.
“We want to get as many people involved as possible,” he said.
Malloy said he was grateful to be able to experience Highland Park at this interesting point in its history.
“For as messed up as (places) like Detroit and the city Highland Park are right now, there are a lot of really cool things going on,” he said. “It’s a kind of unique thing to be living there in this particular time.”