By Katrina Hancock
Sports Anchor/Reporter, WDIV-Detroit
In covering sports for 11 years, I never thought I would end up in a rough neighborhood on Detroit’s east side wanting to make a difference, but that is exactly what happened when I met Shirley Jagoda on March 23, 2012. Shirley’s story is like so many in Detroit. Shirley, and her husband Gerald, moved to the city in 1971 and bought a home. When the recession hit several years ago, they saw their neighborhood drastically change. Garbage was everywhere, their neighbors were moving out in droves, and robberies were now a part of everyday life. Their home was robbed three times and finally the Jagoda’s had had enough.
Shirley decided to write an e-mail to a Detroit city council member, pleading for him to do something to save her beloved neighborhood. The council member never received that e-mail, until I stepped in and forwarded it. Our assignment desk had a copy of Shirley’s e-mail, and gave it to me in a morning meeting. I couldn’t wait to meet her and hear her story.
When we first aired Shirley’s story on March 23, I just assumed the people running Detroit would step up and take action, but that did not happen. They did very little. When I did follow up stories in April and in May, I was irate. I could not believe children had to grow up in neighborhoods so vile and unsafe. The City of Detroit is broke, I get that, but it still doesn’t mean people need to live in fear, surrounded by garbage on a daily basis.
When nothing happened, I picked up the phone and called friends and strangers to help me organize and participate in “Clean up the “D” Day. After about three weeks of planning, the first event came together like clockwork on June 9. When 250 people showed up from all over Metro Detroit, I was so amazed how much work could be done in such a short amount of time. We mowed grass, filled 11 dumpsters with garbage, hauled away 11 more loads of garbage, demolished two homes, and made this neighborhood safer. It was truly a testimony to the great people of Detroit to see how one morning of work changed so much.
Throughout that day, people kept asking me when the next clean up day would be. I knew that it was so successful that we needed to schedule another one before the end of the summer. I tried to get it done at the end of July, but this time, the City of Detroit gave me no help at all. It felt to me like they thought, “Once is enough, now get back to doing sports.” I decided that once wasn’t enough and more work needed to be done.
On Aug. 25, after only a week of planning, we cleaned up another neighborhood on Detroit’s east side. About 100 people showed up to do the work and move mountains of garbage. The grass got cut on some of those streets for the first time in months. What meant the most was doing this clean-up right before school started and the children were going to be safer walking to school.
In covering all the championships, playoffs and hundreds of games in my career, these two days this summer were the most rewarding projects and stories I’ve ever done as a reporter. I saw a community come together to help revive two neighborhoods. I saw smiles on children’s faces. I saw work being done for free when a group of paid City officials could not find a way to get the work done. It touched my heart and it’s something I will never forget.