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Reimagining Work: Pingree Detroit's Origin Story

Reimagining Work: A community conversation with our Co-founder and CEO, Jarret Alan Schlaff. 

Detroit, MI - For as long as I can remember I have met too many hard working people who wanted meaningful, good paying work, and couldn't find it. That's unacceptable, especially in America, and especially when that's the case for Veterans. So in the Fall of 2014 when I met driven yet unemployed veterans living in my neighborhood in Detroit, I felt called to do something about it. 

There was this vivid moment in the Fall of 2014 that sling shot me from a passive observer of the problems I was seeing, to an active participant in seeing how I could help. I was expressing my frustrations to a friend and mentor about this situation I was witnessing in my neighborhood and I remember  saying, “someone should do something about this” - and before the full sentence was off my lips, it was as if my entire being was buzzing, everything was quiet, except for a loud voice inside my head sarcastically saying, “Oh really, somebody should do something?” I knew, at this moment, with all my heart, this was the answer to my prayers for purpose and I was going to choose curiosity over comfort. That same night after I wrapped up my duties for my job working as the Midwest Director for a non-profit, my work began. 

jarret alan schlaff at Eastern market pop-up selling pingree detroit leather upcycled goodsI didn’t know what the root causes were to these problems facing my neighbors or what the best solutions would be.  I chose to embark on a 3 month, “listening campaign” inspired by the organizing model used by the Highlander Research and Education Center. I was supported by the Boggs Center in my neighborhood, the New Work Collective I was part of, and my church Central United Methodist Church, with the goal of sharing space with Veterans and those in my community so they could speak for themselves about the problems they face and the solutions they want to see. I was joined by Mike, our first employee who was a Marine Veteran looking for work himself. He and I sat down with dozens of block clubs, non-profits, Veterans groups, churches, and community activists and asked the questions, what are the biggest challenges facing your neighborhood, what would you like to see, what could support look like? We were surprised by the answers. We learned of water shutoffs and foreclosures hurting thousands of families in Detroit, homelessness and blight caused by an unjust tax system that prioritizes bank profits over people, and countless conversations about the lack of opportunity for accessible, meaningful, good paying work. 

Folks, especially the Veterans we were meeting, told us they wanted to work with their hands, make their neighborhoods stronger, and be part of a purpose driven environment again while making enough money to care for their family. It became clear we could do something about this gap between the provision of basic needs and work that made a difference. So instead of a fundraiser like we initially thought would be the outcome- we found ourselves exploring how we could reimagine and create this kind of work in Detroit. This was one of those, “throw your hat over the fence so you have to go get it moments” and without much savings, without any experience starting or running a business, but with passion and drive for days, I decided I had the power to do something about this. These conversations and faith that anything is possible is why Pingree Detroit came into being.


Brandy Dawn Harris

It is wonderful, absolutely WONDERFUL, what you are doing. My husband developed Alzheimer’s, with Dementia and many MANY other diagnosis, and we were unable to open up a shop. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for following your heart and mind!!!!! It is so remarkable how you are doing!!!!!! I am so proud of you, you took God’s word and Delivered it to the Veterans!!!!! You are so, SO, special!!! Each week I get “good feelings” when I read your words. I will pray for you and your vet’s!!!!

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