Seniors discuss local youth at On the Table event

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published October 11, 2017

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SOUTHFIELD — Across southeastern Michigan, residents were invited to discuss challenges that young people face in their community over a meal recently.

The discussions were part of a community engagement event called On the Table, organized by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

On Oct. 4, thousands of residents, ranging from friends and neighbors to nonprofit organizations and students, gathered in small groups for a conversation focused on identifying challenges that young people face. The goal of the event was to generate solutions to improve local communities for the next generation, according to organizers.

The Community Foundation is a multifaceted grant-making organization committed to improving the quality of life in Michigan, according to organizers. The Knight Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to fostering “informed and engaged communities,” according to its website.

Residents of American House Southfield Senior Living, on Lahser Road, participated in the event. Over dinner, a group of residents — made up of retired educators, social workers and business professionals — discussed challenges that local youth face in today’s society.

In addition to Southfield, discussions were held in Marine City and multiple locations in Detroit, Auburn Hills and Monroe.

Melissa Smiley, special assistant and strategy officer for the Community Foundation, said the event is not only designed to spark conversation, but to offer up solutions on the spot.

“When people sit down and talk about things in their neighborhoods that can be improved, sometimes they come up with a solution right then and there, and it gets solved,” Smiley said. “It’s kind of a no-cost, no-brainer.”

Smiley said that the hosts of the table discussions will send the Community Foundation a one-page reflection detailing the main issues discussed, as well as any solutions created. The reflections will be used for local and national research, compiled with information from all participating cities, and used as part of a larger report produced by the University of Chicago.

Discussion leader Belinda Smith, executive director of American House Southfield, said the main topic of the event reflected the professional experience the attendees gained before their retirement.

“The main topic was education. How do we make education interesting to our youth? We realized that a number of families don’t have the time or the resources to push their children to enjoy education. And it’s to be enjoyed. What is there about learning that’s not fun? We love it, and we want children to love it. Sometimes they need another influence in their lives to help them see that it can be fun,” Smith said. “It’s not just drudgery. It’s not just work. It can be fun.”

Resident Ruth Bailey, a retired special education teacher, said the key to a youth’s success is respect.

“I think young people would appreciate it if we would talk to them, ask them about their desires and their dreams and take it from there, rather than telling them what they should do or what you want them to do. Let them experience things for themselves. You might be surprised what they’re interested in,” Bailey said.

For more information on the Community Foundation, go to For more information on the Knight Foundation, go to For more information on American House, go to