February 5, 2020
Alumni Experiences, News
UpBeat caught up with Sheila Walsh Dettloff (’84D), the founder of a new regional Up with People alumni club in Michigan, USA. Check out the interview below!
Matthew: How did you get the idea to found the Metro Detroit Alumni Club?
Sheila: I founded the group after hearing at reunion last July that Cast B 2020 would be coming to Traverse City, Michigan, with a possible visit to Detroit as well. I had been thinking for a few years about getting the metro Detroit alumni together, and learning about the cast visit prompted me to get moving on it — not only to try to help bring the cast to the Detroit area, but to connect area alumni for social and community service events.
Matthew: How many members are you in the club?
Sheila: At our first meeting last November, we had 12 people. We also have 32 members in our Facebook group. I know there are many more alumni in the area… we hope they’ll join us!
Matthew: How often will you meet and what will you be working on?
Sheila: We plan to get together every two to three months. We’ve had two meetings so far – the first in November 2019 and the second very recently, in January 2020.
We’re still working on what we should engage with. Metro Detroit is a big area geographically, so a key part of our planning is considering how far people have to travel and trying to find a central location — which can be challenging. But we hope to balance our events between social and community service.
In forming the group, I first looked up the mission statement for the UWPIAA, which essentially is to support the mission of UWP. So then I went to UWP’s mission statement, and selected the parts that are relevant to us: Our goals are to increase understanding, respect, and dignity for all; to foster an engaged community; and to build on our network of global citizens. My intent is for our meetings and events to uphold that mission — but basically, we want to have fun and serve our community!
Matthew: We saw on the Facebook group you all did some community service work in January. How did that project come together?
Sheila: I belong to a community service group at my company, where I learned of an ongoing project
to make sleeping mats for the homeless. So I took advantage of being able to join a project that was already planned…this made it a lot easier to jump right into community service as an alumni group — if I had had to plan a project, it wouldn’t have happened so fast. Even better, I didn’t have to try to sweet talk any radio stations into giving us PSAs or beg local restaurants for a free meal! But really, this is the ideal way for alumni groups everywhere to get involved in the community.
The event was a collaboration between a local brewpub and a women’s group called the Detroit Girl Squad. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m familiar with any establishment that serves good craft beer! But the Detroit Girl Squad was new to me. Their mission seems to be very similar to ours — networking, socializing, and serving their community. The project was open to the public and advertised through Facebook, so I really had no idea how many people would show up besides us. Turns out it was a lot — I’d estimate there were 40 to 50 people, everyone from young kids to seniors.
I’m learning that there are a lot of events out there looking for volunteers, so we don’t have to plan it all ourselves. We just need to be willing to work.
Matthew: Awesome—and some great guidance for other regional and city alumni clubs. Who all participated?
Sheila: Five alumni were able to take part: Besides me, there was my castmate Bina Donakowski (84D), Katie (Mogen) Blackshear (99C), Jennifer Kundak (Cast B UWP High School, 69/70), and Kevin Weston (74B). Jennifer’s husband and a friend of Katie’s also joined us.
Matthew: Overall, how’d the day go?
Sheila: It was very informal, which was great — “bring supplies if you have them” — and just show up ready to work if you don’t. People could drop in anytime between noon and 3 p.m. to work, but we showed up at noon and stayed for the entire time. We were given instructions on how to cut up plastic bags and string them together into big balls of plastic “yarn,” which are then crocheted into mats by people who know one end of a crochet hook from the other. And the bar was open, so of course we had a couple beers while we worked!
Matthew: What are next steps for the alumni club?
Sheila: A few of us have been working with Chelsey Panchot in the UWP office to try to find sponsors for the cast, so if that works out, we’ll be busy getting ready for a cast visit in September. Whether or not that happens, we’ll be meeting again soon — hopefully with even more alumni from the area — to brainstorm ideas for fun events and service projects we want to do in the future.
Matthew: Best of luck! Any advice for other alumni?
Sheila: I would really encourage alumni throughout the U.S. to form active regional clubs, and I’d love to see the UWPIAA do what they can to encourage that. Several other countries have active alumni clubs, but they’ve always been lacking in the U.S., with a couple notable exceptions that usually involve reunion planning. Not only can regional clubs help support UWP, as alumni clubs in some other countries have done, but they are beneficial in so many ways: networking, a built-in welcome to a new community, a way to give back to the community, and just a great way to have fun with people who have a very special experience in common.
If you are an alumnus/alumna, or know any alumni in the Detroit area, and are interested in connecting with Sheila, you can find their Facebook group here and email the club here.
Wow! I am very happy you having taken this on Sheila. My name is Duane, an Alumni from the Face To Face World Tour with Cast E88′ & 89′ , Assistant Production Manager/Music. I reside in Albion, Mi off Interstate 94 west of Detroit. Please include me in the upcoming events. My info: firstname.lastname@example.org and 517-414-4762. Look forward to hearing from you. An alumni club is a really good idea.!!! Thanks again!