Paying It Forward: Millennials Who Give Back

Compassionate, kindhearted, and always ready to lend a hand are just a few ways to describe millennials in Detroit, giving back to their community. 

Meet Courtney Smith, 29-year-old, founder and CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center. 

The Detroit Phoenix Center provides critical resources, support, and a safe, nurturing, and inclusive environment to high risk and housing insecure youth in Detroit. The program works to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable youth, ages 13 to 24.

DPC offers many different resource programs for youth. One of the programs is the Zen Zone Drop-In Center, a low barrier, safe space for young adults, ages 18-24 who are at risk of and/or currently experiencing homelessness. At this specific program through the DPC organization, young adults can access showers, receive meals, do their laundry, receive transportation assistance, receive essential need items and clothing, assistance with career readiness, life skills, and educational workshops. Youth can also receive housing crisis support through partner organizations and use the computer lab available for Online school courses, homework, job, searching and resume development, art projects, and networking. 

The Detroit Phoenix Center is located on Woodward on Detroit’s westside

Smith says her organization is needed now more than ever in the city of Detroit

“In every space, the Detroit Phoenix Center is navigating right now, youth of color are impacted at disproportionate rates from the entire population,” Smith said. “This includes COVID-19, health disparities, mental health challenges, and poverty, and our youth are becoming mentally drained. Our youth is actively driving social change, including organizing and leading rallies and holding critical conversations surrounding racial inequality and injustice. Still, the events of today make them sad, depressed, and angry, too.” 

The Detroit Phoenix Center is committed to giving our youth every opportunity to succeed, she said. 

The Detroit Phoenix Center launched in January 2017 to meet the emergent and holistic needs of teens and young adults in crisis in Detroit. 

“DPC got started after I took a train journey across the country with the Millennial Trains Project in 2016,” explained Smith. “It was a global incubator for aspiring social entrepreneurs. I traveled around the country by train interviewing youth and ED’s at human service agencies to gauge best practices and insight. Using the feedback I received from the youth, the concept for Detroit Phoenix Center was birthed. 

Additionally, the incubator awarded me $10,000 to launch. We have since scaled and grown from a pilot project to a growing youth social service organization.”

Smith hopes that her work with the youth can inspire others around the world.  

“Together, we have the power to help make a better life for our young people. If we have the resources, why aren’t we doing it,” Smith added. 

Another millennial creating positive change in Detroit is DamarQio Williams

Williams is a creator of the organization Detroit Father. He is a father, author, international motivational speaker, and community ambassador. 

His organization was empowered by a personal connection of living without his father to enjoying fatherhood. His mission is simple: build the future and restore the past. Williams currently resides on the east side of Detroit with his wife La’Nyce and their daughter, Jenesis.

Williams’s organization, Detroit Father, seeks to bring diverse products and services to urban fathers. 

“We work to partner and fund local non-profits like Enjoy Detroit to be able to feed hungry families on a monthly occurrence,” explained Williams. “We source, pick-up, package, and deliver food items to local families. We started this work prior to the pandemic because we saw the need and knew that we could help impact the change we wanted to see in our community.”

Williams found several families last winter struggling and just needed essential food items for a warm holiday meal. From there, his organization grew a one-time idea into a weekly operation.

Fatherhood is about more than simply providing the basic necessities for a child. It’s about being active and engaged in a child’s life to cultivate the potential inside of them and the sacred bond of family, says Williams. 

“It is important for me to do my part to give back because I never know when my family or friends may need this kind of support. As millennials, we have an important obligation to support our most vulnerable population — kids and seniors,” he added.

For more information on Detroit Phoenix Center, please visit,  

For more information on Detroit Father, 


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