New Weed and Seed Site Director Barbara Stachowski is a specialist in Asian Community Relations who believes that Hamtramck, with its many and diverse ethnic groups, epitomizes the concept of community. Stachowski, a Hamtramck native and the oldest of eight children, also has a passionate respect for family.
She earned her M.A. in social justice from Marygrove College, which is among the first colleges in the world to offer the degree. Stachowski has begun attending local Neighborhood Watch meetings to hear resident concerns for public safety, youth initiatives and neighborhood restoration agendas.
Please explain the Weed and Seed Program
Weed and Seed is a community-based strategy sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice. It is an innovative, comprehensive, multi-agency approach to law enforcement, crime prevention, and community revitalization. The Hamtramck Community Initiative supports the Weed and Seed program and collaborates with local and regional law enforcement leaders and Hamtramck residents dedicated to “weeding out crime” and “seeding” positive, proactive programs to reduce crime and violence in Hamtramck.
As a liaison between the city’s ethnic groups and the police, how do you intend to bring more unity and better understanding to Hamtramck?
I am an experienced project manager and program organizer with extensive experience working with culturally diverse groups including the Arab American, Asian American, Native American, Latino, African American and European American communities in a variety of professional, interfaith, and community service capacities. I will use my enthusiasm and unique leadership abilities to complement the Weed and Seed mission to develop relationships across community and law enforcement sectors.
What is the current level of participation in the city’s Neighborhood Watch groups and how can that be improved?
The Neighborhood Watch groups have been working diligently to recruit members and maintain a presence in their respective neighborhoods. As Site Director, I look forward to working with each group to determine the specific needs and challenges they face. Engaging trusted leaders and elders to communicate the importance of neighborhood unity and commitment to watching out for each other is key to instilling in each resident the importance of developing a community that looks out for our neighbors.
There are six Neighborhood Watch block clubs in Hamtramck. These groups are gaining momentum and welcome everyone’s participation. Please call the Weed and Seed office at (313) 281-8150 if you would like to find out the time and location of the Neighborhood Watch meetings.
How do you plan to engage Hamtramck’s ethnic groups?
To successfully engage the various ethnic groups in Hamtramck, I will continue to develop relationships with the trusted leaders and elders of the diverse communities and faith-based organizations. Again, people are open to organizing and community improvement when a trusted member of their community can relate to them the important messages of building community. It is crucial that the residents hear of the Weed and Seed strategy in their own language and in culturally sensitive ways.
My responsibility as Site Director is to empower each community so that solutions are proposed in ways that they can relate to both culturally and spiritually.
In what other ways will you direct your work to young people in the community?
We can best influence our young people to make positive choices in life by providing them with alternatives to negative behavior. In 2007–2008, juvenile offenders represented 25 percent of all arrests for violent crime in Hamtramck.
My experience with young people has taught me that our youth, especially those in immigrant communities, are savvy ambassadors. Many young people are adept at navigating in their daily school environments where they work to fit into American culture and then going home to assist their families with translation and other cultural issues. This experience helps build valuable leadership skills and Hamtramck is interested in allowing our youth to develop those skills in a number of ways.
Currently, youth leaders are convening to develop a youth council that will allow young people to strategize ways to creatively develop opportunities for youth to be positive role models in our City.
Mentoring is one of the best and most cost effective methods to prevent juvenile delinquency. Hamtramck Weed and Seed and the Hamtramck Community Initiative Steering Committee will be sponsoring Camp DEFY (Drug Education for Youth), a program sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that provides mentoring and overnight camp at Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Michigan for kids ages 9-12. The camp will be held August 16-20, 2010.
Weed and Seed is also looking for people that can commit to significantly impacting a young person’s life by becoming a Camp DEFY mentor and we have 10 scholarships available for interested adults. Mentor training will be held on July 27, 2010 from 9 am to 3 pm.
You have mentioned your desire to enhance the city’s form of retributive justice with a form of restorative justice. Could you please explain the difference?
Today, the practical application of punishment in the U.S. has focused on retribution and incarceration. The retributive approach emphasizes punishment by authorities and the separation of offenders from community and society. Retributive justice offers offenders minimal chance of understanding the personal and social impact of their crimes. Restorative justice is based on redefining crime as an injury to the victim and community rather than a crime against authorities.
Restorative justice advocates seek to build sustainable partnerships between the key stakeholders including schools, police, parents, courts and civic groups. When we educate the community that criminal actions hurt everyone, we have an opportunity to humanize the results of violent behavior. We need to have residents feel they have value within the community. Typically, restorative justice encourages a relationship between the community, the victim, and the perpetrator so as to create understanding of how one’s actions can affect those around us. This process takes time and building strong neighborhood watch groups and establishing a Restorative Justice Elder Council are critical pieces to achieving a restorative justice atmosphere.
Could you explain the neighborhood restoration agendas you have in mind for Hamtramck.
The Neighborhood Watch groups have been actively engaged in many neighborhood restoration projects that involve graffiti removal, community clean-up, and grass cutting. Residents can contact the Weed and Seed office to sign out various restoration supplies including paint and other equipment.
Ideally, as more residents support the block clubs, restoration will include increased community pride and spirit.
How do you think your work with the Hmong community will complement your work with Hamtramck’s various ethnic groups?
I received my master’s degree in Social Justice from Marygrove College and completed a thesis and documentary about the Hmong community and their stories of escape from Laos during the Vietnam Era. Some people may be familiar with the Hmong from seeing Clint Eastwood’s movie Gran Torino. In filming my documentary “hmongspeak” I learned that each and every person has a unique story to tell. Hamtramck is home to many people who can relate to this story of immigration.
A remarkable transformation happened during my journey to know and understand the tenacious Hmong community: I have come to know and understand myself. And this is the miracle the Hmong helped me realize: when we authentically see the humanness in each other, we discover ourselves because we are all of one heart and mind. The Hmong have experienced enough pain and loss for many lifetimes but they have never identified as themselves victims and have kept their humanness. Young persons valiantly face the challenges of living in two worlds as traditional Hmong and contemporary Americans but they remain strong and focused for the sake of family.
As an adoptive mother of a Korean-born son (Zack) and the biological mother of a biological son (Scott) and daughter (Erin), I have been blessed with the appreciation in knowing that we are really all of the same human family. We all want the same for our families: we want our children to be safe. We want to be able to feed our families and allow them to grow, learn, and work in a safe and nurturing environment.