Source: Michigan News
Photos By: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography
Dominique and Sarah load a van with hoodies, sweaters, jackets and hygiene kits to hand out to girls and women involved in the sex industry, including those who are victims of sex trafficking, in Detroit.
The outreach team members from a Detroit nonprofit organization also will tell the women about a place where they can find safe shelter and other resources.
“We go on the streets of Detroit, give them the bag that we’ve prepared for them and we tell them about our resource center and our program that helps them transition out of that lifestyle,” Dominique said. To help protect their identities, the last names of the participants are not being used.
For more than 30 years, University of Michigan alumna Amy Good, CEO of Alternatives For Girls, has dedicated herself to helping girls and young women in crisis or at-risk for abuse, homelessness or human trafficking. She’s helped 30,000 and counting.
Good says the idea is to respectfully help girls and women achieve their short and long-term goals, whatever those may be. There are also onsite counseling services, support groups and resources for those in the sex industry who are looking for help getting out.
The needs are critical for these populations. More than 82% of homeless families are led by single females, according to a report by the Homeless Action Network of Detroit.
AFG’s shelter in southwest Detroit on West Grand Boulevard near Michigan Avenue has capacity for 24 young women and up to 14 infants and toddlers. Alternatives For Girls also operates its own social enterprise program, Sew Great Detroit, that teaches girls and women basic sewing skills as well as employment readiness skills. The work pays minimum wage and prepares participants for careers in industrial sewing and other fields.
“I came to the program with a grieving group that was helping women that lost their kids through gang violence,” said Darzell, who works at Sew Great Detroit and teaches teens in her neighborhood how to sew on weekends. “And it helped me to realize there’s things I can do. I love Alternatives For Girls for being there.”
As long as there are girls and women to assist, Alternatives For Girls intends to be there to support them one way or another. Its crisis resource center and shelter remain open throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and staff are following CDC guidelines to serve in the safest possible ways. The nonprofit also manages a crisis line and walk-in center. Anyone in crisis may call (888) AFG-3919 any time.
AFG’s programming to help girls succeed in grades K-12 and beyond is continuing throughout the global coronavirus pandemic in creative, usually remote, ways that limit exposure to the virus. This programming typically ranges from after-school activities and academic tutoring to goal setting, college savings plans and even campus visits with their parents.
“It’s really important for our participants to find that education path beyond high school for careers that will support them,” Good said. “That’s the way they avoid being vulnerable to exploitation.”
Alternatives For Girls also continues to introduce new initiatives such as the AFG’s affordable “Rapid Rehousing” project through a HUD grant. Introduced in 2018, the program helps place homeless youth in subsidized housing and surrounds them with intensive services for up to 18 months while they transition to a more permanent situation.
In the shelter space, Makiya is getting support as she builds independence.
“When I came here, I had people actually giving me motivation that I can go back to school, and they helped me get a job downtown,” she said.
Good’s work with Alternatives For Girls was inspired by a challenge she received from professor emerita Rosemary Sarri as she neared graduation from U-M’s School of Social Work.
“She said, ‘Do something hard, and build something that wasn’t there before,” Good said.
After graduating in the mid-1980s, Good lived and worked in southwest Detroit in the area near Michigan and Trumbull avenues—near the former Tiger Stadium. She and a group of concerned residents started talking about the need in their neighborhood for services to help girls.
Those conversations led to a community meeting in June 1987 to determine what priorities were needed: shelter for homeless girls deemed too old for traditional foster care and too young for adult shelters; basic services and health care for girls and women working in street-based prostituion—services they often lacked due to social stigma; and resources to help families keep girls in school.
Good quit her full-time child protection/counseling job to focus on the project, which soon after found a home for its shelter at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The group had trouble finding funding but was undeterred in its plans to open by the following spring.
“We just decided there’s no turning back,” Good said. “We’ve identified the need, no one is going to appear to take care of it, our neighborhood has got to do this. It’s just not one of those things where you can decide, ‘We’re gonna move on to something else now.'”
Then, on a bitter cold, “polar-vortex-kind-of-day” in January 1988, a homeless 16-year-old girl arrived at their door with nowhere else to go.
“We just decided, we are opening today,” Good said.
Within a week, all five of the shelter’s beds were filled. After months of wondering whether they’d make it another week, the shelter received a large grant the following July that allowed them to hire staff and expand the shelter, as well as additional programming to focus on education and prevention.
Good has also stayed connected to the U-M School of Social Work. She serves on the school’s Alumni Board of Governors. Student interns from the school have been involved with Alternatives For Girls throughout its history.
Thinking back on Sarri’s challenge all those years ago, Good said, “I didn’t set out to build Alternatives For Girls, but I was lucky to be part of a group of people that was open to what needed to be done.
“Every day, we see girls gaining power in their lives, sharing that power with others and going on to achieve wonderful things for themselves and their families.”