A Detroit House on Hazelwood Street came to life Friday, June 21 as buzzing sounds of brush being trimmed filled the air, along with friendly banter.

Members of two of DTE Energy’s employee resource groups Power of Pride (POP) and Surge joined forces to clear overgrown shrubs, pick up trash and other landscaping at the Kofi House, part of the Ruth Ellis Center, a nonprofit organization supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.  

With a gloved hand holding a shrub and the other gripping a porch beam for support, Marc Zupmore, an engineer in Distribution Operations at DTE, helped hold the branch steady as a fellow POP member cut it down to size in the backyard of the intricately decorated early 20th century house.

This is POP’s third volunteer project with the Ruth Ellis Center – and the third time Zupmore rolled up his sleeves to work with them.

“This is my favorite type of project because it involves community service and gardening,” he said. “I’m grateful to be able to get involved and support my community. It’s the team building and societal benefiting side of DTE that I’m comfortable with.”

Comfort is multi-layered for the 22-year-employee. He removed weeds from perennials to make the Kofi House inviting for the local LGBT community, while expressing the importance of getting outside of your comfort zone to learn about others.

“The eight different employee resource groups at DTE each have different focuses; however, the needs of many of our energy groups overlap,” he said.

Last year, another DTE employee resource group, Abilities in Motion (AIM) held an event on suicide, and Zupmore said POP had a connection to it because the LGBT community deals with a high rate of suicide.

“When we start learning about each other, the differences between us become much smaller,” he said.

I’Sha Schultz-Spradlin, development associate at Ruth Ellis, said that she loves having DTE’s support.

“DTE employees were the first people to work on this house’s outdoor landscaping,” Schultz-Spradlin said. “They cleared out everything, so we could actually use it. For a lot of our young people, this is a space they can call home and be their truest authentic self.”

Schultz-Spradlin said that in a culture where sometimes it is unsafe for LGBT young people to even walk down the street – a Detroit man was charged this month in a triple homicide targeting two gay men and one transgender woman – it’s important to have those safe spaces.

“That has a lot to do with mental health, and that is a big issue in the community, too,” she said.

Shannon McNamara, communications associate Advanced Distribution Management Systems – Change Management at DTE, volunteered last year and this year. She is an LGBT ally and Surge member.

“It was just a really cool thing at the end of the day to see how we all came together and totally transformed this house and made it part of the community,” McNamara said. “I’m excited to see what else we can take on.”

As a Surge member since 2017, McNamara said that it is a great opportunity to serve in this capacity, especially with other young professionals.

“Also, it is awesome to be an ally and help in the community,” she said, adding that volunteering with POP opened her eyes to other volunteer opportunities in Detroit.

Kevin Pfau, Continuous Improvement expert Energy Waste Reduction at DTE, and POP chairman, said that Ruth Ellis deals with a lot of homeless teens and their drop-in center allows them to wash their clothes, get something to eat and feel safe.”

“I organized the volunteer opportunity with Ruth Ellis and I just want to make sure we continue the relationship with the group,” Pfau said. “I promised them we will always have them on our volunteer list. They know they can always call out and we’ll be there.”