Paint Ypsilanti

This Sunday, as part of the Paint Ypsilanti Project, a lot of folks are going to be at 306 East Cross Street, painting the house of my friend Caleb Brokaw, who passed away this past November. If you would like to join us, check Facebook for the details. And, if you’d like to know more about the Paint Ypsilanti Project, here’s a quick interview with Erik Dotzauer, the man behind it.


[above: One of the houses worked on recently by Paint Ypsilanti Project volunteers.]

MARK: For those who may not already be aware, what’s the Paint Ypsilanti Project?

ERIK: The Paint Ypsilanti Project is based upon a really simple premise; we want to provide assistance to people in the community that don’t have the resources or the physical capacity to keep up with the maintenance of their homes. So our goal is to bring together volunteers and give them the tools necessary to beautify our neighborhoods.

MARK: And what kind of work do you and your volunteers do?

ERIK: We paint the exteriors of homes. We try to increase the curb appeal of the properties we’re working on by installing new landscaping, removing overgrown shrubs, and pulling weeds. At some sites, we remove quite a bit of trash. It just really depends, as each site tends to be fairly unique. One underlying constant, however, is that we use landscaping materials that require little maintenance for the homeowners, so the upkeep is reduced going forward… And, I should add, the program is 100% free for the families that participate.

MARK: How did it first get off the ground?

ERIK: As you may recall, the Depot Town Community Development Corporation (CDC) had an agreement with the City of Ypsilanti to operate and improve Riverside and Frog Island Parks up until we upset a bunch of folks by using the word “Ypsitucky” in the name of a festival. That set off a sequence of events that ultimately led to the City rescinding our contract. Well, we still had money in the bank and a board that wanted to improve our community, so we decided to keep going. But we had to start back at ground zero. We took some time off and explored a few ideas. We looked at existing service providers and tried to identify gaps that could be filled…. needs that weren’t being met in the community. For a while, we explored the idea of starting a tool lending library. Eventually, though, we found a program similar to the Paint Ypsilanti Project. We thought it might work well here, and we decided to run a pilot and see what kind of response we got.

MARK: You mention that this got started a few years back thanks to funds you still had in the Depot Town CDC account? What happens when those funds are depleted? Is there a desire to go after new grants and keep this going?

ERIK: Our goal is to raise enough money that we can keep this program going and hopefully add additional programs down the road. We’ve been developing new relationships with businesses like Thomson Reuters, and community partners like Concordia University. Thomson Reuters is now a sponsor, but their employees have also taken up the challenge, pledging to help us renovate 10 houses by August. This is a great illustration of why the Paint Ypsilanti Project works: Once people know about our mission, everyone wants to get involved. We’ve seen what can happen in our neighborhoods when everyone “gets their hands dirty”.

MARK: And how many houses have you worked on so far?

ERIK: We’ve painted 30 houses to date, and, of those, roughly 20 have had new landscaping installed.

MARK: How do you select the homes to be painted?

ERIK: There are a number of factors that we consider when evaluating applications. We choose families that don’t have the financial and/or physical ability to do the work themselves, and we give priority to seniors, veterans, and the families of individuals dealing with disabilities. We also take the condition of the home and the location into consideration. And we’ve also started focusing on specific areas, with the thought that we can have a greater impact if we focus on multiple homes in a given neighborhood. For example, by the end of this month, we’ll have renovated four houses on Nash Avenue, in West Willow.

MARK: So this isn’t just about Depot Town?

ERIK: Correct. Since the project launched, the majority of houses we’ve worked on have been on the south side of Ypsilanti, or in Ypsilanti Township. This year, we’ve expanded our geographic footprint to include a couple houses off MacArthur Blvd., in Superior Township.

MARK: So there was a deliberate decision made to broaden the scope?

ERIK: Yes. Our board went through a strategic planning process this past winter and decided that it made sense to look at the community in a more broad sense. And, in keeping with that, we decided to change the name of the organization to the Ypsilanti Area Community Development Corporation. This will hopefully eliminate some of the confusion that currently exists, and will better reflect our geographic service footprint. Our plans are to roll out the new name in the fall when the Paint Ypsilanti Project starts slowing down and we have enough time to handle the administrative and marketing tasks related to the name change.

MARK: What have you learned since setting out? How has the program evolved over time?

ERIK: We’ve learned a lot over the past couple years, I’d say the most difficult lesson was learning not to bite off more than we could chew. We renovated a couple of larger, historic homes in previous years and I underestimated how many volunteer hours would be needed to complete the work. As a result, I spent many evenings after work perched on a ladder until the job was done. As for evolution of the program, we are constantly making tweaks to every aspect of the process to fine tune things. We’re always looking to improve the process and find ways to leave these homes in better condition. We listen to the homeowners that we serve, and we listen to our volunteers. And we see lots of opportunity for continued growth, and, of course, the need for additional financial support to make that happen.

MARK: And do I understand correctly that you’ll be painting this Sunday?

ERIK: That’s correct, we’ll be working on a beautiful historic home just down the street from Depot Town. If any of your readers would like to join the fun, they can sign up and get all of the details on the Facebook event page.

MARK: And it is safe to assume that you’ve got work for people to do if they just show up to help?

ERIK: We have plenty of work to do, that’s for sure. This time, we recruited volunteers via Facebook, so we’re not quite sure what to expect in terms of turnout. I’d encourage anyone who is interested in helping, to just stop by and check it out. Even if someone only has a few hours to give, it would be incredibly appreciated.

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  1. Andrew Clock
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    That’s the best interview you’ve ever given, Erik. Third paragraph for the win.

  2. Posted July 16, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I plan to work earlier in the day and then head down to Riverside Park at 3:30 to see the Dead Music Capital Band, who, I just learned, all sleep in a pile, like ferrets.


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