McGarry pushes projects

Jeremy McGarry is busy. In between his studies and work as a restaurant server, he fleshes out his numerous ideas and plans for MCCC’s campus and students, as well as the city of Monroe.

For McGarry, pursuing these ideas at various legislative levels turns his passions into legitimate projects.

Despite facing personal challenges, he’s secured the confidence he needed to be himself. At a young age, when he was told he wouldn’t succeed, McGarry’s defied established perceptions in his community, and has been proving people wrong ever since.

Now, he’s getting things done to improve the lives of members in his community.

McGarry has been working to promote a bike path that connects MCCC to downtown Monroe.

He wants to organize a “Bike to City Hall” rally, where people will ride their bikes downtown to raise funds and awareness for the project.

MCCC has supported a previous plan for a bike path connecting the college and the city. McGarry repurposed the concept, making changes to existing paths and adding new ones.

For example, McGarry proposed repurposing dikes through the marshes by the former Ford plant for the bike path. And maybe a kayak launch on the marsh.

This path would connect to the River Raisin Heritage Trail, joining a larger circuit of designed bike paths.

He proposed it to MCCC’s Student Government and Administrtion, and they both were behind it.

“President Kojo thinks it’s a really, really awesome idea,” McGarry said. “He’s given me a lot of direction on who to talk to about all of my ideas, like all of the numbers of all the people who run the groups I need to talk to.”

McGarry has talked with city planners about the bike path at community development meetings in the City Hall council chambers.

“They’re at 7:40 in the morning, which is annoying,” he said. “I was really, really nervous.”

McGarry said city planners were very interested in the bike path.

“They were asking me all of these questions about who I talked to. Then they were trying to direct to me someone from DTE. It was funny because I already knew who this was, and they said ‘Is that who it is? Well how would you get a hold of that person?’ and I said ‘Actually, I already have her number.’”

McGarry was happy to feel that he was on top of his game.

“Then they asked about seeing the original plan for the bike path, and I said I had a copy of that already, and they said ‘We should start consulting with you about this situation because you know everything,’ ” he said. “So that was pretty cool.”

What he learned was that because this such a large scope project, it requires three districts, Frenchtown, Monroe city and Monroe County to cooperate, and there is a lot of work that needs done before the project moves forward.

McGarry said after the meeting council members extended their interest to any future proposals he may have.

“It was really comfortable because I was the only person there,” he said.

This isn’t the first project McGarry has spoken to the college administration about. He’s also been working with the Gay Straight Alliance on getting a non-gender-specific bathroom on campus.

“Most four-year universities are making it mandatory now to have non-gender-specific bathrooms,” he said. “Most community colleges do not have one. From what I found out, we could be one of the first in the nation to have one.”

McGarry was glad to learn that faculty had already thrown the idea around, including individuals who want to have this important option, he said.

“I know quite a few transgender individuals, and they’ve talked to me about how difficult it is to go into gender-specific bathrooms,” he said. “It makes them uncomfortable.”

The bathroom, as McGarry sees it, would be a single-person facility, so it offers extended privacy and safety to transgender and gender fluid individuals.

“I see community college as progressive; they’re becoming more cutting edge when it comes to equal rights, and being all-inclusive and accepting,” he said.

McGarry wanted one installed in the Administration building, but sees it happening sooner in East Tech.

“This is where all the middle college students are,” McGarry said. “I’m kind of happy about that part, because it will be used as an educational tool.”

The gender-neutral bathroom is among a large list of campus facility enhancements tied to the November millage attempt.

“I’m trying to get it done sooner, because if the millage doesn’t pass, it would be nice to at least have one,” he said.

Although the introduction of a gender-neutral bathroom is no small feat, McGarry said,

“Ultimately, it’s just changing the sign.”

In addition to brainstorming improvements for MCCC’s student experience, McGarry won approval from MCCC for a community seating area, receiving Enhancement Grant funding from the MCCC Foundation.

The college is planning on using a rubber surface made from recycled tires. The picnic tables will be made from recycled milk jugs.

“I think there are 2,000 milk jugs in each picnic table,” he said. “It’s pretty phenomenal.”

A college is an excellent place to remind people to be conscious of our planet and our relationship to it, he said. Keeping the environment’s importance in students’ minds is important to McGarry, as this is a reoccurring message in many of his projects.

“Our goal is to be as environmentally friendly as possible,” he said.

Another goal, McGarry said, is acquiring a grant from DTE for a solar-powered electronics recharging station on campus, possibly part of the seating area.

