Lafayette Greens and the Culture of Giving

30 Sep

DebbieKeith3_0212When I heard that Lafayette Greens had donated 2,000 pounds of its produce to Gleaners Community Food Bank, I wanted to help them make a difference in the community. I felt that my Uncle Fred and Aunt Maude would want me to volunteer. As a teenager, I spent my summers helping them on their 640-acre farm in Mechanicsville, Va., outside of Richmond.

My Aunt Maude had her own vegetable garden where she grew tomatoes, green beans and squash, among other vegetables. I relished the meals she prepared for the family with food straight from her garden because it was quality homegrown, nutritious food.

What’s more, they wanted to share that blessing of wholesome meals with others who didn’t have access to fresh, organic produce. Vegetables on Aunt Maude’s garden grew so plentifully that she and Uncle Fred took baskets of surplus food to low-income friends from church.

I’ve always wanted to be altruistic like my uncle and aunt, so I recently harvested potatoes from Lafayette Greens with Gwen Meyer, garden coordinator. The harvest of German Butterball potatoes, as well as those from Bolivia, was donated to Freedom House, a temporary home in Detroit for political refugees. Potatoes were also given to the Inner City Clubhouse, a local mental health organization. I felt gratified to be a part of blessing vulnerable people with high quality food.

It's harvest time as Gwen Meyers (right) and I dig potatoes (in 90 degree heat, I recall).

It was harvest time as Gwen Meyers (right) and I dug potatoes (in 90 degree heat, I recall).

I also looked at this volunteer experience philosophically. To harvest potatoes, you need a spade to really dig beyond the surface to where they are hidden. In the same way, you have to look beyond the surface, or blighted city neighborhoods, to see the resilient character of Detroiters. In spite of the city’s bankruptcy, I believe we will overcome eventually and even thrive. The nation — and the world — are watching. And Lafayette Greens is a harbinger of a more beautified Detroit to come.

While I was harvesting potatoes, I had the pleasure of showing the fruits of my labor to a British couple, Richard and Nicola Brown. As horticultural therapists, they were enthusiastic about the quality of produce from Lafayette Greens. Nicola wrote on the visitors’ log, “Great place!”

In talking with Richard and Nicola, I found out that they work with adults with developmental disabilities at a specialist assessment and treatment center in England, and through their research they assist people toward receiving the aid they need to live more independently.

Recently, Richard received a fellowship from Winston Churchill Foundation to research urban gardens in North America cities. He  writes about his experiences, along with his visit to Detroit’s Lafayette Greens, on his blog: The Travelling Horticultural Therapist.

Richard and Nicola are some of many visitors to appreciate the urban garden. So far in 2013, 1,600 people have signed the visitors’ log from cities near and far and overseas countries, such as New Zealand and Switzerland. Most have written remarks of exuberant praise such as, “Awesome,” “Amazing place,” and “Just great, thanks for the green.”

These comments make my heart swell with pride to be a Compuware employee and a Detroiter whose city is coming back from the brink. The remark from Leila Almi, a Parisian, was truly inspiring: “Really peaceful and gorgeous!  You do a great and useful job!”

I know my Uncle Fred and Aunt Maude are smiling from heaven because of the impact I made by volunteering at the urban garden. Giving away fresh produce to the disadvantaged was part of their life — and will continue to be part of mine.

An Awful Lot Is Going On Around the D — and It’s Not Bleak

25 Sep

headshotRemember when Digital Detroit and the Michigan IT Summit were the highlights of the local tech conference scene?  Or the dark years after those fizzled and doom and gloom replaced them — economic downturn, auto bankruptcy, real estate bubble implosion, Kilpatrick trials and the like — dictated the regional agenda?  Recall when opportunities to connect and network were limited to small mixers attended almost exclusively by job seekers and commissioned sales reps?

Well fall is upon us. And looking at my calendar as I recover from last week’s events, it is clear that we’ve entered a new era. Forgive the hyperbole, but a veritable mini-golden age of national-caliber events is taking place within our revered 139 square miles, attracting luminaries from broad swathes of the community, and surprise, surprise, from well outside of it.

Devita Davison tweeted a photo of the city's top entrepreneurs during one of the events I attended.

Devita Davison tweeted a photo of the city’s top entrepreneurs during one of the events I attended.

In a four-week period spanning the end of summer and beginning of fall, we have (or already had in the case of a couple of these events) incredible opportunities to mix, mingle and learn at the OpenCo Det “unconference,” Techonomy and TEDxDetroit. For those not ingrained in the tech/innovation agenda, take in the Detroit Design Festival or the Michigan Renaissance Festival and then wash it down with a cool one at Zoo Brew on September 27.  All of this on the heels of Dally in the Alley, Jazz Fest, Arts & Apples, Arts Beats and Eats and a host of other festivals and fairs that closed out the summer.  Suffice it to say, there is an awful lot going on in and around the D of late and none of it has the funereal tone that one might expect based on the national headlines.

