WSU’s AmeriCorps Climate R.E.A.D.Y Program Helps Prepare Detroit Neighborhoods  

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Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies is piloting an AmeriCorps Climate R.E.A.D.Y. program to help Detroiters get ahead of the growing effects of urban climate change. Members will work with residents to make their homes and surrounding neighborhoods safer and more resilient.  

“This program is an opportunity to engage in outdoor recreation and the natural environment while supporting residents of Detroit to become more resilient in the ongoing climate change crisis happening in different parts of Detroit. We are trying to have a greater impact on vulnerable populations when it comes to the effects on public health and the environment,” said Deandra Smith, program director for Climate R.E.A.D.Y. at Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies. 

The AmeriCorps Climate R.E.A.D.Y. (Recreation, Education, Awareness, Demonstration and Youth) Program offers young people (ages 18 to 24) the chance to enjoy outdoor activities and the outdoors while helping the people of Detroit build up climate change resilience. 

Community and AmeriCorps members will be more aware of local climate change concerns through outreach efforts. Residents will be given tools and resources to connect with city services for environmental and/or public health-related issues as well as where to find local environmental organizations where they can volunteer. Services are available at no cost.  

According to Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) index ranking of 270 U.S. cities on more than 40 climate metrics, Detroit stands at a high climate risk score of 54 percent and low climate readiness at 45 percent. Flooding is a particular issue in the region and costly to remedy. The report finds the city’s historical average cost of a flood event between 2011 and 2015 was $4,800,128.  

When significant flooding spread over Detroit due to heavy rainfall in June 2021, a state of emergency was issued, impacting over 30,000 people. This is simply the most recent of many extreme weather occurrences brought on by climate change that is particular to Detroit.  

In comparison, Ann Arbor has the second-lowest total climate risk in the U.S. and is one of the best-prepared cities in the country. As a research and innovation hub, researchers found Ann Arbor has considerably greater levels of environmental awareness, civic involvement, educational achievement and innovative capacity. 

So far, the Climate R.E.A.D.Y. team has worked with 20 out of 75 households set out for the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, a particularly vulnerable area that’s been hit hard by flooding. 

“The heavy rain that has been coming in Detroit is climate change,” said Smith. “It impacts the increase of rainfall and increases temperatures, too. Rainfall specifically has increased in the last couple of years and that brings heavier flooding. Our systems can’t withstand the increase of rainfall and too many people’s basements flood a lot more, especially in the areas like Jefferson Chalmers where they are closer to the [river] water and the overflow that occurs. The basement flooding causes different kinds of mold to form which is toxic. We are going door to door with our information to let us check our your home to do  testing for mold and provide remedies to help with that and also looking at the outside foundation of your home for other measures. “ 

Residents will hear from Climate R.E.A.D.Y. members on how to use measuring instrumentation to increase danger awareness. Members will carry out a Total Environment Home Safety Assessment (TEHSA) inside and outside households to assess ricks of indoor air pollutants, mold samples, energy-efficient lighting and green infrastructure depending on the findings of this environmental assessment.  

After an assessment, members will assist to reduce the chance of floods, mold and other dangers by providing free materials and services such as rain barrels, planting rain gardens and shrubbery, dirt packing unevenly sloped grounding around the home, energy efficient lightbulbs, mold clean up information and applications for the city’s offer to install sump pumps for residents to mitigate future flooding.  

In addition, the program is providing other climate change remedies for residents, including air purifiers, fans, lead testing if you have small children in the home, dehumidifiers and programs to swap out gas stoves for electric ones. 

“Most commonly, people we talked to weren’t aware of the more global effects of climate change,” said Smith. “So, having those starter conversations is important. It’s not just the world becoming hotter. They don’t realize there are more aspects to climate change and how much the outside of a home affects the inside, including the neighborhood air quality, the sloped position of a house. 

“Also, so many people in Detroit don’t have gutters, let alone gutter extensions which is something we help with. The cracks of the foundation and puddling that happens is all associated where they don’t have gutters and this will hit you hard not just during the rainy season but winter also, because eventually that snow will melt.” 

The Climate R.E.A.D.Y. program has been renewed after October for another grant year. They will be operating first in Jefferson Chalmers and will soon announce their next target neighborhood. Smith said she is looking forward to the team growing with more recruits and helping Detroiters understand the full scope of climate change while there is still time to act.  

“Climate change doesn’t only affect the environment but impacts people’s health in a variety of ways from polluting clean air, the food resources, even our homes,” said Smith. There are ripple effects that may not be apparent like the mold caused by flooding. So many things stem from climate change and if we don’t stop it now, it will get worse and we can’t change it later. This is prime time to make changes before it’s too late.” 

The program is looking to recruit Climate R.E.A.D.Y. youth for a paid opportunity to develop life skills and hands-on service experience within a green jobs network.  

For more information on paid volunteer recruitment opportunities or a home assessment, email or call (313) 577-0477.   

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