Team Member Impact Story: Building Relationships Through Mentorship
Rocket Central Senior Trainer Amy Wright loves volunteering, but her experience as a mentor for the Center for Success brought some uniquely joyful surprises.
Rocket Central Senior Trainer Amy Wright loves volunteering, but her experience as a mentor for the Center for Success brought some uniquely joyful surprises.
Each year, our VolunCheers recognition program honors the team members who go above and beyond to support the communities we serve.
March is National Reading Month, and we wanted to celebrate with a unique volunteering and fundraising opportunity. In 2022, we hosted our first virtual book drive, giving our team members the opportunity to donate books and support literacy-focused nonprofits in each of our home communities.
All nonprofit partners were selected by our United Way affiliates in each market. In Detroit, the fundraiser benefitted the Children’s Center; in Phoenix, books were directed to the Roosevelt School District; in Cleveland, team members supported Starting Point; and in Charlotte, books were donated to Promising Pages. In just a little over a week, Rocket Companies team members donated over a thousand books to participating nonprofits, totaling over $12,000 worth of reading material for children in underserved communities.
In addition to the book drive, we partnered with Brilliant Detroit to offer our team members a fun virtual volunteer experience reading books to children. Brilliant Detroit shares the recordings with the children enrolled in their programs, and this experience quickly became on of our most popular volunteer opportunities. Some team members, like Executive Trainer Noah Amos, even brought along a special “reading helper” – his daughter, Harper – to join in the activity!
We are proud of our team members’ passion for volunteering and giving, and that’s why we are always searching for new and innovative ways for them to engage with our communities.
Virtually every aspect of our lives requires some degree of digital connectivity, from education and employment to healthcare. That’s why reliable access to high-speed internet, digital devices and digital training is essential. Unfortunately, far too many Detroit residents are caught in a “digital divide,” excluding them from opportunities afforded to those with the ability to get online.
Digital inclusion is also a fundamental component of housing stability. Housing resources and access to finance is often exclusively available online. As a part of our housing mission, we are laser focused on increasing access to the internet and digital devices in Detroit.
One of our key partners in tackling this important work is Human-I-T, a nonprofit that recycles e-waste in the form of digital devices which are then refurbished and donated to residents who need them. Human-I-T opened their Detroit warehouse with the support of Rocket Community Fund in 2020, and Rocket Companies is currently the largest donor of e-waste in Detroit.
Through our partnership, Human-I-T picks up around 10 to 20 pallets of e-waste from our Detroit offices every quarter. We also work with Human-I-T to schedule pickups in our other office locations. In 2022, Rocket Companies donated 41 pallets containing 231,223 pounds of e-waste. That’s equivalent to the weight of 56 cars!
These donations solve for two issues. First, they keep e-waste out of landfills, reducing pollution and conserving natural resources. Second, Human-I-T refurbishes the devices for resale, using the profits to provide new devices to underserved communities. Until recently, there was no brick-and-mortar location anywhere in the country for Human-I-T to sell devices directly to residents.
In the fall of 2022, Human I-T announced the launch of their first ever retail location in the country, to open soon in our hometown of Detroit. The announcement came during Digital Inclusion Week, a national initiative highlighting digital inclusion efforts across the country with the aim of spreading awareness about digital resources and campaigns to end the digital divide.
The planned Human I-T storefront will offer low-cost Chromebooks, laptops, desktop computers and tablets, along with low-cost internet options, free tech support and digital skills training. We are excited for the opening of the brick-and-mortar store because it will solve a critical need for Detroiters who have no other place to purchase low-cost devices or receive the digital literacy training they need to use them.
Thanks to partners like Human I-T, we’re creating a more equitable community for Detroit families, where new opportunities to succeed are no longer out of reach.
The core of the Built for Zero movement’s success is how it trains communities to rebuild their homelessness response systems in a way that is data-driven, collaborative and focused on one clear, shared goal: reaching Functional Zero.
To succeed in Built for Zero means rethinking old ways of doing things and experimenting with new approaches that rely on innovation and creative partnerships. In Detroit, the Rocket Community Fund has made many direct investments to help identify meaningful solutions to address veteran homelessness. For example, we invested in transitioning temporary or transitional shelter housing into permanent supportive housing for veterans in Detroit.
Ultimately, we’re committed to being the most effective partner we can be – whether that means making direct investments in housing or providing critical technical support through skilled volunteering. In the video below, we talked with Built for Zero leaders about our strategic partnership, our shared vision for housing stability, and what makes partnerships effective in the fight to end homelessness
One example of the kind of unique collaboration that Rocket Community Fund was able to bring to Built for Zero in 2022 was the development of the Homeless Resource Locator tool, a searchable, user- and accessibility-focused map developed to help people experiencing homelessness quickly and easily locate contact information for their nearest homeless service provider.