The OpenCo crowd gathering at the afterglow party at MOCAD in Detroit's cultural center. (Photo tweeted by OpenCoFestivals)

I gathered with the OpenCo crowd at the afterglow party at MOCAD in Detroit’s cultural center. (Photo tweeted by OpenCoFestivals)

Chime in if you agree, or refute it if you don’t, but it seems to me that the corner is well and firmly turned, and all of this hullaballoo about regional bankruptcy is just the accountants catching up. The companies that I visited with during OpenCo Det and the guests that dropped in here were bound by a sense of optimism and enthusiasm that is Detroit’s single greatest natural resource (ok, maybe on par with our freshwater reserves).  While each person I met had a different backstory to share and a niche all their own that they were chasing, not a one spared the time to wallow in self-pity or engage any of the spin-the-bottle blame games so many national pundits seem to consume themselves with.

There are no guarantees in life and even fewer in business, but looking at my calendar and recounting my experiences from the first couple of events of the fall season among friends and coworkers, there is much to look forward to.  Not the least of which, will be seeing you there.

Open Opportunity: A HostCo’s Perspective on OpenCo Det

20 Sep


Innovation drives Detroit.

And from where I sit (on the fourth floor of the Compuware headquarters building), last week was a good indication of it.

On a four-city tour, OpenCo stopped in Detroit for a two-day gig with 60 of the city’s most progressive businesses. The city never saw the likes of it before.

At the opening VIP reception, event founder John Battelle talked about how he and fellow founder Brian Monahan took the OpenCo concept (a blend between an open studio tour and business conference) on the road to San Francisco, New York, London, as well as Detroit.

“When I visited here a year ago, there was a sense of optimism despite the crisis, a feeling of opportunity to start all over, rewrite the rules, begin again,” John remarked. “Businesses here believe in the OpenCo movement, and its importance to re-building Detroit. It was a remarkably easy event to put on in Detroit because of the support we had from the community. Detroiters picked up and ran with it.”

Compuware was among them.

Introductions are made at the Compuware session during OpenCo Det.

Compuware welcomes 21 OpenCo attendees to its worldwide headquarters.

Twenty-one OpenCo Det attendees signed up for the Compuware session. As a HostCo (one of the stops on the conference tour), I, too, took the opportunity. Davaughnu Banks of 313 Digital met me at the door of our Executive Briefing Center. As we talked, I learned Davaughnu has been a long-time ad man with expertise in digital marketing and strategy. Plus, he plans to open his own consulting/personal brand business.

“This was really a great way to see what’s happening in and around Detroit. It’s a great opportunity for networking and to meet new business partners. I can learn from the people within this room who are already doing it themselves and who are working in different business areas,” he told me.

Plenty of business cards were exchanged during the Compuware session.

Plenty of business cards were exchanged during the Compuware session.

The room was filled nearly to capacity with a good mix of professionals. Some were entrepreneurs. Many were salespeople. Others were tech guys. The remaining were just plain curious. I spoke to Judy Baldesancho and learned she was a physical therapist and a licensed instructor for Wayne, Oakland and Eastern Michigan universities.

I wondered what a physical therapist would be doing at a technology conference. “I’m also a business owner. I attended OpenCo Det to make connections and gather insights. There’s vibrancy here in Detroit, and I could not compete with the Goliaths in my industry if I wasn’t aware on what’s going on here in Detroit,” she explained.

During the session, our CTO Paul Czarnik explained how Compuware solves business problems, and provides the service and products to solve them. Simply put: “Technology performance is what we do.”

Bob Kennedy, our strategic services director, demonstrated how innovation and performance drive what business owners really want: results.

Bob Kennedy of Compuware explains consumers don't wait. They leave. It happens in technology, too.

Bob Kennedy of Compuware explains consumers don’t wait. They leave. It happens in technology, too.

He took us through the ideation and development for one of his team’s projects, justWinks, a mobile app that creates digital cards for American Greetings. The mobile app reflected changing dynamics in the greeting card space and complemented the retailer’s traditional product line enabling it to reach younger buyers. Through the app, 135 million electronic cards were sold.

Compuware also built a slick mobile app that is truly smart by design for both Detroiters and visitors, and, as OpenCo attendees, we were among the first to preview it. One woman beat me to the punch as she asked when and what app stores would it become available. “Bravo!” she replied.  I agreed. (It’s already noted in my iPhone calendar.)

So when people ask what’s driving Detroit these days? It’s technology., a tech job site, ranks Detroit as one of the top five fastest growing cities in the tech industry with year-over-year growth of 10 percent in tech job listings. Compuware, the technology performance company and one of the bigger tech companies in the OpenCo event, has 150 positions alone to fill in Detroit today.

“Great companies attract great people so I will spread the word. Because of my positive experience with each of you, I will definitely recommend your company.”

Thanks, Judy.

And thanks, OpenCo Det. for the opportunity!

To catch Compuware’s session presented to OpenCo attendees, visit our SlideShare site. For more event coverage from the 2013 OpenCo Det event, visit the OpenCo News page



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