This story was produced in partnership with Energy News Network.
Meghan Richards’ career as a community organizer began with a crisis.
Amid historic rainfall in June 2021, Richards’ basement in Detroit’s Morningside neighborhood flooded, destroying clothes, furniture, and her furnace and air conditioner. She was worried about mold in the basement and didn’t know where to turn.
That’s when Angela Brown Wilson, a family friend and chief operating officer at Eastside Community Network, stepped in. Wilson heard about Richards’ plight and urged her to seek help from ECN, a community development organization on Detroit’s east side.
Staff at ECN helped Richards fill out forms for federal help. As a result, FEMA provided financial and relocation assistance, which was a huge help for Richards, a single mom. Workers removed damaged items that were too heavy for her to discard alone. They cleaned and sanitized the basement so that Richards could return home with her family.
“Being able to get help right down the street was life-saving,” she said. “I didn’t have to drive to the west side. I just had to go down the street and it felt good.”
That experience eventually led Richards to apply for a job at the organization in 2022. Richards is now part of a team organizing a network of community resilience hubs on the east side of Detroit.
Resilience hubs are designated locations in neighborhoods that support residents of that community. These hubs serve as a center for vital information and assistance during emergency situations, a function that’s becoming more important as climate change brings more intense severe weather events to the region. They can also distribute food, and allow residents to power up their laptops or cell phones when the power goes out. When there isn’t a crisis, residents may hold meetings, attend classes and participate in other community events at the hub.
ECN has announced several resilience hub locations with additional sites being considered. Richards is responsible for assembling roundtables with community leaders on the lower east side under the Resilient Eastside Initiative. One place might be a charging station, another a food distribution or warming station. Residents will be able to know where they can go to get what they need in an interconnected network of hubs.
“The goal is to form a network so that when an emergency happens, everybody is already connected and knows who does what,” Richards told Planet Detroit.
Richards aims to treat people the way she was treated during her crisis. Having received help from ECN after experiencing a personal crisis gives her a unique perspective.
“I know what it feels like to need help and to be treated warmly and not like a number,” she said. “That is why this work is so important. I understand how important it is and the difference it makes psychologically. People need that. They deserve it.”
Richards was born and raised in Detroit. She recalls a time when everyone knew each other in neighborhoods and came together to help each other. She’s trying to bring that feeling back through her work.
“When I look back and take stock in the experience I had coming to ECN after the flood, it really is like a core memory for me. It brings me so much comfort,” she said. “Being able to help to put things in place for people, so they can have those same experiences I had, is life-changing.”
Richards aspires to go back to school and study business management. She enjoys researching and learning about food and wants to teach young people about food and healthy options.
“To help a person who is going through trauma is life-changing,” she said. “What we are doing is going to be life-changing for hundreds, hopefully thousands, of residents,” she said.
For Richards, Detroit’s east side is a very special place.
“We’re in the climate race and we know that may take years, but in the meantime, we need to build community back,” Richards said. “I want to continue to make a difference, build relationships and help make the community stronger. There is no place like Detroit.”