Amy is a Detroit native who returned home in 2008 after living in Los Angeles. Upon returning she realized that she wanted to be part of revitalizing her city. Detroit has seen better days. In 1960 Detroit had the highest per capita income in the entire nation. Today, unemployment in Detroit is at 16.3% or about three times the national average. Between the year 2000 and 2010 48% of all manufacturing jobs were lost and haven’t returned. Knowing this about her beloved city, Amy knew she had to do something.
After a trip to Chicago a friend and fellow artist told her about this really cool organization called Incubate. She shared that they host small dinners and they donate the money raised from patrons to help fund art projects. Amy immediately realized that this is what Detroit needed. In February 2010 Amy and friends hosted the very first Detroit SOUP. According to Detroit SOUP’s website, “Detroit SOUP is a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects in Detroit. For a donation of $5 attendees receive soup, salad, bread and a vote and hear from four presentations ranging from art, urban agriculture, social justice, social entrepreneurs, education, technology and more.”
At a Detroit Soup event, which are always on Sunday, you hear from different locals who all pitch an idea that they propose is best for the city of Detroit. It can be as simple as fixing a pot hole or something with great impact like The Empowerment Plan. Which is a company that employs people from the homeless community to make winter coats that can also be used as sleeping bags. After all the presentations and the Q&A section, each guest gets a chance to eat and cast a vote for which project they think is the most beneficial for the people of Detroit. The winner of that democratic process then goes home with an envelope full of money to get started on their idea. Even more, each winner comes back a couple months later to update the group on the impact that their contribution made. Back in 2010 there were just 20 people in attendance but today each SOUP has an average attendance well over 100. By October 2013 Detroit Soup had raised approximately $54,000 for 53 community projects. Amy lives Detroit SOUP daily. She can’t walk outside of her home without seeing someone who wants to learn more about SOUP and she loves it. "It's a chance to draw people together, share ideas over a simple meal like soup, salad and bread and hear how people really want to help continue to revitalize the city," Amy explained in an interview with NBC. Amy is excited to continue to help her community and empower locals to return Detroit back to the strong and prosperous place it once was. Amy knows SOUP in and out. When I spoke with her she gave some great advice on how anyone could replicate this for their community, anywhere in the world. Check out the section below to get some awesome advice on how to get a community organization started in your town.
What experiences in the past do you think prepared you the most to effectively operate Detroit Soup?
"I was a type of person who was always asking questions. I knew getting into this project that it was using a lot of my skills and talents as a big picture thinker who wanted to do work around the ideas of justice. I am a theologian by education and desire to work out of some many boxes that have been offered to me. I think just experiencing the world, asking questions, travelling, experiencing things outside of my immediate world has been really helpful to working on SOUP!"
Were there any personal changes that you had to make to run Detroit Soup?
"Absolutely! I moved from Los Angeles back to Detroit in 2008. I fell in love with the city and decided to stay. I also knew that I wasn’t the type of woman who wanted to have children and so I chose to work really hard and give almost all of my time to the project. Every chance that was offered I took to share SOUP with the community. My life is SOUP and Detroit. It is the farthest thing from a 9-5 job! A lot of nights and weekends. I have been told and reminded that every time I leave the house I am working because someone will recognize me and want to talk more about SOUP! It’s a beautiful job that doesn’t stop! It also has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of people around the city, the state, America, and the world! It is worth (almost) every minute I give to it! haha"
What do you think is the x-factor when it comes to running a successful community organization?
How important is diversity amongst the organizers when selecting people to assist in creating an organization?
"I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful women of different races, experiences, and age. We are a stronger organization that a lot of people take seriously because we do as well!"
What's your favorite thing about Detroit Soup?
"The moment after the presenters are done presenting and people are waiting in line for food or to vote. There is an electric energy in the air of people talking and engaging one another. I always bend down and start the music again and I get a small moment to myself and to listen to what is happening. That is one of my favorite moments every dinner for the last five years."
When looking to create an organization to fulfill a community need, what are some initial steps you'd suggest for people to take?
"Practice. Practice. Practice. I think a lot of people spend over a year getting their 501(c)3 status before doing the work. Don’t wait. There are organizations that are always willing to partner with you. It’s a lot of work to start a nonprofit, ESPECIALLY if you do not have a long term funder. It can really bum out the work you want to do so the biggest thing is try out what you want to do and see if you want to do it and in the particular way you are thinking. You HAVE to be flexible. You HAVE to be ready to fail, think about why you failed and try it again a little different than you did the first time. There is always a way to do something but is it the best. We have been doing SOUP for 5 years and I am still making changes, still asking questions, still pushing ourselves to be better than we were the year before."
For those starting their own version of Detroit soup in their neighborhood, if you could give them just one piece of advice, what would that be?
"Have so much fun! This work is a lot of fun because it is not about you the organizer but giving humans the opportunity to get together and talk about the stuff that matters. I think we all are better when we get around a table and have a meal and have a lot of fun!"