The idea to create this tool came in response to an increase in direct outreach to both Rocket Mortgage and Community Solutions for homelessness services support. A key component of Rocket Mortgage’s support for Built for Zero has been the launch of several high-profile national advertising campaigns designed to raise awareness about the issue of chronic and veteran homelessness. As the campaigns ramped up, both organizations began receiving numerous requests for help from veterans across the country.
Because Built for Zero is about systems improvement and not direct services support, we needed a solution that could connect vulnerable individuals with more tangible resources in their community. Community Solutions connected with the Rocket Community Fund’s Volunteer Engagement and Giving team, which identified several technology team members from across Rocket Companies who were interested in providing their expertise to address the challenge.
Working alongside the experts at Community Solutions, our skilled volunteers built the Homeless Resource Locator, which was launched in November 2022. The tool uses Google Maps to display information for more than 900 homeless service providers across all 50 states and territories and was intentionally designed with a focus on accessibility and easy mobile use.
“We knew the people we were trying to reach were already facing difficulties, so we didn’t want a complicated design or non-essential features getting in the way of usability,” explained Harold Jankowiak, Senior Product Owner and project lead at Rocket Companies.
“We wanted our technology to be able to assist those who may have physical or cognitive limitations, so everyone could self-serve and not be dependent on anyone to connect them with supportive services. Accessible design is just one more thing we can do to help people live independent lives.”
Since its creation, the tool has received praise from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and has even been linked to their website where it can reach an even broader audience of vulnerable individuals. By connecting more veterans with programs and services directly, we’re excited to see how this tool will help further Built for Zero’s mission of ending veteran and chronic homelessness for good.
The Rocket Community Fund is proud to be a lead sponsor of Built for Zero, a national movement to measurably and equitably end homelessness. Since joining the movement in 2018, our support has helped more than 100 Built for Zero communities across the country achieve reductions in homelessness by changing the way they respond to the problem with a more collaborative, data-driven approach. We’re particularly proud of the work that we’ve been able to support in our home community of Detroit, where our investments have helped power a 60% reduction in veteran homelessness (between December 2017 and December 2022).
One of the key values shared by both the Rocket Community Fund and Built for Zero is the belief that there is always room for improvement. At the Rocket Community Fund, being “Obsessed With Finding A Better Way” is one of our core ISMs, or company values. Likewise, the Built for Zero process is centered on using real-time data to rapidly test new ideas and understand if those efforts are working. This focus on finding new solutions led to a unique investment in May 2021.
In partnership with The Home Depot Foundation, the Rocket Community Fund supported the renovation of a transitional housing complex into permanent supportive housing for veterans. This project addressed an important need in Detroit by making more permanent housing accessible and decreasing long-term reliance on transitional housing. Over 18 months, teams worked through the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain disruptions to complete the renovation.
In 2022, the Rocket Community Fund commissioned the non-profit Humble Design to put the finishing touches on the project by renovating two large common area spaces that will be used by residents to rest, relax and gather with their peers. Humble Design provides fully furnished home interiors for individuals and families transitioning out of homelessness and was excited to join our mission, lending two of its talented designers to make the space feel as homey as possible.
Check out the video below to see how the Humble Design team worked to create a warm, dignified space for residents to enjoy. The video also provides more information about the 211 Glendale project, including how the Rocket Community Fund, Built for Zero, and Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries collaborated to make it a success.
Once the renovations were complete, service providers in Detroit began to direct potential tenants to 211 Glendale. The first veteran to move into the building was Freddie Tucker, a former US Army soldier.
Though Tucker completed his service in 1983, he was unaware of many of the VA benefits eligible to him until the last few years when he fell on difficult times and began experiencing homelessness. In early 2022, Tucker stayed in a homeless shelter in Detroit for three months, but said he was determined to progress out of that temporary situation. Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries connected him with a mental health counselor and told him about the new units at 211 Glendale that would soon be available. With their support, he moved into his new, permanent apartment in August.
Tucker considers the apartments a blessing and has encouraged other veterans experiencing homelessness to consider them. As he explains, it’s a place where he actually wants to be.
“To me, it’s more like a place where I call home. I’m proud to be here everyday,” said Tucker. “When I was in the shelter, I wouldn’t go check in until it was dark. When I would get off work, I would go to the park and park my car and just sit. But here, when I get off work, I come straight home because I have somewhere I want to be.”
