Causandra Gaines, BSW has worked in Westside Detroit for 27 years. A social worker by training, Ms. Gaines’ passion for working with young people – spanning from infants to elementary and middle school students to young mothers – clearly comes through when she reflects on her work in the Brightmoor community in Detroit, MI. Her commitment to community-based participatory research partnerships, and to improving the ability for all community members to live up to their full potential, are evident in her reflections on her thirty-year career. Ms. Gaines recently retired from a leadership role at the Brightmoor Community Center in Detroit.
Career in Profile:
- 1974 – 1978: Completed her Associates in Applied Art Social Service Technician Corrections and Bachelor of Science in Human Services at Ferris State University
- 1982 – 1986 – Counselor, Vista Maria
- 1986 – 2003 – Group Social Worker, Brightmoor Community Center
- 2003 – 2005 – Vice President/COO, Brightmoor Community Center
- 2005 – 2012 – President/CEO, Brightmoor Community Center
- 2012 – 2013 – Director of Operations, Brighmoor Community Center
- NOW: Retired
What are some of your best career successes or career highlights that you’re really proud of?
I really liked our Zero to Three program, where we worked with mothers and their children aged zero to three. That’s the point where you can help a young mother who has nothing and give her some of the things that she needs. It could be a car seat, diapers, or formula. Or, show her that there is potential out there for her. That she can get a job, be successful. Help her to navigate the system so she can get the things that she needs. Through that program, we have helped people get housing, jobs, and make sure that kids have formula, diapers, and clothes. It is just a joy to see a person’s face when you are able to give them those things. That’s what’s important.
One career success was through all of the economic downfalls, and all of the money that the Community Center lost, I was able to keep these doors open. We survived it. It was a rough five years, just figuring out how you’re going to keep the place open. Sometimes I was the only person who was working and I did most of it by myself.
When it comes to public health, what matters to you? Why?
I think our biggest health challenge in Detroit is exercise. I think that the best thing that we (the Healthy Environments Partnership Steering Committee, a community-based participatory research project) did is that our walking groups allowed folks to make a change. We used a participatory process from the planning stage to the implementation stage, and participants really enjoyed the walking groups. They understood how important it is for people to be healthy. Exercising and eating the right food does prolong your life. When you get to be 60, 70 and 80, you want to be an independent person able to take care of yourself. The way to get there is to take care of your body, especially as we get seasoned. There are a lot of groups, like health plans and health centers, who are willing to help. I still believe that we have a long way to go.
What do you think it will take to address these public health challenges?
It’s good to talk about good nutrition and healthy things, but we have to have to access things. In the summer, we have the farmer’s market. Now, it’s getting cold. Fresh vegetables are gone. How can we continue to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the community? How can we leverage the big retailers to want to come and do that? Also, we need to educate the people in the community. When you get these wonderful things, you have to educate the community. Sometimes it’s about educating one person at a time or working with one group at a time. Once you teach that group, they can spread it on to the next folks.
My main focus over the last 8 years has been to make sure that the Brightmoor Community Center succeeds. Right now, we’re on our 88th year. My goal is that it succeeds to be 100, plus. The community built the Brightmoor Community Center. This is a focal point for the community. We want to be a place where we are a one-stop shop, where you can access everything. We want to take care of your health needs, nutrition needs, and offer a space where you can exercise. We have a daycare. We want to make sure that you have a place where your kids can go while you’re at work. If you have an addiction, you can come get help with that. If you have spiritual needs, you can come here to church. We just want to make sure that we can help you to access anything you need. We may not have a program, but we want you to know where you can go to address your health and other needs. We’re like a community center that has all of these legs that go in one direction. The legacy that I want to leave is to make sure that the community center is here, serving the community, and doing what it needs to do for 100, plus years.