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Detroit SOUP nurtures community business

By Jacob Axelrad, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 3, 2013

Typically receiving between 10 and 25 submissions per month, Kaherl and a team of neighborhood SOUP leaders decide which four submissions appear most dedicated to helping Detroit and most deserve the chance to present. Winners are then required to return to a later SOUP to report on how they have used the money, a means of holding them accountable.

As Kaherl told the crowd before presentations began, there are two rules to presenting at Detroit SOUP: Projects must be about Detroit and technology cannot be used to present, in keeping with the stripped-down, barebones vibe of the event. Still, later in the evening, Kaherl introduced the new mobile Detroit SOUP app, allowing you to keep up with all things SOUP-related around the city.

Tonight’s four presenters include Green Living Science, a non-profit devoted to educating Detroit youth on environmental issues; Eve’s Angels, an organization that aids women trapped in the sex industry; Project PEACE, an organization that aids families of prisoners and ex-felons; and Ec2 Lab, a mentoring program fostering creativity among young people.

Though some presenters were poised, others grew nervous from anxiety — four minutes is just not much time. At one point, Felisha Hatcher-Taylor, presenting with her daughter Jordan on behalf of Ec2 Lab, broke into tears, overcome with emotion.

“We won,” she said after presenting. “The fact that we were here to raise awareness — that is winning.”

Kaherl, acting as the evening’s emcee, implored everyone, if they had any ideas for funding or support for these organizations outside of SOUP, to write their ideas on a sticky note and post the notes on posters near the voting table by the building’s rear exit.

“Even though only one project is going home with the money raised this evening, everyone goes home a winner!” read a pamphlet distributed on each table.

When presentations conclude, people literally break bread with their neighbors. Discussions of the projects were encouraged.

“Turn to your neighbor and ask this question: What project are you going to vote for?” Kaherl told the crowd before people began lining up for soup and salad, provided by Avalon Bakery.

8:00 p.m. Before leaving her home in Munich, Germany for a week-long trip to Detroit, Theresa Juranek knew one thing about the city: The food is cheap.

“We only read bad stuff about it back in Germany,” Juranek, 29, said at her table, surrounded by people she’d only met minutes earlier. “You just read about how bad it is, and we wanted to see if it was true.”

An automotive journalist, she’s here with her boyfriend Axel Gundermann, a photographer, to research and write a more positive story about Detroit for people back home.

The reality, they said, has been a welcome surprise. In their short stay, they’ve been charmed by the city’s warm and welcoming atmosphere. When they meet Detroiters on the street, they’re engaged in friendly conversation, which wouldn’t happen back home, they said.

Between mouthfuls of bread, Gundermann said an event like SOUP would likely fail back in Germany. When asked why, he turned to Juranek and spoke a few words to her in rapid-fire German. After a moment, they both sighed.

“(Germans) are too uptight,” he said. “For whatever reason, crowdfunding works much better in the U.S.”

While Kaherl said SOUP has become more formal since its creation three years ago, the atmosphere here is mellow.

Engineering junior Chelsea Pugh helped start a t-shirt company called DCH Apparel with four other University students last year that teaches design and marketing skills to students at Detroit Community High School. The company won funding at last December’s SOUP dinner. What began as a class project in “Change by Design,” a class in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, has persisted — thanks, in part, to the SOUP micro-grant.