Check out the video below to hear Mr. Tucker’s full story, which is inspiring even more veterans to move into 211 Glendale and helping us drive toward our goal of reaching Functional Zero for veteran homelessness in Detroit.
For more than a decade, the Rocket Community Fund has worked across the city of Detroit to invest in wide-ranging programs that address the unique needs of our community. Through constant analysis and deep collaboration, we have been fortunate to test new ideas, refine our capabilities, and maximize our impact. However, as the nation’s largest mortgage lender, we have the opportunity and responsibility to drive systemic change at home and across the country.
With the highest rate of economic inequality and one of the lowest rates of upward mobility in the country, Atlanta is in high need of housing stability interventions. To begin, we collaborated with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (ABP) and Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP) on investments focused on ensuring safe and stable housing for Atlanta residents.
The Atlanta BeltLine is one of the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment programs in the United States. Boasting a massive network of parks, trails, commercial developments and housing, the BeltLine is built on an historic 22-mile railroad corridor that circles the core of the city and aims to enhance mobility, foster culture, and improve connections to economic opportunity for Atlanta residents.
While the BeltLine is an enormously exciting project for the city of Atlanta, it has led to increased property values in areas adjacent to the development, which poses a challenge for lower income residents.
That’s why we invested $500,000 into ABP’s Legacy Resident Retention Program, which helps owners living in priority areas afford the increase in property taxes through the 2030 tax year. This investment will ensure dozens of households in ABP’s equity priority subareas are able to stay in their home.
In addition to our commitment with ABP, we also contributed $250,000 toward Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership’s “Closing the Gap” plan. This initiative is focused on broadening access to affordable housing in Atlanta, with the specific goal of creating and/or preserving 2,000 units of affordable housing by 2025.
While these 2022 investments represented our first foray into the Atlanta market, we are excited to continue expanding our footprint in the city with the launch of our flagship Neighbor to Neighbor program in 2023. Through Neighbor to Neighbor’s intensive canvassing and data collection efforts, we will gain the information needed to make even more impactful investments in the future and help even more Atlanta residents enjoy stable and secure housing.
Historically, Detroit has been distinguished as a majority-homeowner city. However, that hasn’t been the case in the last decade, where a slim majority of residents were renters. That balance shifted again according to the most recent census data, which showed an estimated 51.3% of Detroit housing units were owner-occupied.
Regardless of the specific numbers, it is clear that a significant portion of Detroit’s population relies on rental housing and, as such, is uniquely vulnerable to certain types of housing instability. As an organization focused on creating stable and secure housing in our communities, we are acutely aware of the important role rental housing plays and have made it a priority to invest in programs that support renters and ensure they continue to remain housed.
At the Rocket Community Fund, we believe that knowledge is the foundation of understanding, and understanding is the foundation of action. We wanted to make sure we had the right data to design future interventions in a way that would make the greatest impact possible, so we chose to collaborate with experts to investigate the rental landscape. Specifically, we commissioned a study by Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm, to understand the potential impact of a citywide eviction defense program.
Stout’s groundbreaking study, The Estimated Economic Impact of an Eviction Right to Counsel in Detroit, found that every dollar invested for a right to counsel would realize an economic benefit of at least $3.52. It would take approximately $16.7 million to holistically and comprehensively address the issue, and the City would realize a $58.8 million reduction in social safety net responses to disruptive displacement, in addition to providing stability for renters.
This eye-opening research provided the basis of the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, a major $12 million, three-year investment from the Gilbert Family Foundation into three Detroit-based organizations to provide low-income Detroit families facing eviction proceedings with legal representation. The program has also allocated an additional $1 million to fund a long-term study into the efficacy of the program as well as the eviction defense ecosystem in Detroit.
The Rocket Community Fund also funded a study by Detroit Future City, alongside the Erb Family Foundation, to better understand Detroit’s rental market. Understanding the Rental Landscape: A Profile Analysis of Detroit Landlords to Inform Lead-Safe Housing Policy, had some unique takeaways that allow us all to better understand who owns rental properties in Detroit.
Specifically, the study found that most landlords only own one or two properties, most properties are owned by those with a Detroit address, there are limited connections to the City’s formal rental housing system, and there are only a few landlords who own a large number of properties.
This knowledge allows us, the City, philanthropic partners and nonprofit organizations to better advocate for interventions and built a system that is equitable for all residents – regardless of whether they rent or own. We are excited to continue collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders on interpreting this data and developing the most impactful programs possible.
