Shedding light; Project HOPE brings city, suburban students together to help others

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Sydney Mullins, 17, of Allen Park looks at the luminary (center) that she made with a second-grader from Detroit’s J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy. Allen Park High School woodshop students will create a playhouse for the second-graders based on her luminary’s design. The March 20 event at Live Coal Gallery, 5029 Trumbull in Detroit, served as a fundraiser for Project H.O.P.E., Housing, Opportunities and Possibilities for Everyone. Through the sale of the student-made luminaries, the group hopes to make donations to two families in need of housing and to Covenant House in Detroit. Second grader Jadair MacGowan (left), 7, of Detroit looks at the luminaries on display throughout the gallery.

‘I just have great hope for humanity, for the future
of our kids.’
— APHS Principal Janet Wasko

Times-Herald Newspapers

DETROIT – The light from ceramic luminaries made by Allen Park High School art students with Detroit second-graders are a beacon for hope, an initiative sparked by two teachers last summer.

The flame lit for Project HOPE – Housing, Opportunities and Possibilities for Everyone – sparked when Allen Park High School art teacher Jelane Richardson met Detroit John E. Clark Preparatory Academy second-grade teacher Kimberly Morrison at a professional development seminar last summer.

The weeklong seminar, D33, Detroit in 1933, 2013 and 2033, held at the Detroit Institute of Arts last June, is an innovative program created by June Teisan, a Harper Woods Middle School science teacher.

D33 encourages project-based learning that focuses on culture and community, and specifically engages participants to envision Detroit in 2033, and to engage teachers and students in the tri-county area to use their skills and passion in the rebirth of Detroit.

The Pearson Foundation, Network of Michigan Educators and the DIA sponsored the initial program.

Richardson said that when teachers at the seminar were brainstorming ideas to help Detroit rejuvenate itself and experience a renaissance, some of the ideas did not make sense to her and Morrison.

“We knew that hope was really what changes people’s lives: a sense of hope, a sense of purpose, and that all starts in the home,” Richardson said. “So to provide people with adequate housing, to have a safe place to grow up in, to have an opportunity to dream and let those dreams come to fruition is what we knew is really the key to any successful community.”

As Richardson and Morrison built a friendship, they wanted to bring together their students to help them create meaningful relationships through art and to break down stereotypes.

Richardson brought 31 APHS art students to Clark Nov. 22 for three hours to work with Morrison’s 28 second-graders to create ceramic luminaries shaped like the second-graders’ imagined and hoped for future dream homes.

The teachers said they hope when lit, the glow from the already symbolic luminaries also represents the light in each child and the hope for a brighter future for the city of Detroit.

“It begins with the children,” Richardson said. “If we can start at a young age to break down barriers, we can make a great impact on furthering the philosophy that we are brothers and sisters, urban and suburban, united in a mission to make a better future for all Detroiters.”

The teachers said the luminaries are designed to represent dreams for future homes, and are being auctioned off to initially help two homeless families – one in each community – as well as Covenant House Michigan, in Detroit, a sanctuary for young people who have no place to go.

At Live Coal Gallery, 5029 Trumbull in Detroit, March 20, initial sales of some of the luminaries raised just over $600 for Project HOPE, Morrison said. She said their goal is to raise $3,000 from the first group of luminaries, and those interested in purchasing any of the available miniature ceramic dream homes should contact Richardson at 313-827-1200 or by email at

One of the luminaries, designed by Sydney Mullins, 17, an APHS senior and Clark second-grader Jervareus Carter, will inspire the design of a playhouse that the APHS shop classes are building for Clark.

The teachers hope to bring the second-graders to APHS to help paint the playhouse destined for their school playground.

Mullins said that when she and Carter were paired, he was shy at first, and hesitant to touch the clay. She said she drew him out by asking him his favorite colors and incorporating them in the luminary design.

“(Carter) was really quiet and shy and it took a lot to get to know him, for him to start talking to me,” Mullins said. “At first he didn’t want to touch anything. He wasn’t into it. Once (the luminary) started coming together he started working with me and getting his hands dirty.”

William Banner, the second-grader that APHS senior Haley Feichtinger, 18, worked with, had no such hesitation – she said he dove in and had a lot of fun working with the clay.

She said it took a while for him to open up and start talking, though, but once he did, they started having fun.

“It was very rewarding,” Feichtinger said. “We got to teach them skills that they never had, or would not have learned otherwise. It was a good experience. It’s something to look back on and be proud that you did.”

Morrison remembers the smiling and the bonding of the students when they began to work together.

“At the end, nobody wanted to leave,” Morrison said. “They all wanted to stay and have pizza and have the family atmosphere.”

Morrison was pleased and thankful to see the students work so well together to create the luminaries. She compared the successful student pairing to the newfound friendship she has with Richardson.

“I have a lot of faith,” Morrison said. “I was very happy and pleased. It was almost like she and I – I did not know her before our workshop in the summer, but we are like family now. So it was the same exact energy with those children on that day with the students that came from Allen Park.”

As she watched the students interact, Richardson said she felt that was how education should look.

“The idea of young people working together nose-to-nose with each other in the same physical space, making connections, is how we cause positive change in our communities,” Richardson said. “So I was really proud of them, and Kim and I just kept smiling the whole time. It felt magical.”

APHS Principal Janet Wasko said the public exhibition of the luminaries and seeing the project come to fruition inspires her.

“This partnership has been wonderful and it brings so much hope that we can continue to build partnerships between the suburbs and the city, and I am all about that with my kids,” Wasko said. “So often they don’t come into the city of Detroit at all and they don’t know anything about this world and vice versa. It really has been a wonderful collaboration.”

Mullins also would like to see the project expand on a larger scale.

“I think everyone should be incorporated with a Detroit school because it opens you up to what everyone goes through and I think it is a really good experience,” Mullins said.

Wasko said the bond of friendship between Richardson and Morrison has served as a good model for their students as well.

“I just have great hope for humanity, for the future of our kids,” Wasko said.