The Business of Hope

Though Detroit has long been a destination for the creative class, the city also attracts another archetype: Individuals who’ve built a life around helping others transform their own. They are the activists who start movements, philanthropists who use their means for good, humanitarians whose boots never leave the ground, and last but far from least, social entrepreneurs who possesses the spirit and savvy of great business leaders but use it to make an impact instead of a profit.

As CEO of Alternatives For Girls (AFG) — a non-profit that helps homeless and high-risk girls and young women overcome their circumstances and build brighter futures — Detroit Lover Amy Good has been doing precisely that for more than 30 years, leading the organization with equal parts executive mind and humanitarian heart.

“I’m a transplant. My family moved from Pittsburgh to a Detroit suburb when I was eleven years old, and I’d known since college that I wanted to live in the city. I was attracted to the opportunities it presented for working on the social issues I was interested in, as well as economical living and a rich culture of diversity. So, once I completed graduate school for social work, I moved to southwest Detroit and never looked back.”

It didn’t take long for her to start making an impact. She quickly found her place in a growing community of activists who were concerned about the increasing number of girls and young women living on the streets of Detroit. Together, they launched a grassroots effort that ultimately led to the foundation of AFG in 1987.

Under her leadership, AFG has since grown from a volunteer-led project to a full-service agency serving homeless and high-risk girls and young women, along with their families, through street outreach, emergency shelters, transition to independent living and prevention services.

AFG has served nearly 30,000 girls and young women over its 30 years, advancing its mission of helping them avoid violence, early pregnancy and exploitation, by making positive choices in their lives. Through the program, they learn leadership skills and serve as peer educators, helping their friends and others access safe choices — in fact, many go on to serve as leaders in their families, neighborhoods, and communities.

One factor in AFG’s effectiveness is the sheer breadth of alternative paths they present to the young women they serve. Survivors of sexual exploitation are learning marketable sewing skills in an innovative social enterprise, and sharing their newfound skills with others. Teen girls in southwest Detroit launched a project to ensure that homeless children and their families can access resources that allow them to continue in school. Recently, an AFG graduate even opened a youth crisis drop-in center, filling a critical need for young people facing challenges throughout the city.

Indeed, strengthening communities by supporting girls and women in the city’s overlooked neighborhoods is truly the heart and soul of Amy’s Detroit story. And for every ounce of effort she and the rest of the AFG staff pour into their work, they are constantly inspired by the support of the Detroit community.

“My work at Alternatives For Girls is tremendously rewarding in that the girls, young women, and families we serve make great strides through the support of not only our staff, but the countless Detroiters, Detroit-lovers, and others who support our cause. It’s been a privilege to play a role in pulling together these resources to address the critical needs of these amazing girls and young women.”

Even amid the seismic shifts in the city’s landscape throughout the last three decades, the theme of Detroiters rallying around their own endures.

“[What’s stayed the same has been] the resilience and engagement of Detroit’s people. Things like sustained activism around human and civil rights, the launch of various creative economic ventures, and a broad commitment to fighting and standing up for the dignity of all of Detroit’s citizens.”

Though those efforts have all made an impact, she still sees a push and pull between progress and decline.

“The past twenty years have brought the beginnings of an economic upturn, followed by a devastating crash, and then the beginnings of a recovery. But recent and current trends around the increasing concentration of poverty in Detroit, and the enormous challenges faced by Detroit Public Schools Community District and its students are alarming and must not be overlooked.”

Another lesser-known but equally important issue is one she discovered during her time with AFG.

“I’ve become aware of the increase in sex trafficking in Detroit in particular, and that the accessibility of the internet as a tool for sex traffickers has brought new challenges to those of us who serve survivors of the sex industry. Even though this does not affect the majority of Detroit’s population directly, our efforts can only be successful with increased awareness and care among the general public. Fortunately, both of those seem to be growing.”

Growing, at least in part, thanks to organizations like AFG, who champion the civic engagement necessary to combat such a profound and complex problem.

“I’m a firm believer that a strong community starts with engaged citizens, and that engaged youth will grow up to become engaged adults, who create thriving communities. I’ve seen many new opportunities for youth to become engaged in activism and leadership emerge over the last 20 years, which bodes very well for Detroit’s present and future.”

That list of young people now includes her own two children, and it’s a safe bet that bodes well for the city’s future, too.

“My husband and I were eager to eventually buy a house in Detroit and raise our children here because we knew they would benefit by engaging in our active and tight-knit northwest Detroit neighborhood. Today, we’re proud to say that they’ve grown up identifying as ‘Detroiters,’ and the bottom line for us is that Detroit is home. We love it not only because our friends are here, but because the wonderful Detroit community offers the benefits of diversity on many levels, a strong creative culture, and simply some of the best people one can ever meet.”

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