The Rocket Community Fund’s housing investments span a spectrum of interventions – from preventing homelessness to reducing displacement to creating pathways to homeownership. While our housing investments are diverse, our strategy for each remains the same. We seek to discover new and innovative approaches to removing institutional and systemic barriers to stable and healthy housing.
One of the most persistent barriers related to homeownership is the racial wealth gap. For years, systemic racism and racial injustice have decimated Black wealth, leading to unequal outcomes in homeownership. In fact, the Black-white homeownership gap is now wider than it was when race-based discrimination against homebuyers was legal.
Because we recognize how important financial stability, especially homeownership, is to building wealth, we sought to address this challenge with a unique initiative called the Rocket Wealth Accelerator program. Created alongside our partners at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the Rocket Wealth Accelerator is a $2 million investment that will serve resident clients in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.
The Rocket Wealth Accelerator provides clients with coaches who work with them to improve their ability to meet emergency needs, build their credit, and grow generational wealth. In addition to financial coaching, the program also provides matching dollars for participants’ savings plans, with up to $500 for people with large-dollar goals such as purchasing a home or vehicle and up to $300 for those with short-term or emergency savings goals.
The Rocket Wealth Accelerator leverages the infrastructure of LISCs Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) network in Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee. LISC has a network of more than 130 centers embedded in community-based organizations across the country, which offer job training and placement services, financial coaching and education, income supports and other services aimed to help families boost their savings, build credit, reduce expenses and make sound financial decisions that increase assets.
The Rocket Wealth Accelerator is currently offered at the following FOC sites:
Participants in the Rocket Wealth Accelerator will also receive access to a free, three-month subscription to Rocket Money, a part of Rocket Companies. With Rocket Money, Rocket Wealth Accelerator participants will have a better understanding of their current economic situation while they work with coaches to improve their outlook on their path to homeownership and wealth creation.
In the press release announcing the investment, LISC CEO Lisa Glover reflected on the importance of the program.
“For far too many, the American dream of financial security feels out of reach. Our partnership with the Rocket Community Fund, which is focused on pairing financial coaching with products designed to accelerate savings, is exactly the kind of investment in economic empowerment that can help close our country’s widening wealth gaps and equip more families of color to build generational wealth.”
Over the next three years, the Rocket Wealth Accelerator aims to:
We cannot wait to see how this investment supports residents in these communities on their paths to stability, security and prosperity. Check out the video below to learn more about this innovative program!
The Rocket Community Fund aims to simplify complex and inequitable systems to ensure that every American has access to stable and healthy housing. In Detroit, one of these systems is the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure auction. For more than a decade, the Rocket Community Fund has invested significant resources in reducing the number of homes entering the tax auction and protecting Detroiters from losing their homes. This includes renters, who are uniquely vulnerable to displacement because they are not responsible for making property tax payments.
In 2017, the Rocket Community Fund launched the Make It Home program to provide eligible Detroiters who occupy tax-foreclosed homes the opportunity to become homeowners instead of risking eviction. The program leverages the City of Detroit’s “right of refusal,” allowing the City to purchase properties before the tax foreclosure auction for the value of the back taxes owed. These properties are then sold to the United Community Housing Coalition using philanthropic funding from the Rocket Community Fund. Residents pay an average of less than $10,000 to become homeowners through this program.
During the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tax auction was suspended to ensure vulnerable residents were not displaced. However, the auction returned in 2022. Fortunately, so did Make It Home.
In October 2022, the Rocket Community Fund, alongside Mayor Mike Duggan and the United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC) announced the addition of 239 Detroit families to the program. Since Make It Home’s inception, 1,396 families have avoided displacement as a result of tax foreclosure.
During the Make It Home press conference, Detroit resident Barbara Sledge spoke about her participation in the Make It Home program. Sledge explained that she had lived in her Eden Gardens home for four years and had always paid her rent on time. She even used her own money to fix up the home, but was still at risk of being evicted when her landlord lost the home due to nonpayment of taxes. Instead, thanks to Make It Home, she became a homeowner for the first time at age 52.
“Make It Home took a lot of stress off me because I wanted to stay in Detroit and didn’t want to lose my home. I always treated this home like mine, and I’m glad I can finally call it mine,” she said. “The entire experience of dealing with this program and the partners, has been fantastic. I’m looking forward to eventually passing this home down to my children one day and continuing to thrive and support my neighborhood.”
Throughout the program, residents also have access to home repair grants and loans. Through grants and 0% interest loans, UCHC helps residents address home health and habitability home repairs. Since the launch of the Make It Home Repair program, 1,025 repairs have been completed in more than 322 homes.
