Welcoming Ryan Henyard, Avalon’s newest board member

By: Avalon Housing

Ryan recently joined Avalon’s Board of Trustees.  I sat down (virtually) with Ryan in March to learn more about him.

Tell us about yourself.  Where do you work and live?

I work for the University of Michigan as a Faculty Experience Designer at the Center for Academic Innovation, and also serve as a co-lead for our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. My job, among other things, is to imagine, design, support and celebrate faculty partners and their innovation projects. I also work across campus to improve access and equity for learners in our residential and online programs, and build community wherever I can.  We tend to look at innovation in different ways.  Sometimes that involves technology, but it can include getting people from marginalized backgrounds to have their voices heard in the classroom.

I grew up in Detroit, and then my wife and I lived in Ann Arbor when we were students at U of M.  We moved to Dexter in 2013 and are riding out the pandemic at home with our two cats.

What are your hobbies?  Fun facts about you?

I have a ton of hobbies! I’m an artist. I’ve been doing photography work lately – different types of nature photography – because we live next to a lovely little park, and have become a bit of a backyard birder. I have also been doing relief printing with linoleum block prints.  I also play video games, as a fun way to de-stress.

As an undergrad at U of M, I majored in Japanese, and I have a master’s in education from U of M.  I watch a lot of Japanese media and listen to Japanese music and Korean pop, and am a co-host on The Black Movie Podcast, which explores Black-led films from a number of genres and time periods.  In before (pre-pandemic) times, I travelled to Japan multiple times to do nature photography and visit friends.

Linoleum block print by Ryan Henyard

What have you been doing to get through these strange COVID times? 

Making art, being outside in nature and being in community conversations with lots of different people throughout the pandemic. That’s helped me make my way through.

First, how did you learn about Avalon? 

Since I lived in Ann Arbor as a student, I’ve followed Avalon and their housing developments for several years.

I’ve also paid attention to housing and zoning issues for a long time. I have friends who are social workers, and I’ve heard from them that Avalon is considered the “gold standard” of how to do integrated, supportive care (that’s led by residents, and not prescriptive).

It’s always stood out as a place with people doing good work. Everybody loves Avalon!

While I’ve lived in Dexter, I’ve been an active attendee of City Council and Planning Commission meetings, so I’ve followed Avalon’s Hilltop View Apartments development throughout the entire process.

What led you to get involved with Avalon? Join the board?

I first connected with Aubrey Patiño (Avalon’s Executive Director) last year when she was calling into our Dexter Council meetings and sharing information about Hilltop View.  Then, this past summer, I invited Aubrey Patino and Lauren Velez (Avalon Services Director) to take part in an online Teach-Out series that I designed at U of M around police brutality.  Personally I identify as an abolitionist, and it’s important to me to think about how we address the root causes of harm and how we provide safety for each other through non-carceral means.  I wanted to be able to show examples of how community organizations (like Avalon) can really do more to transform harm than violent, reactive policing.

After Aubrey, Lauren and LaBresha Scott (Avalon’s Residential Support Lead) took part in the TeachOut, Aubrey contacted me and asked if I’d consider getting involved with Avalon…and that led to me joining the board!

During the past year especially, I’ve become more of an activist.  I’ve tried to envision a world where people don’t kill people.  Things like housing and harm reduction are things that can help to reduce police violence against people, and I recently had a chance to have some public conversation around this on a podcast with other local activists and officials.    

Construction of Avalon’s new property, Hilltop View Apartments, has started. What are your thoughts about it, as a City of Dexter resident?

Hilltop View is just so full of potential. The location where it’s going to be, on Dan Hoey Road….it’s not too far to a grocery store, a Dollar Tree…and all the elementary, middle and high schools in walking distance.  There’s a stop for the WWAVE (bus service).  The whole town is only a mile and a half long, so you can get on a bike and go down to the Dairy Queen, or check out all the wonderful parks nearby.  The Border to Border Trail is nearby. There’s a gorgeous library in town. There are just so many opportunities for folks, especially those raising kids. It has so many key aspects of a wonderful, walkable neighborhood.  And to be able to have that in a supportive housing environment.. I’m really excited about it. 

If there’s anything the last year highlighted, it’s how little we know about how much our neighbors are in need.  Providing opportunities for people to be taken care of, being able to partner with Faith in Action, who has history out here…There’s just a lot of care and thought put into all parts of the process.

I’ve followed other Avalon developments.  Seeing the opportunity for this in my neighborhood, it’s fantastic.  I can’t wait to support this.

What are you most looking forward to as an Avalon board member?

Being able to use my skills to help residents, staff and board members. Being able to connect what I’ve learned in my day job to the work of Avalon.  I want to be a resource to other citizens in Dexter and to prepare the Dexter community and make it as welcoming as possible for people as they move into Hilltop View.  I also look forward to being able to explain to people how supportive housing (positively) impacts so many other areas of our communities, like policing and healthcare.  I’m looking forward to cross-collaboration and learning from other groups – and to building community.  I am just grateful that I get to be in community with people who are working on something important.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Before I even got on the board, I connected with Ryan Bruder (principal of Beacon Elementary in Dexter).  We’ve been brainstorming about how we make sure that Hilltop families are supported.   What extra supports can we provide around mentoring and tutoring, and how do we help integrate Hilltop View into the community? The young people of Dexter are really interested in a lot of these issues, so we’re finding ways to pull them in.  When people start moving into Hilltop, I want a real welcoming committee, and for everyone to realize how many people are happy to have them here in Dexter.

-Marcia Luke-van Dijk