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In Detroit, New Fundraising Approach Rebuilds a Neighborhood Park

Neighbor's idea joined crowdfunding platform with municipal program; partners say the innovation is great for other cash-strapped US cities and corporations looking for ways to "give back" to communities.

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Categories: Community Development, Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted: Apr 02, 2014 – 09:00 AM EST


DETROIT, Apr. 02 /CSRwire/ - An abandoned, overgrown park in the city’s Poletown neighborhood is gearing up for a major makeover, thanks to the foresight of a neighborhood resident and a partnership between civic crowdfunding site and a special fund of the City’s parks department. The partners believe a synergy like this could be an important one for Detroit and other budget-stressed cities going forward.

“This model’s going to be important for other cities looking for ways to work around budget shortfalls for projects like this,” says Sarah Shipley, Director of Development for

The small Callahan Playground, in the middle of the Poletown neighborhood just northeast of Wayne State University, is set to receive a new basketball court and other improvements thanks to funds raised on The project needs $25,000 to move forward, and so far, residents and others have given about a fifth of that amount, just 10 days into the campaign.

The idea for the improvement originally came from Poletown resident Kirke Elsass, who moved to the neighborhood just over a year ago.

“When I moved here, I saw that Poletown had a lot going for it – a lot of activity, a lot of great people,” Elsass says. “At the same time, a lot of the neighborhood is empty – and unfortunately, that included the main park.”

With the court overgrown, Elsass says that many neighborhood teens and kids are without a place to play. He says many young residents make do with makeshift basketball hoops placed in the streets – but they (and their parents) really want a real court that is safer and where they could meet friends more easily.

Elsass approached in mid 2013 with a pitch for a new basketball court at the park.

“This was exactly the type of project we were looking for: citizen-driven, and in a place that really needed it,” says’s Shipley.

Unfortunately, couldn’t host the project because it wasn’t from a civic organization or a government agency, one of which must be involved to manage a crowdfunding campaign’s funds. Still, didn’t want to drop the project. So, they went back to Elsass and started looking for a way to make it happen.

“That’s when we found the Detroit Recreation Department’s PARTNERS program,” says Shipley.

The program, established as far back as the 1980’s, is meant to work around financial constraints limiting the implementation of projects and programs of the Detroit Recreation Department (DRD). It works by allowing individuals, neighborhood associations, local businesses, and corporations to support specific programs of the department.

“The PARTNERS program is all about being creative to provide quality recreational facilities and programs for Detroiters,” says Alicia Minter, Director of the DRD. “We were excited to take the crowdfunding path to make a resident’s great idea for Callahan Playground happen.”

DRD agreed to support Elsass’s plan and become the project’s owner on Now, when people give to the fundraising campaign on, the money will go to the parks department’s PARTNERS program and is earmarked for the Callahan Playground court.

DRD’s Minter says the arrangement points to a trend of innovation within Detroit.

“Six months ago, the story was that Detroit couldn’t run its ambulances or keep its streets lit at night,” says Minter. “Now, we’re seeing stories about startups, enterprising residents and partnerships like the one for Callahan Playground. Without the usual resources, we’re finding ways to make do.”’s Shipley looks forward to other creative partnerships between civic crowdfunding platforms, corporations and government. Crowdfunding can have a large impact on a community when corporations give matching or challenge grants to a project.

“Detroit’s not the only place struggling with finances or looking for innovation in the way projects are funded. Many places are looking to individuals and local corporations to help where government cannot.” Resident Kirke Elsass is just glad his plan for a new basketball court is being realized, and he looks forward to working on revamping the rest of the park.

About helps greenlight civic projects by giving people, companies, and institutions a way to fund the places and civic projects they care about. We work with project creators to secure funding for projects like a new school playground, a bike trail or public wifi – just about anything that improves a community. In less than three years, has helped raise over $1,000,000 for projects nationwide.

About the Detroit Recreation Department PARTNERS Program
In the 1980’s the Recreation Department developed PARTNERS, as a response to financial constraints that confronted the city. PARTNERS is a cooperative effort on the part of the Detroit Recreation Department and the community. It is your opportunity to contribute to quality recreation in the metropolitan Detroit area. Individuals block clubs, associations and corporations are invited to become PARTNERS of the Detroit Recreation Department.

For more information, please contact:

Sean Connolly Director of Engagement
Phone: 816-200-1161
Twitter: @Neighborly


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