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Opening The Doerr To Change 

An Activist Branches Out In Detroit

Emily Doerr describes herself as the "practical" and "boring" child in her family, but it seems like her idea of "practical" and "boring" is a little different from the rest of us.

Doerr's current projects include starting a new credit union in Wayne County and opening Corktown's first hostel. She also does volunteer work with several Detroit organizations and works as the Grants Manager for the nonprofit Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. Oh yeah, and she's working on her MBA.

Doerr, 25, is bright, enthusiastic and extremely talkative about all her projects. "I fully admit that I'm extremely wordy," she says. She earned her bachelor's in economics from Central Michigan University and says she "got bit by the nonprofit bug" in the summer before her senior year, when she took an internship at the Food Bank for New York City. "They feed two-and-a-half-million people a day, so it's huge," Doerr says. "That's what really got me fired up about the nonprofit line of thinking."

Returning to Michigan, she took a job with a Lansing nonprofit, moving on to her current job with Wayne Metro in early-2009. Doerr's work at Wayne Metro involves putting the grant funds the agency receives into action. The agency serves low-income families in 43 of the 44 municipalities in Wayne County. "We are really holistic when we look at how to help families in Wayne County," says Doerr.The agency offers a variety of services from homeless shelters to community gardening programs.

Doerr's latest task: all the work that goes into setting up a credit union to serve low-income families in Wayne County. Doerr says many Wayne Metro clients have difficulty with banking. Running up overdraft fees at major banks, they are forced to cash checks with petty lenders who take two to five percent of their money. "That's ridiculous," says Doerr. Wayne Metro's proposed credit union would cash checks with no additional charge, while offering classes in money management. "We aren't trying to make a profit on this," says Doerr. "Right now there aren't a lot of credit unions that are focused on serving low-income families."

And that's only what Doerr does at her nine-to-five. Off the clock, she's planning to open a hostel in Corktown, inspired by her experiences bunking up in South Africa and across the U.S. "A hostel is so great when it comes to attracting young people to a city," she says. Doerr has also joined the network of "couchsurfing" hosts, who open their homes to travelers from across the country for free. "I'm kind of getting addicted to hosting people," she says. "People show up and they don't know anything about Detroit. Then they leave and they're going, 'Oh my gosh, Detroit is so cool.'"

Doerr also volunteers with the Corktown Residents Council and Southwest Solutions, and is a mentor in the Alternatives for Girls program for children with incarcerated parents. In what might be called her spare time, she says she enjoys running, riding her bike and drinking Michigan beer to "maybe an unhealthy level." Doerr says she's loved living in Detroit since she moved here in 2008. "Everyone you meet has a story; everyone you meet wants to engage with you," she says. "That's really what pulled me down here."

Doerr's driving force seems to be her very genuine interest in people. "I really, really believe in the goodness of people," she says. "I mean, I let people stay on my couch." Despite what Emily Doerr might say of herself, there's very little about her that's practical or boring. | RDW

What are three things to keep you in Detroit?

Can I just say three words? Better. Tax. Policy. That would keep me happier, I guess.

Where do you see Detroit in 2021?

We'll have some type of mass transit. We'll be out of a recession, so hopefully Detroit will be a little hub of green jobs.

What was your career aspiration in first grade?

I wanted to be a zookeeper and take care of the elephants.

An Activist Branches Out In Detroit

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