The barely two-year-old Habitat BRAND – Building Resident Action by Neighborhood Design – program is adding hope to Flint by changing neighborhoods aesthetically, bringing people together in a positive way and building new memories meant to leave an optimistic mark on the city.
“This program, funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, is about enriching lives and revitalizing Flint,” says Corey Archambault, Neighborhood Services Project Manager at Genesee County Habitat for Humanity. “BRAND gives residents 100-percent control of improving their neighborhoods, with help and consultation from experts to walk them through the steps of getting their goals accomplished. It’s not a program for a single resident or an individual, but rather a group – an entire neighborhood.”
Archambault, 28, is a former Peace Corp volunteer who taught English education and leadership development workshops in Panama, and is an AmeriCorps alumna who served at the City of Flint. As a consultant to various Flint neighborhoods, she is enthusiastic about offering her expertise in areas such as budgets, action plans, evaluation methods, execution of plans, conflict resolution and marketing.
An example of how BRAND’s influence and inspiration are enhancing Flint neighborhoods is the recently constructed 80’ x 20’, covered multi-purpose stage structure, complete with a fully-handicap assessible ramp, electricity and lighting, built in the center of Civic Park on the Dayton Place corridor.
Civic Park and Flint native and Second Ward Councilman Maurice Davis, 62, who believes “you’ve got to fight to make change,” is credited with having the vision for the stage.
“We’ve never had this before,” says Councilman Davis. “For so long, all we’ve known is blight and crime. But, the people in Civic Park are retired, mostly elderly and loyal to their neighborhood. It’s about time we work to remove that negative stigma. We’re making progress, but we have a long way to go. Without Habitat and people like Corey, there’d be no hope here. They’re a lifeline to bettering this community.” Collaboration began between the Councilman and the Historic Civic Park Preservation Association, who then approached and applied to Flint BRAND for consultation and funding to build the stage.
Since BRAND falls under the Genesee County Habitat for Humanity umbrella, resource-sharing is common. “The Apprenticeship Program at Habitat provided the labor for the Civic Park stage project,” explains Archambault. “It was built by people learning labor and construction skills. They are compensated and have access to financial literacy workshops, all designed to increase their potential for employment.”
Craig Sweesy, Apprenticeship Program Manager, led the Civic Park stage construction crew. “By working on the stage, apprentices learned how to work side-by-side with the community to make their dreams come true,” he says. “Apprentices learn skills like foundation, post footings, decking and roofing. They’re involved every step of the way, from the ground up. In turn, residents benefit when they see an improvement in their community.”
Apprentices are funneled to Sweesy through the Habitat Apprentice Residential Training (HART) program. HART was launched in 2018 to help bring on-the-job training and skill development opportunities to apprentices learning construction trades. Apprentices help Flint BRAND with home repair and home construction projects.
“Flint BRAND is creating signature projects in
neighborhoods that are looking for hope.”
“The BRAND programs really change the apprentices,” says Sweesy. “From classroom time where participants learn about construction skills, to the real-life opportunities for them to apply those skills – this will help them in the future as they get jobs in the construction industry.”
The Civic Park stage is an outdoor space designed by the residents it serves that can now provide opportunities for music, community meetings, movie nights, and reunions. An upcoming Halloween trunk-or-treat event is in the works.
The first event to happen on the stage, in fact, was a three-day music festival centered around the Fourth of July, entitled “Heritage and Harmony.” The headliner was Councilman Davis, also known as “King of the Blues,” joined by other popular local acts, including Mama Sol. The event brought together a neighborhood for the first time in decades. “The energy was amazing!” exclaims Davis. “About a thousand people showed up to support the concept of the stage and its role as a focal point for the neighborhood to share as a community in a new way.”
Flint BRAND is serving other Flint neighborhoods, too. “Little Free Libraries” are miniature booth-like structures, built by BRAND employees, placed in strategic locations in the city to offer residents a place to choose a book or leave a book for someone else to borrow. “Flint BRAND is creating signature projects in neighborhoods that are looking for hope,” says Archambault. “The Ballenger Highway Neighborhood Association identified a need to improve public sight lines in their neighborhood. Work was done to clear trees and open the walkways to improve safety and the line of vision for park visitors. Many partners collaborated to make this happen.”
Another BRAND venture brought about in the Grand Traverse neighborhood district saw a local park get fitness equipment installed, an improved clubhouse, better walkways and enhanced access to the outdoor public space. The program also joined forces with Flint Kids Play Initiative to build playgrounds in six Flint parks. The focus of another project was beautifying the corner of Welch Boulevard and Chevrolet Avenue. “This was a project we did in year one of our existence,” says Archambault. “A group of residents desired to beautify a busy corner in a commercial district. As a representative for Flint BRAND, I met with them at the site to clarify their vision; we discussed what this space could look like. Experts from Applewood and Keep Genesee County Beautiful were involved, too. We figured out what the landscaping required and what type of planters and flowers would be most suitable for the area – everyone had input, everyone was involved.” Archambault spent personal time at the site helping residents plant the flowers. “Sure, I’m here to offer them resources, information and connect them to the proper organizations for help; but, I also wanted to see this project through to the end. I wanted to see it succeed and be sustainable for years to come.”
Archambault believes Flint BRAND’s success is built upon all the individuals, businesses and organizationswho contribute in-kind support, help promote projects and provide program funding. “At any given time, for any project, we’re partnering with groups such as Community Foundation of Greater Flint, United Way, Neighborhood Engagement Hub, City of Flint, Michigan Lumber, Keep Genesee County Beautiful and countless other groups.”
Her passion manifests in the weekly, “Neighbors Changing Flint” workshops she starts in the spring and continues monthly through fall and winter. She develops lesson plans, content, themes, organizes speakers, promotes the programs on social media and reaches out to partner organizations for support. “Learning for Flint residents is ongoing,” she says. “It’s lifelong and as long as we’re in existence, we’ll help them improve their neighborhoods.”
The culture of Habitat’s BRAND program is about being supportive, innovative and interactive to real residents living and working in Flint neighborhoods. Sometimes, Archambault is working at her desk creating flyers for upcoming neighborhood events in need of promoting, but she’s also in the field visiting with residents, listening to needs and “doing whatever it takes to give 100 percent support to the residents trying to improve Flint neighborhoods.”
She wisely recognizes grass root supporters like Councilman Davis. “Councilman Davis is a catalyst for change in Flint neighborhoods,” says Archambault. “He is instrumental in helping residents connect to resources such as Genesee County Habitat for Humanity’s Flint BRAND.”
Flint BRAND is doing what it set out to do – enhancing Flint, one neighborhood at a time.
For information on Flint BRAND, contact Corey Archambault at 810.766.9089.
Photography by Kayce McClure