Check out the video below to learn more about the program and how it impacts Detroit residents.
An important part of building stability in our communities is ensuring that everyone has access to the resources they need to be successful, particularly when it comes to high-speed internet, digital devices and digital literacy training. What was once considered a privilege is now a basic requirement for daily life and essential to accessing opportunity in all of its forms.
Since we began focusing on digital inclusion investments in 2020 through partnerships with Connect 313, Human-I-T and others, Detroit has gone from being 40% to 67.5% digitally included. In 2022, we sought to replicate this success to other communities across the country who were facing similar barriers to digital access.
One of those communities is close to home, in Cleveland, Ohio. As of July 2022, 30% of residents did not have internet access of any kind. While the challenges facing Cleveland were a little different than Detroit, we knew that we could help. Together with the Cleveland Foundation, the Rocket Community Fund invested $300,000 toward the establishment of a Digital Equity and Inclusion Manager role with the city – the first of its kind. In December of 2022, Ricardo Reinoso was hired to fill the role.
A longtime community advocate and experienced leader, Reinoso is working closely with the Mayor’s office, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, and relevant stakeholders to expand affordable broadband access and adoption, boost enrollment in the American Connectivity Program, and help direct funds from the American Rescue Plan Act allocated towards the city of Cleveland’s robust digital equity plans.
The Rocket Community Fund’s support for this position built on our existing commitment to expand digital access in Cleveland through our flagship Neighbor to Neighbor program, which was launched in Cleveland in 2021. This door-to-door canvassing effort, which leverages a network of paid canvassers from local Community Development Corporations (CDCs), is focused on bridging Cleveland’s digital divide and connecting residents to critical housing resources. The program launched with five pilot CDCs and expanded to 11 CDCs in 2022.
We know that the creation of this role and the expansion of Neighbor to Neighbor are just two steps toward bridging the digital divide in Cleveland, but our progress in Detroit shows what is possible. Detroit was once the least connected large city in the United States. In just two years, we managed to change that. It’s a prime example of what we can do when we form strategic partnerships with organizations and people who are equally committed to breaking systemic barriers and increasing equity and opportunity in the communities we call home.
A stable, safe home is the cornerstone for success. This is especially true for refugee populations fleeing their home countries in order to create a better future for their families.
When Samaritas, a health and human services organization that operates one of Michigan’s largest refugee resettlement services, reached out to us for support, we knew we had to find a way to help. We have deep experience in simplifying the complexities associated with securing safe and stable housing, and we wanted to ensure that our newest Detroiters were set up for success.
Last year, Samaritas launched the Detroit Refugee Network (DRN), a coalition of resettlement organizations to provide support services to refugees from Afghanistan and other nations. The DRN would be providing refugees with permanent affordable housing, access to employment programs, cultural and social education, school integration, and more.
To ensure the DRN was successful, Samaritas needed additional capacity to coordinate these programs and aid refugees in resettling. That’s where we stepped in. The Rocket Community Fund coordinated a different kind of investment through Rocket Companies – not with direct funds, but with human capital. We identified Rocket Companies team members with unique skillsets who were then embedded within the DRN to execute housing opportunities, manage relationships with landlords, coordinate move-ins and more. While these team members, who became known as the “Samaritas Seven” were excited to serve the Detroit community in a meaningful way, none of them had any idea just how much the experience would change their lives. The team bonded with each other and created lasting relationships with the refugee families they supported.
“This was an experience I will forever cherish and a catalyst that motivated me to go above and beyond for every family in obtaining their own home,” said Devin McClain, one of the “Samaritas Seven” and Rocket Mortgage team member who served as a Landlord Liaison for the Detroit Refugee Network.
As a result of these efforts, the Rocket Community Fund was presented with a Great Corporate Ambassador Award at Samaritas’ annual Ripples Gala. All of the “Samaritas Seven” were invited and in attendance to receive recognition for their dedication to this work, and the unforgettable impact they have made on the lives of hundreds of refugees in our community. Check out the video below, which aired at the gala.
In 2020, the Rocket Mortgage Classic PGA TOUR event and title sponsor Rocket Mortgage® made the strategic decision to address the digital divide in Detroit by launching its multiyear “Changing the Course” initiative. Changing the Course was created to raise awareness of the digital divide and support transformational efforts to ensure all residents of the community received access to the digital resources they deserve.
