One Degree Launches in Detroit, My Hometown

By Aisha van Ter Sluis, Director of New Markets at Alluma

After I aged out of Wayne County foster care at 18, I fell on some pretty hard times. I was sleeping in an abandoned apartment near the Lafayette Towers, hungry, overwhelmed, and clueless that I could or should look for help.

Instead, I relied on word of mouth. I heard Plaka’s Coney Island in Greektown was hiring, so I asked for a job and started working the midnight shift. I heard the Unitarian church gave away free clothing, so I stopped by and got some work clothes. I heard there was a free clinic out in Washtenaw County, so I went there for my gynecological appointments and gave them a fake address.

In fact, I started attending Wayne State University as a 22-year-old only because another waitress told me in passing that registration was open. I told her I didn’t think I was allowed to register. She whipped her head around, arched one of her eyebrows (which let me know she thought I was crazy!), and walked me into the registrar’s building on the corner of Warren and Woodward. A week later, I was sitting in class. Four years later, I graduated with honors, a double major, and a 3.9 GPA.

Thankfully, things have changed. Not the need, of course; at some point in most of our lives, we will need support. Now Alluma’s resource and referral platform One Degree has changed how Detroiters can find the help they need, when they need it.

Perhaps they find the application page for MediCal, plug in their data, qualify, and go through the formal enrollment process and some weeks later get that health coverage they need — great! Or is it? They gave one government agency a whole swath of personal information (their data) to qualify, yet those data get used just once and are then stored.

This month, One Degree launched in Detroit. Through community partnerships with the Live6 Alliance and the Marygrove Conservancy, residents in Northwest Detroit neighborhoods are now able to access a directory of Detroit resources and support services — from housing to healthcare to job training — on their phones, laptops, and desktop computers. For folks who are more comfortable with texting, One Degree offers text-to-search. Try it out by texting what you or a community member needs to 844–833–1334 and include the Northwest Detroit zip code 48221.

These community partnerships are critical to how One Degree works to move people out of poverty. The Live6 Alliance has led a number of innovative, grassroots projects, including building a yard sign campaign and creating an engagement kit campaign with the local block club presidents. The Marygrove Conservancy has connected One Degree to their workforce development efforts, and will soon provide One Degree training to their tenant community. And my role as Director of New Markets at Alluma has been to say yes to, and provide support for, all these brilliant community ideas. Community building is at the heart of our work.

Residents in NW Detroit neighborhoods are now able to access a directory of Detroit resources and support services — from housing to healthcare to job training — on their phones, laptops, and desktop computers

I wish One Degree had been around when I was in my greatest time of need (trust me when I say I am a morning person and the midnight shift was not for me!). And I’m beyond proud to be a part of the team that helped bring One Degree to Detroit.

Over the next few years, I’ll be here supporting the Live6 Alliance and the Marygrove Conservancy communities, partnering with others to expand One Degree into more Detroit neighborhoods, and doing whatever it takes to empower Detroiters to use One Degree to create a path out of poverty for themselves and for their communities. Please reach out if you have any ideas or are inspired to collaborate. I’m here to help.

Aisha joined Alluma as the Director of New Markets in 2021 because she believes the social safety net should provide accessible and dignified services to anyone in need. Aisha is passionate about de-stigmatizing the experience of need and poverty, and grew up with the support of WIC, Medicaid, food stamps, and free school lunch. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Wayne State University.