McGarry has been in contact with the area manager for DTE and the River Raisin Area National Park Service, trying to make headway.

McGarry said he is excited to have the support of Campus Facility and Planning Director Jack Burns for an outdoor amphitheater he designed.

“I built a 3D model of it. It would be built behind the La-Z-Boy Center, on the grass,” he said.

All-weather seats would be installed directly into the ground, with the stage on the south side of the yard, he said.

“It would have some sort of cover for rain, but the idea is to look open and naturally belonging to the ground,” he said.

Picnic tables would be set up for additional outdoor attendees. The idea is to bring students and faculty outdoors to benefit from the environment as an arena for thought and learning.

In addition, he has an idea for an outdoor classroom and has scouted a location by the pond west of the C Building, but he sees the possibility of designing something that doubles as an amphitheater and an outdoor classroom.

“There’s this new thing called fabric architecture. They use certain fabric tarps, and there are poles that hold it together like a tent,” he said.

Josh Meyers, executive director of The MCCC Foundation, which offers enhancement grants for innovative projects on campus, has seen the 3D model.

McGarry has spoken with MCCC President Kojo Quartey about new programs to offer on campus.

Since MCCC has worked with the River Raisin National Park Service Master Plan, McGarry asked why shouldn’t classes be offered there, such as landscape architecture, lawn maintenance, or park management.

McGarry argues that this would expose students in Monroe to many new opportunities.

“There are a lot of parks in this area, and a lot of national parks that are very large in Michigan,” he said.

McGarry also designed a dog park—in his head.

“I want to build a model of it.”

At one of the downtown development meetings, McGarry spoke with the owner of Agua Dulce, who told McGarry she had pitched an idea of a dog park to the city, which was receptive to the plan.

“I was thinking in my head, why not? It wouldn’t be that difficult … you get the land and you make it into a designated dog park. You just have the facilities available, with the bags for picking up after dogs, a water fountain,” he said.

“So I drive around, I research what land is available, what’s plausible, how much it would cost, everything like that.”

McGarry found two spots he really likes. One is next to the Monroe Sports Complex, and the other is on the east side of Monroe by an old factory.

“There’s still a smoke stack there, and it has the foundation still there. I think it’s really cool. It gives it an urban feel,” he said. “I want to keep the foundation—but have grass growing on it.”

“We would leave the stack there, and then name the park what the factory used to be.”

There is a place where trucks used to back in. McGarry sees this as place to park bicycles.

“There could be a gazebo. Trees, shade structures. The fence would be a woman getting pulled by the dogs she’s walking. She’s holding an umbrella and getting pulled by all of the dogs, and the whole fence would be dog leashes and the dogs, in metal cutouts, that would be the fence itself.”

“I have a fascination with metal cutouts. It’s fun, it’s quirky.”

He explained how in his mind these images in cutouts would replace a chain-link fence. The fence would have to removable, he said, so when seasonal waters rise they won’t get destroyed.

“I want them to be painted with chalkboard paint, so kids can draw on them,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s kind of crazy. The city asked me to find out how much it would cost. I want to talk to the welding department here.” 

McGarry likes learning about the tools that would be used in projects he comes up with.

“We have the laser cutout machine — that’s what someone would use to make these,” he said.

McGarry explained the process of how the machines work to cut out the metal from designs on a computer. He said he has many ideas, and that this is just how he thinks.

“A lot people aren’t aware of all of the amazing artwork we have on campus,” McGarry said. “No one comes out here to look.”

Art is important to McGarry, and he sees room for an art museum at MCCC, or at least a popup museum when Monroe has an art festival.

He would love to get a building downtown for that week, and display all of the school’s artwork.

“It generates more interest in the school. We could also have someone there giving out information, taking donations for the art program.”

“I want to make the art festival bigger. Right now, it’s run by one group — I would like to get other groups involved and have a student section strictly for students, because they can’t afford the regular entrance price, they don’t have that kind of money,” he said.

To do this, he wants to invite student artists from neighboring universities. This will also bring to the city energy and new ideas going on outside of Monroe, he said.

“I talk to people here on campus. The young generation doesn’t have a voice within the community, which is really frustrating,” he said. “I want to be a voice. I want to make things change.”

McGarry has talked to Student Government about inviting different Monroe agencies to the campus to take questions from students.

“And talk to them about their ideas, and what they want to get done. Instead of having a meeting at 7:40 in the morning at the Council Chambers, they would have a meeting here every once in a while,” he said. “It would be kind of cool. It would get people involved more.”