The first year of the Changing the Course initiative proved monumental by providing the necessary funding to launch Connect 313, a partnership between the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the Rocket Community Fund, City of Detroit and Microsoft, that collaborates on a citywide, data-driven digital inclusion strategy. Since that time, through the efforts of Connect 313 and affiliated partners, Detroit has gone from being 40% to 67.5% digitally included.
In 2022, the Rocket Mortgage Classic continued to serve as a critical vehicle for awareness to help bridge the digital divide in Detroit, raising $1.57 million for charity with more than $600,000 allocated to Connect 313.
In addition to getting support through the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the Rocket Community Fund works closely with Connect 313. With our support, Connect 313 saw tremendous growth in 2022, expanding its neighborhood tech hubs from 5 to 22, deploying more than $1 million toward supporting nonprofits, and rolling out free internet in 5 Detroit parks.
Additionally, Connect 313 continued efforts to enroll families in the American Connectivity Program, a federal program that provides discounted internet access to low-income households. With our advocacy and support, Connect 313 and partners achieved a milestone in Detroit by enrolling more than 100,000 households in the program. This represents more than 50% of eligible households – the highest rate of adoption in a large city in the entire country.
The Rocket Community Fund looks forward to the fifth annual Rocket Mortgage Classic, and working in partnership to grow the number of households considered digitally included even higher, cementing Detroit’s status as a model for digital inclusion nationwide.
Detroit is one of America’s greatest sports cities. We root hard for our teams and take great pride in coming together to celebrate their successes. But what makes Detroit’s pro sports teams extra special for the Rocket Community Fund is their commitment to serve the community through creative, strategic collaborations. There is no greater example of this than Rocket Mortgage’s partnership with the Detroit Lions.
Nothing is more exciting in football than the red zone: that magical area of the field between the 20-yard line and the goal line where teams step up to make big plays and score big points. For the second year in a row, Rocket Mortgage and the Detroit Lions found a way to make the red zone even more thrilling (and impactful) with the Rocket Mortgage Red Zone promotion in support of Connect 313.
Through the Rocket Mortgage Red Zone, Rocket Mortgage committed to donate $1,000 to Connect 313 every time the Lions scored while in the red zone. Fortunately, the Lions boasted one of the NFL’s best offenses in the 2022 season, which led to lots of opportunities to make an impact. In total, the Rocket Mortgage Red Zone raised $67,000 for Connect 313 by the end of the season. With this funding, Connect 313 continued to build on its commitment to ensure every Detroit resident had access to the digital world and the opportunity it brings.
In the last decade, downtown Detroit has seen an exponential increase in construction, with new developments, retail spaces and offices seemingly appearing overnight. Yet smaller contractor companies in Detroit, primarily run by entrepreneurs of color, have historically been unable to compete with larger contractors, primarily due to access to financing. Only 5% of the contractors in metro Detroit are based in Detroit, which means that the wealth generated from the more than $5 billion in annual commercial construction happening in Detroit is leaving the city and the Black community.
This unfortunate imbalance is the result of systemic racism and perpetuates a vicious cycle in the industry, as BIPOC contractors are often forced to endure higher interest rates on any loans they do receive. When contractors can’t run their business, it creates a shortage of resources to remove blight, repair homes, and bring Detroit neighborhoods back to safe spaces where families can thrive. As part of our commitment to building economic opportunity and equity in our hometown, we wanted to level the playing field and ensure that smaller, Detroit-based contractors had the financing, resources, and necessary training to compete in such a competitive marketplace.
With this vision in mind, the Rocket Community Fund launched the Motor City Contractor Fund, a $10M program operating in partnership with the Community Reinvestment Fund USA, Invest Detroit and Barton Malow Builders. This innovative program represented the first program of its kind to support metro Detroit-based contractors with a suite of services including access to financing, workshops, support for capacity-building and the necessary tools to facilitate their business growth.
The pilot cohort of the Motor City Contractor Fund was comprised of 20 local contractors who were placed into one of three technical assistance categories: Fast Track, Fortified Track and Foundation Track. Lifeline Global Consulting lead the technical assistance side of MCCF and also ran a series of workshops to support the development of each track.
These workshops covered myriad topics – including business growth and planning, labor management, accounting principles, proposal development and more. Notable events in 2022 included “Show Me the Money,” where contractors were able to connect directly with lenders; an “Industry” workshop to identify job prospects and understand the ins and outs of the construction industry; and a major networking event where contractors had the opportunity to meet with vendors and enjoy “speed coaching” sessions with industry experts.
Check out the videos below to learn more about the workshops and how these sessions support participating contractors.
