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November 16, 2018

SVSU social work profs take leadership posts to improve the Saginaw community

Two Saginaw Valley State University social work professors will serve in leadership roles at a newly-created community enrichment organization centered in downtown Saginaw.

Vanessa Brooks Herd and Catherine Macomber were voted in as vice chair and secretary, respectively, by the board of the non-profit Saginaw Collaborative Inc.

Saginaw Collaborative Inc. was established by Rev. Jim Williams and other community leaders to turn the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church building in downtown Saginaw into a space for various community organizations and other non-profits. 

“This project represents a coming together of people who have a commitment to the sense of community in Saginaw,” Brooks Herd said. “This is a combination of business people, professional people, grassroots people, small businesses and non-profits who want to infuse the downtown area with maintaining some of the community.”

The church is owned by the Presbytery of Lake Huron, but its congregation can no longer support the upkeep costs of the building and will discontinue its worship services on November 25. The building is over 20,000 square feet and houses classrooms, offices, kitchens, a gymnasium and performance spaces that can accommodate a diverse array of programs. 

The collaborative board seeks to analyze community needs and invite community organizations into the building that meet those needs while complimenting each other.

“We want to bring those people together and say, ‘you're all doing this wonderful work, let's figure out how we can do it together and be supportive of your mission,’” Macomber said.

The professors say they're planning to take an integrative approach to their work with the non-profit and plan to provide SVSU social work students and interns with the opportunity to gain work experience there while creating real change in the community.

“We want to use that center as a base for community involvement,” Brooks Herd said. “What better way to teach community organizing and building communities than being in a place where communities are coming together?”

SVSU has hundreds of social work undergraduate and graduate students who must each put in 450 hours a year of field experience as part of their studies.

“We're talking about thousands of hours of student engagement in the community in downtown Saginaw, working with residents and vulnerable populations there,” Macomber said.

Both professors said they hope that once the space is refurbished and filled with community organizations, it will complement downtown Saginaw's economic renewal with its focus on community enrichment and service. 

“What's exciting for me is to see all of these community organizations that provide services directly to Saginaw residents, their children and their families talking about how they can coordinate more and use Warren Avenue as sort of a community center for that area,” Macomber said.