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Cass Community Commons: Community Groups, Unitarian Church Come Together

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When the East Michigan Environmental Action Council moved into the First Unitarian Universalist Church's complex in the Cass Corridor, the organization wasn't just packing up some boxes. A remarkable agreement between the two groups allowed them to turn some sour financial difficulties into lemonade -- all for the community's benefit.

The result: Cass Community Commons, a shared workspace for a variety of groups with similar ideals.

The First Unitarian-Universalist Church of Detroit had called its 42,000-square foot building home for 95 years, but as its congregation shrank, the cost to maintain the large space became too much. So the church put out a call for proposals for organizations to own or lease the space, looking for a group that would work to promote social justice in the community, in line with UU's mission.

"There's been a long history of social justice in this space. This type of commons idea had already been in the works. There has been that kind of energy around the space for a long time," EMEAC Director Diana Copeland said.

In what turned out to be fortuitous timing, EMEAC's rent in its Midtown offices had recently been doubled. The organization was planning to find something more affordable, and had also been talking about creating something new.

"We had been talking about a collaborative, social space. A space for creative, innovative work happening, for social change groups to come together," Copeland said.

That's where they struck on the Cass Community Commons. EMEAC's idea brought together groups that work on social and environmental issues, creating a co-working space. The church accepted the proposal, with the stipulation that the congregation could continue to meet and have a say in the future of the space.

Since EMEAC moved in this summer, other groups have joined the Commons, including Whole Note Healing, the Fender Bender bike shop and the People's Kitchen.

The Commons also provides a rooted, stable space for teaching and group projects. There are already yoga and reiki classes on offer, with more to come.

Using grant money, EMEAC plans to retrofit the building to make it more energy-efficient. A media lab and a theater are in the works as well, and Copeland expects more groups to share the space in time.

"We believe that this area of the Cass Corridor is a very important community hub, and we want to make sure there's a really important social justice presence," Copeland said.

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As 2011 comes to a close, HuffPost Detroit looks to honor those who made an impact in our city this year. The 2011 Detroit Impact series will profile one organization per day until the end of the year. There are 11 organizations included in the series (see them all in the slideshow below), but there are dozens more doing good in and around Detroit. For full coverage of the people and organizations helping others, visit HuffPost Detroit Impact.

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