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Friends In Deed Reaches New Heights

Urban rappelling to relieve poverty.

by Maggie McMillin

Published in August, 2020

At Friends in Deed, relationships are key.

The nonprofit has been serving Washtenaw County residents in crisis for 35 years. It offers direct financial assistance, runs a furniture donation program, and aims to break the cycle of poverty with its Circles mentoring program.

"Those relationships are really what it's all about," says Laurie Sternberg, director of communications and development. "Being able to participate in something during Covid, you're not as isolated." When lockdown began, the organization checked in with everyone: "clients, volunteers, business partners. We got on the phone and said, 'how are you dealing with Covid?'"

Friends In Deed fills the gaps between other social service programs by identifying areas in which aid is not readily available. Evictions have been a concern in recent months, as have utility shutoffs. "The governor just unveiled [the Eviction Diversion Program]. It's better than we thought it would be, because the state took action. But it's still a big issue for low-income families."

Friends In Deed's transportation assistance program passes on donated cars and helps with repair bills for people who need to get to work or healthcare-- especially important, Sternberg notes, because "people don't want to ride a bus right now." Access to technology is another concern: "Our Circles program went from in-person to Zoom, and that's how we're proceeding for the foreseeable future," she says. In addition to virtual meetings, "you need a laptop to do resumes, to apply for jobs… it's become more glaringly apparent that tech is an obstacle."

Difficult times call for innovative fundraising techniques. Friends In Deed recently unveiled Over the Edge, offering an opportunity to rappel 14 stories down the Graduate Ann Arbor. Raise $1,000 and you can descend the hotel's facade on ropes. For $1,500, workers can "Toss the Boss," while $2,000 lets a congregation "Push the Pastor" (keeping half for its own needs). "We're an older organization, and we wanted a unique enough event that we could bring in new people," says

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Sternberg. "Plus, we found it fun."

The money will go to Friends In Deed's general fund. "We try to stay where we can adapt readily. Having non-designated funds allows us to do that," Sternberg explains. Looking ahead, she's confident that Friends In Deed will continue to serve and empower Washtenaw County residents. "We have a new Circles cohort that will start in 2021. We're recruiting for that now." Anyone interested in joining (whether to receive guidance or to offer it) can find more information on their website.

In the meantime, Sternberg says that Friends In Deed is always looking for volunteers. From networking to fundraising to delivering furniture, it takes a community to eradicate poverty.     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2020.]

 

 
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