Brain Gain

Nonprofits may play a role in reversing Michigan’s brain drain.

 Much has been made of reversing Michigan’s brain drain in applied sciences, and part of the solution is boosting housing subsidies and offering other incentive inducements to help keep young people in the state. At least one nonprofit organization is also playing a role in the effort.

“It’s about creating opportunity for young people,” says Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of The Greening of Detroit, which is at the forefront of transforming the city into a post-industrial urban center focused on ecological and agricultural sustainability.

“When our youth learn about the environment and work to improve it by planting trees and gardens, and when they learn how to improve storm water runoff using natural filters like swales and wetlands, they begin to take pride in their neighborhood. Instead of wanting to get out (of the state), they look at the land around them as an investment, and they want to be part of the future.”

The organization got its start in 1989, and the first 15 years were spent planting trees. Since then, the nonprofit has expanded into workforce development, both for students and adults, and offers programs such as green jobs training, tree maintenance, educational programs, eco tours, and soil remediation. The grassroots group will operate on a $7.8-million budget this year, a good part of which comes from private donations and grants — although more and more is the result of pay-for-work projects.

“From a financial standpoint, we have to become more self-sustaining,” says Dean Hay, the organization’s director of green infrastructure. “If we can do more of that and turn Detroit into a green oasis, we’ll be a real city again.” db  b—R.J. King