Ron Stefanski wanted nothing more to do with Detroit in 1991, the year his 85-year-old grandmother was brutally beaten and slain in her east-side home by a 14-year-old dropout.
“I completely bailed on the city. I didn’t come down to sporting events,” Stefanski said.
Twenty-five years later, he’s back, mending deep but fading personal wounds by pitching an online program aimed at adults who didn’t finish high school. In Detroit, that’s about a quarter of the city’s residents who are 25 and older.
“That’s what we need to change,” Stefanski said. “That means … 80,000 people that can be in a better employment situation if they had a high school diploma.”
The program, called Detroit Collective Impact-Pathway to Education & Work, is a way for teens and adults to earn career credentials and accredited diplomas and takes a year to 18 months to complete. It was recognized in June by former President Bill Clinton and his Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together business, philanthropic, nonprofit and government leaders to develop solutions encouraging economic growth.
The Detroit Collective Impact also partners with local libraries, job-search agencies and nonprofits to make computer space and time available for students. It kicked off last year with 20 students and has a goal of 1,350 graduates.
Stefanski is the executive director of Strategic Alliances for Cengage Learning, the Boston-based educational content, technology and services company that markets the program’s technology and curriculum. Part of his job is to preach the Detroit program’s benefits to corporations, workforce agencies and others that cover the $1,300 tuition cost for students.
LaShanda Triplett, 36, aims to be a success story for the program and is on track to graduate in May. Triplett, a mother of two, is unemployed and dropped out of Detroit’s Northern High School in 10th grade.
“You can’t find a decent job” she said. “Even many fast food restaurants now ask for high school diplomas.”
Stefanski believes that educating and preparing residents for good jobs moves the city away from some of the lingering problems that he says contributed to his grandmother’s death.
His grandmother, Vicki Stefanski, and her husband, John, lived on a tidy street that was home to many Detroit police officers and firefighters. Over time, the lure of the suburbs and encroachment of crime led her neighbors to leave.
“She loved this city like nobody’s business,” Ron Stefanski said.
She also was too trusting of others; her killer was a teen who delivered newspapers and ran errands for her, Ron Stefanski said. After her slaying, the boy was quickly arrested, confessed to the murder and was sentenced to prison.
Age and a touch of wisdom led Stefanski and his wife to move back to Detroit about five years ago. He relishes in the rebirth of downtown and development along the riverfront, and applauds Mayor Mike Duggan’s war on blight that has resulted in scores of vacant houses being demolished in neighborhoods.
“My wife and I, to be fair, did not come here as crusaders,” he said. “We weren’t here to save the city. We’re here to empty nest and to find a place.
“But Detroit found us, and found out that we have more to give than just our rent.”