We were incredibly excited to see the impact of the Motor City Contractor Fund on the pilot group, but we are even more excited to see how the program grows under the direction of the Gilbert Family Foundation.
Our mission at the Rocket Community Fund is focused on ensuring that every American has access to safe and stable housing, because housing stability is the foundation for success. At the same time, our commitment to building opportunity and equity in Detroit requires a holistic approach to ensure that residents have access to all the resources they need to thrive and increase their household income. Creating pathways to employment is a critical part of that equation.
In 2022, we advanced existing partnerships and created new ones in support of our goal to provide Detroiters with new opportunities for advancement.
In 2018, the Rocket Community Fund partnered with Urban Alliance, a nonprofit organization that seeks to address systemic barriers to economic mobility for young adults of color and bridge the gaps between education and workforce development. The program has over two decades of success in improving post-high school outcomes for its students, with 100% of UA students graduating high school and more than 90% gaining acceptance to college.
Since bringing Urban Alliance to Detroit, Rocket Companies has served as an “anchor employer” for students and continues to host the most Urban Alliance interns each year. In 2022, we welcomed 35 interns into our offices to gain valuable experiences in wide-ranging roles from creative design to IT. Through their internships, each student gained not only income, but important career-readiness training and one-of-a-kind experiences they could leverage toward a future career. In late 2022, a new cohort of 25 interns joined the company for the 2023 school year and we are already seeing them excel in their roles.
Urban Alliance is not the only education-focused program we supported in 2022. We were also proud to partner with NPower, a national nonprofit focused on creating pathways to economic prosperity for military veterans and young adults from underserved communities through IT training.
Our partnership with NPower supported the organization’s flagship Tech Fundamentals job training program, which provides participants with 20 weeks of instructor-led virtual training and mentoring from senior-level IT professionals. Additionally, the program offers job placement assistance and ongoing support. Program graduates report an average 234% increase over pre-program income – which ties back to our goal to ensure that individuals can build their household income and create a stronger future for their families. A total of 136 young adults enrolled in the program in 2022 and that’s just the beginning! Check out the video below to hear from some of the 2022 graduates and to learn about a new two-year commitment with NPower.
We are excited to continue building partnerships and programs to help level the playing field for Detroit residents and introduce new pathways toward economic mobility.
We are continually inspired by our team member’s dedication to making a positive impact in our communities. In 2022, Rocket Companies team members exceeded our expectations, breaking records for volunteer hours and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for fundraising campaigns.
Our team members love to volunteer in a big way. Amy Wright, a Senior Trainer at Rocket Central, is a prime example of a rockstar volunteer. A passionate volunteer and former teacher, Amy took advantage of a skilled volunteer opportunity with Center for Success, a literacy organization that utilizes mentorship and one on one literacy interventions to support students.
Amy volunteered virtually as a literacy mentor. After undergoing a training session, she was paired with a Detroit third grader whom she tutored for one to two hours on weeknights. Amy used the Center’s digital library to facilitate learning sessions, where she would read with her student and discuss books that interested her. “For our last session together, I chose a Mad Lib for us to fill out. I put up a fun, virtual background featuring a silly looking llama. My student loved my llama and immediately named him Calvin. As we chose the words to complete the Mad Lib, we started to weave a story about her mom hanging out beside a swimming pool with Calvin the llama and drinking smoothies. We had so much fun! The best part was at the end my student showed me the picture that she had drawn of me and my llama. It was super cute, and she did a really good job. She even drew me with my headphones on.”
The experience was rewarding for both Amy and her student and catered to Amy’s teaching skills. Amy hopes to work with the Center for Success again, in addition to exploring other volunteer opportunities that fit her skills and passions. At the Rocket Community Fund, we’re proud to offer our team members experiences like this to fit everyone’s interests and bandwidth. We offer virtual volunteering, skilled volunteering and group volunteering, as well as in-person events that can be done solo or in a group. (Read more about Amy’s story here).
Group volunteering is also a great way for our volunteers to bond with their teammates while making a difference in their community. For example, our Charlotte team members participated in a “Rock the Block” event with Habitat Charlotte supporting 39 new home builds across a nine-acre site to create affordable homeownership opportunities for the families in the local community. The team spent the day together doing landscaping work, assisting with light construction and got to know each other on a deeper level.
“We like volunteering as a group because it builds stronger relationships,” agreed Linda Dufour, an Application Support Engineer at Rocket Homes. She added, “I think it’s a critical part of our organizational culture because it brings people together, increases overall well-being for individuals and communities, and benefits everyone in a terrific way because we’re making a positive impact on the community.”
