(Tom Alexander/MJ)

BY STEPHANIE SALVADERO, Guest Reporter

Twelve students power-cleaned the Ruth Ellis Center on February 4, for the CIViC’s monthly First Saturday volunteer day.

Within an hour, the drop-in center was left spotless: the students organized donation items, dusted bookcases, wiped down computer monitors, scrubbed bathrooms, scoured kitchen counters, washed walls, and swept and vacuumed the center from corner to corner.

Although the volunteer day was scheduled to run from 9am to 12pm, students dutifully completed their service by 10am. “We really appreciate you coming and being willing to clean the center,” intern Konstantine Salkeld told volunteers as they put away all the cleaning supplies.

Located in the heart of Detroit, the Ruth Ellis Center provides Lesbian, Gay, Bi-attractional, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth with a “short-term and long-term residential safe space and support services,” according to its website, ruthelliscenter.org.

Homeless, runaway, or at-risk LGBTQ youth can benefit from a hot meal, laundry facilities, showers and personal hygiene supplies, a large donation closet from which they can take what they need, computer and Internet access, crisis intervention, and support groups by coming to the drop-in center. It is open from 3:00pm to 9:00pm on Monday and Wednesday, and 3:00pm-7:00pm on Thursday.

According to CIViC coordinator Lauren Hayes, she chose the Ruth Ellis Center because she and a group of students made fleece blankets for the Center on Martin Luther King Day.

“We strive to address a different social issue every month for the First Saturday volunteer service,” explained Hayes. “I thought it would be rewarding to come full circle and do service at the Ruth Ellis Center after having made blankets for the youth here.”

With 2 full-time and 2 part-time employees and no janitorial staff, the Center is dependent upon volunteers. Upwards of 70 youth are welcomed on average at one time in the drop-in center, but according to Salkeld, the amount can fluctuate from 5 to 105 depending on the day. On average, the Ruth Ellis Center caters to 340 youth per the 12 days a month it is open, with 4,390 youth “dropping-in” just this past year.

“Having a clean space for the youth is essential,” Salkeld highlighted to volunteers on February 4, when she welcomed them and first introduced the Center. “The youth are exposed to a lot in terms of pressure on their immunity system and we try to provide for their basic needs: meal, clothes, laundry, shower.”

Obtaining a masters in social work at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Salkeld started interning at the Center in September 2011 and will continue until at least April 2012. She photographed students cleaning the drop-in center with care, proudly announcing that their photographs will be the first set christening a new volunteer wall at the Center. The wall is designed to show the youth that there are people that care about keeping their space functioning week to week.

To further thank the students for fulfilling the janitorial needs of the Center, Salkeld shared the “Youth Produced Voguing Documentary” found on YouTube that youth from Ruth Ellis helped produce. As they watched the video, volunteers were given an insider’s glance into “Voguing,” an expressive dance-form the LGBTQ youth in Detroit revel in.

“We attract youth mostly for the two hour music and dance sessions we hold when the drop-in center is open,” Salkeld additionally revealed. “The music and dancing brings youth into the space. As they keep coming, they can choose to be involved in a wide variety of youth driven programming which provides a place for their voices be heard.”

Students left the Center knowing that the space they cleaned would be appreciatively enjoyed and danced upon in the days to come.