Black Young Professionals take a practice ride for the upcoming NSO Handlebars for the Homeless 15-mile bike tour fundraiser on Aug. 14th in Detroit. Credit Detroit Free Press
The famous “Find it Fast Yellow Pages” sign no longer sits atop the stately building at 882 Oakman Boulevard in the Pilgrim Village neighborhood on Detroit's west side.
But just as that iconic sign was an enduring symbol of the former Michigan Bell’s telephone service, the location remains synonymous with service today thanks to the Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO), which is headquartered in what is now called the NSO-Bell Building.
With deep roots in Detroit going back to 1955, NSO’s comprehensive service menu has included homeless recovery services; providing assistance for older adults with mental illness; supporting children, youth and adults with developmental disabilities; community outreach for psychiatric emergencies and much more.
In some instances, the NSO’s ability to change lives has gone beyond the tens of thousands of people that have received the nonprofit’s services, and lifelong Detroiter David Rudolph offers proof.
“NSO gave me a heart to understand that it’s not about the circumstances that brought you to this place; what’s important is that you have a way to recover and that is what NSO has always provided,” said Rudolph, who was asked to serve as a volunteer board member by former NSO Chief Executive Officer Sheilah Clay 16 years ago and continues today because, as Rudolph puts it, the service he provides allows him to “give to” the Detroit community that nurtured him.
“When people in our community have been in need; when no one else has been there for them; NSO has been that last net," he continued. "Or if you hit the ground and bounce up, NSO is there for you too.”
During 2021, the Free Press highlighted Rudolph within a series of stories recognizing “Detroit Free Press/Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Food Fighters.” As reported at that time, Rudolph, the founder and senior managing partner of D. Ericson & Associates Public Relations in Detroit, was one of the driving forces behind “Too Many Cooks In the Kitchen for Good,” a collective which provided food for nonprofits, including NSO, during the early stage of the pandemic in Michigan. But a decade earlier, Rudolph also contributed something equally “good” to his community when he created NSO’s “Handlebars for the Homeless,” a guided bicycle tour which raises money to support individuals experiencing homelessness in Detroit.
The annual Handlebars for the Homeless bicycle tour did not occur in 2020 due to the pandemic, and a virtual version of the event took place in 2021. But on Sunday, Aug. 14, Handlebars for the Homeless will return in-person with a new route stretching roughly 15 miles, which will begin and end at the NSO-Bell Building. In between, riders will peddle through scenic and historic Detroit neighborhoods, including Boston-Edison, Piety Hill and Virginia Park, along with the Poletown and Milwaukee Junction communities. And at about the halfway point of the route, there will be a stop at the Clay Apartments, NSO’s 42-unit permanent supportive housing facility at 3364 Mack, which opened in October 2020.
“We have this event to raise money, but it’s really about raising awareness,” said Rudolph, who points to the jarring sights he viewed while riding his bike to and from his downtown office as a catalyst for the creation of Handlebars for the Homeless. “When you’re riding by at eye level, at 5 to 12 miles per hour, you see things — like people sleeping in-between doorways and digging out of dumpsters by restaurants — that you don’t see when you’re traveling 30, 35 or 40 miles per hour in a car.”
Rudolph’s serious tone momentarily changed to laughter on Tuesday afternoon, when he brought up the pace that the Handlebars riders will be traveling during the scenic tour on Aug. 14. He joked that onlookers will not mistake any of the riders for Lance Armstrong. But while the Tour de France may not be in the future for any of the participants, he says the “character” of the people that are drawn to the event is nothing less than world-class.
“It’s one of the most honorable rides out there because of the people that participate in it,” Rudolph explained. “And they participate because of what the ride and NSO stand for. I always go back to us only being as strong as our weakest link, and everyone who participates in Handlebars for the Homeless forms a link of caring.”
Rudolph’s statement was echoed by Darvell Powell, founder and president of Black Young Professionals (BYP) of Metro Detroit, which began as a meetup group in 2015 but has become increasingly committed to civic engagement through the years.
“We were looking for established organizations that were serving the community and NSO stood out,” Powell said as he explained why his members volunteer their time to support NSO, including serving on the planning committee for Handlebars for the Homeless.
When BYP established a partnership with NSO in 2016, Powell was working in Warren as an engineer for General Motors. Today, his workplace is located in Nashville, Tenn., where the 34-year-old Powell is a senior supplier quality development engineer for Nissan. Despite the demands of his job and the more than 500-mile distance between Nashville and Detroit, Powell proudly says that he is making the time to join fellow BYP members in Detroit on Aug. 13 and 14, as they volunteer their time to ensure the successful execution of this year’s Handlebars for the Homeless.
“NSO, and the cause of serving the homeless in Detroit speak to my spirit,” said Powell, who sounded like the seasoned engineer that he is when he described in precise detail the duties the BYP volunteers will be performing outside the NSO building and along the Handlebars for the Homeless cycling route on the day of the event. “Detroit is a very important city for the Black community; in the region and across the nation -- everybody relates back to Detroit. And our organization’s relationship with NSO has really been a blessing. We’re able to lend manpower, technical talents, skills and time while showing that young professionals care about what’s going on in the community.”
And for BYP members and other participants in this year’s Handlebars for the Homeless, there will be a golden opportunity to learn more about how NSO impacts the community when the bicycle tour makes that half-way stop at Clay Apartments (named after Sheilah Clay). Awaiting the riders will be 70-year-old Allah Young, who was among the first residents to move into the complex after what he said was a three-year period of "existing" at multiple shelters before coming to NSO. Speaking from his “impeccably” clean apartment on Thursday, Young promised that on Aug. 14 he would provide the riders with a walking tour of the complex, including his apartment, and share words from his heart.
“Sheilah Clay thought that no one should be homeless, and the current (NSO) President Linda Little wants to eradicate homelessness in the city of Detroit; this should be a model program for the entire nation,” Young, who describes himself as a legacy Detroiter from the city’s east side, said. “I’m dedicated to helping Ms. Little and Ms. (Katrina) McCree (NSO’s chief community impact officer) push NSO’s agenda. I have found my calling!”
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