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Nora Blog

Cass Community Social Services

The re:TREAD macramé plant hangers designed by Kelly Behun Studio for Nora’s Culture Lab Detroit are difficult to look away from. They are imposing, bold, and sturdy enough to survive life on a Michigan porch during winter. What you cannot tell by looking at them is that these planters were produced in a space created to address issues that too many of us try to avert our eyes from.
Cass Community Social Services, a large multi-purpose complex that provides housing and employment for people in need is truly a Detroit gem. With over 100 employees, Cass Green Industries, one element of CCSS’ campus, gives hope for new models of economics and ecology.
Green Industries have made mud mats, flip flops and now macramé planters out of upcycled rubber from tires. The thick black ropes of the planters look in much better shape than many tires come spring. When visiting Cass Community Social Services, one gets the sense that the network of people living and working on the premises shares a strong sense of community and dedication to one another in the face of what might otherwise be hopeless circumstances. In the course of a
five minute walk from one building to another, our guide made sure someone got their lunch, told another person she loved them, and playfully joked with a driver. Maybe we just had a particularly well-liked guide, but regardless, I think anyone would be so lucky to feel seen and connected to her community.
CCCS began working with the homeless in the 1980s under Reverend Edwin Rowe. Beginning in the mid 1990s, under the leadership of Reverend Faith Fowler, the work expanded to include the Scott building on Detroit’s East Side which includes a women and family shelter, transitional housing, Safe Haven, the Detroit-Wayne County rotating shelter, and large commercial kitchen.
Additionally, they have added health services and a residential program for homeless men living with HIV/AIDS. Green Industries doubled CCSS’ capacity for employment and vocational training, and Nora is proud to partner with them for CultureLab. Not only are these planters locally made, they are supporting the incredible work of CCSS.

While touring the facilities, we had the opportunity to meet with “The Rev” herself,  who is a true Detroit badass. We had a limited time to speak to her, but she showed us around their newly acquired warehouse, including the storefront for Green Industries. As we were pressed for time, she slyly handed me her book This Far By Faith and said “Merry Christmas”.  It chronicles her work at Cass Community over the past 20 years, and serves as a fascinating work on Detroit’s
history overall. This is far from a typical memoir, it addresses the obstacles that face Detroit—unemployment, systemic racism, bias against the homeless, bias against those living with HIV/AIDS, and rather than saying “here’s a solution”, it highlights the humanity and humor of people who have been woefully underserved and offers “here’s what we’ve done, it’s possible”. In fact, Cass Community Social Services has been a model for employment programs across the world.