Rocket Mortgage team member Jewell Bell had similar thoughts. “What I like about volunteering is the kind of human connection that it brings out,” she said. “We all get so immersed in our day-to-day that we take basic needs for granted. Volunteering is another way to give back and to remind ourselves of what’s important – we are blessed and fortunate and it’s important to remember that all it takes is one event to change your circumstances.”
For other team members, volunteering with organizations that align with the causes they care about makes the experience deeply meaningful.
“I’m a veteran, so it’s important to me to get involved in organizations that support veterans and give back to the community that way. It makes me feel better to help them out,” said Rocket Mortgage Triple Crown Purchase Specialist Boone Kowalis, who has volunteered with both local and national veteran organizations.
Whatever their skills or passions, we’re committed to ensuring our team members have a multitude of ways to engage with the communities we call home, and we’re proud to see they ways that they choose to make an impact.
We know our team members are passionate about volunteering, so during the COVID-19 pandemic we created a variety of unique ways for them to support our communities from the safety of their own homes. After two years of remote work, however, there were some team members that simply couldn’t wait to return to in-person volunteering. And in 2022, when it became safe to return to in-person volunteering, they jumped in with both feet!
During the summer, we hosted our first large-scale in-person volunteer event since the pandemic – a four-day experience with Life Remodeled, a nonprofit organization focused on intentional and equitable revitalization of Detroit neighborhoods through repurposing old school buildings, renovating owner-occupied homes and mobilizing large groups of volunteers.
Each day, 100 Detroit team members volunteered to do landscape and cleanup work on the grounds and surrounding neighborhoods of the former Cooley High School. Life Remodeled plans to renovate this building into an opportunity hub, which will provide residents with a gathering place for community building.
For many team members who volunteered, the experience was personal. Some even attended Cooley High School before it closed permanently in 2010. Watch the video below to learn more about their experience and why this event was special for so many.
Each year, we ask our team members to drive our biggest fundraising campaign – the Rocket Companies Community Challenge. It’s different from any other volunteering or giving opportunity we offer, because it’s driven by our team members. Following a nomination period in May, the Community Challenge kicks off in August. All month long, our team members spread awareness and raise money for the nonprofits they love, getting their friends, families, teammates and acquaintances to join the cause by donating or sharing the campaign on social media.
In 2022, Rocket Companies team members nominated an unprecedented number of nonprofit organizations to participate in the Community Challenge. A record-breaking 180 nonprofits joined the Challenge this summer, and the nonprofits that raised the most had the chance to win additional cash prizes. This year, our team members, leaders, their friends and families helped us raise $1.3M in just a little over three weeks! Since 2018, we have raised over $5M to support participating nonprofits across the country. We are proud to have built this platform for our team members so they can highlight the causes and the organizations that mean so much to them, and we look forward to seeing how everyone will step up again next year.
Since 2018, Rocket Mortgage (via the Rocket Community Fund) has been a lead partner in Built for Zero, a national movement to measurably and equitably end homelessness. In 2022, our support for Built for Zero helped the movement continue to expand and make an even greater impact in the lives of men, women and families experiencing homelessness across the country. Since Built for Zero began, more than 155,000 people have been housed by participating communities. And this number will continue to grow as more communities join the movement!
In 2022, nine new communities joined Built for Zero for a total of 105 participating communities. Among these communities, 14 have achieved the incredible distinction of reaching “Functional Zero” for a population, which means that the number of people experiencing homelessness at any time does not exceed the community’s proven record of housing at least that many people in a month. In other words, homelessness is rare, brief and nonrecurring within a community.
The Built for Zero model requires communities to reorient their homelessness response systems with a more collaborative, data-driven approach that is focused on driving continual reductions. One of the hallmarks of Built for Zero is the simple recognition that every community is different. Homelessness in Detroit may look different from homelessness in Anchorage, which is why accurate, by-name data of individuals experiencing homelessness is so important for developing effective reduction strategies.
But just because homelessness may look different in two places doesn’t mean those communities can’t still learn from each other. That’s why Built for Zero hosts a twice-annual Learning Session where all participating communities are invited to come together, share best practices, workshop problems, get fresh ideas and celebrate the collective success of the movement.
The Rocket Community Fund was honored to join the 2022 Learning Session in Chicago, which was also the first in-person learning session since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While there, we met with other partners, connected with community leaders and learned from experts on the critical issues driving homelessness in America today. It was an inspiring and affirming event that reminded us that we all have a role to play in ending homelessness. Check out the video below for a highlight of the Chicago Learning Session and what makes this event so special for Built for Zero communities and partners.