Alternatives For Girls: Giving respectful help to reach goals

May 5, 2020
Contact: Greta Guest gguest@umich.edu

Many young women
in Detroit

are at high risk for
homelessness,
sex trafficking,
violence, or
incomplete educations

Abused.
Homeless.
Jobless.

SHARON
PARTICIPANT
When you’re on the street, you really do be getting your own money, but some things you don’t want to do to get it.

University of Michigan
alumna Amy Good
cofounded an organization

that has helped
thousands of girls and women

take charge
of their futures

AMY GOOD
CEO, ALTERNATIVES FOR GIRLS
Master’s Degree, University of Michigan
School of Social Work
At Alternatives for Girls, we provide positive alternatives to girls and young women. We provide shelter, outreach of all kinds to those who are at risk, and prevention services helping girls stay in school, graduate from high school, go on to post-secondary education and the careers that they dream of. On any given day, there are many different things happening in this building.

In the shelter space,
Makiya is getting support
as she builds independence

MAKIYA
PARTICIPANT
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. I just started, went to training yesterday, actually.

Outside, Dominique and
Sarah load a van
with supplies for women
subjected to sex trafficking

DOMINIQUE AND SARAH
OUTREACH TEAM MEMBERS
ALTERNATIVES FOR GIRLS
We’ve packed up hygiene kits, hoodies and sweaters, jackets. We go on the streets of Detroit, give them the bag that we’ve prepared for them, and we will tell them about our resource center, and our program that helps them to transition out of that lifestyle.

At Sew Great Detroit,
current and former
program participants
learn sewing skills

One day this truck came up to me. AFG. They make you feel like you belong there, I wasn’t scared to walk in.

DARZELL
PARTICIPANT
I came to the program with a grieving group that was helping women that lost their kids through gang violence. And it helped me to realize there’s things I can do.

YOLANDA
PARTICIPANT
It’s motivation, and it’s a new skill for me. Now I’m teaching my daughters.

In the After School program,
dozens of K-12 girls
find support and community

DIANE
PARTICIPANT
First we do our homework, and they provide us help.

ANAHI
And then we eat dinner. The food’s actually pretty good.

Then we go on to do some amazing stuff.

We do art, or they teach us how to do poems.

Sometimes we go take college tours.

You can trust anyone.

MARLEN
PARTICIPANT
I feel safe in here.

We have served about 30,000 girls and women.

Over 30,000
girls and women
have been supported
since 1987

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. I had a great education at University of Michigan. There was a professor that taught me that we have the power, especially together, collectively, to bring forth justice. The University continues to be a support to our work, and the work of others in our community.

As long as there are
girls and women who are
homeless or at risk,
Alternatives for Girls intends
to be there to support them

I would describe it as a helpful place. Like a second home.

People leave out and be a different person.

I love Alternatives for Girls. For being there.

DETROIT—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.

University of Michigan School of Social Work alumna Amy Good, CEO of Alternatives for Girls. Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

University of Michigan School of Social Work alumna Amy Good, CEO of Alternatives for Girls. Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

“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.

Sew Great Detroit teaches girls and women basic sewing skills as well as employment readiness skills. Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

“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, that’s the way they avoid being vulnerable to exploitation.”

“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.

Makiya, an Alternatives for Girls participant, found a job through the program and is staying in the shelter space. "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." Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

Makiya, an Alternatives for Girls participant, found a job through the program and is staying in the shelter space. “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.” Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

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.

The Alternatives For Girls building at 903 W. Grand Blvd, Detroit. Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

The Alternatives For Girls building at 903 W. Grand Blvd, Detroit. Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

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.'”

Program participant Yolanda practices her sewing skills at Sew Great Detroit at Alternatives For Girls. "It's motivation, and it's a new skill for me. Now, I'm teaching my daughters." Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

Program participant Yolanda practices her sewing skills at Sew Great Detroit at Alternatives For Girls. “It’s motivation, and it’s a new skill for me. Now, I’m teaching my daughters.” Image credit: Eric Bronson, University of Michigan Photography

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.”

 

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