McGarry has pitched the idea of a mural in the C building southwest stairwell, next to Political Science professor Joanna Sabo’s office. The mural would depict the journey struggles of refugees throughout history.

 “A lot people get refugees and illegal immigrants confused,” McGarry said.

His idea is for the mural to depict U.S. cities being grown from families that came to America as refugees.

“There isn’t any refugee program in Monroe,” McGarry said.

It’s important for students to learn about these issues as early as possible, McGarry said. He recounted his experience with the International Studies Club’s trip to a refugee resettlement program in Phoenix, where he and his fellow students worked with refugees.

“It was life changing,” he said.

Clubs at MCCC have given McGarry a lot of opportunity and support, but he wishes more students could be made aware of what being a club member can offer. So a newer idea McGarry pitched to the GSA, Student Government, International Studies and Community Service clubs is the introduction of a Club Center on campus.

McGarry spoke to Burns about where all of these clubs could be represented, initially hoping it could be implemented in West Tech’s old welding facility. But there already are plans for converting the space into a new lecture hall.

But Burns liked the idea so much that he suggested it go in the old storage room in The Cellar, next to the Student Government room, McGarry said.

“Everyone seems very receptive of it all. It’s just about getting the funds to do it.”

Currently meetings are being held to update the college’s 5-Year Master Plan.

“Burns invited me to those meetings to incorporate my ideas,” he said.

He sees bigger clubs could having dedicated rooms, and other clubs using general shared campus rooms at different meeting times. This space could have a bulletin board for clubs to post their announcements, goals and flyers, and a display case for all of the awards won by any club.

The space could be incorporated into the tour of the college, McGarry said.

“Hopefully, it would promote students to come here, because they’ll see there are clubs on campus and they can get involved,” he said.

On the college’s webpage, McGarry said there should be a “Visit our Club Center,” where all of the clubs on campus can be seen, each a click away from info, agendas and social media pages.

He has other plans for improving MCCC’s website, including a one-page stop for seeing which credits transfer to a university, and what credits would be needed to fulfill transfer requirements.

Creating a positive image for MCCC is McGarry’ overall mission.

Monroe School Board last year voted to not have the most recent Captain Underpants novel at the summer reading club. The reason, specifically stated by the board, was because the juvenile series featured a main male character married to a man.  

“Isn’t that stifling freedom of speech, because you’re banning a book?” McGarry asked.

This upset many in the community, so he entertained the idea of inviting the author of the book series, Dav Pilkey, to visit MCCC for a book signing. McGarry asked college officials if they were interested, eventually trying to contact the author himself.

“It’s all just so much work… I’m starting to feel it, a little bit,” McGarry said, “But, I’m going to keep going. I’ve started to ask for help, because I can’t do this by myself.”

Which is a good thing, he said, because he’s been able to develop a network of professionals who want to assist his goals.

McGarry has come a long way against much adversity. His life story is one of facing adversity for being different.

“I was a special ed kid for most of my entire school life,” he said, and was in an Individualized Education Program.

“I have a reading and spelling disability. My spelling is around an eighth grade level… it was a sixth grade, but it’s gotten a lot better. A lot better,” he said.

What actually helped his learning was taking more challenging courses and reading and writing more.

“For me, it’s slowing down and really focusing. I’ve noticed that I’ve programmed my brain to think of short cuts to speed up the process because I was slower than everyone else,” he explained.

“When I read, sometimes I would only read the first four letters, and then assume what the word is. So I learned that I had to slow down.”

McGarry said that students can overcome their struggles, but the fight is always real.

“I have a hearing disability, and I didn’t get hearing aids until I was in sixth grade, so I missed a lot of the basics. I couldn’t hear certain things, and it runs in my family. We all struggled in school,” he said.

McGarry eventually grew to manage without his hearing aids, so that it doesn’t impair his ability to function for most of his day, but when left untreated as a child it significantly set him back.

“I sit in front of the class room,” he said. “It’s not bad, I just missed a lot of stuff when I was younger.”

A 2010 graduate of Erie Mason High School, McGarry has actually been attending MCCC for six years, spending each semester taking two or three classes at a time.

At three courses this semester, it’s been one of the more difficult ones, he said.

“I wanted to challenge myself.”

Before this semester began, he told his boss that he would have to cut down on his days working.

“This is my third attempt at English I. The first time I just wasn’t prepared for that. The second time I had too much doubt in myself, so I dropped the class. And now I feel I know I can do this. It’s going to be hard, but I know I can,” he said.

McGarry dealt with a lot of being pushed through the system in high school, he said.

“I was getting answers told to me during tests, because the teachers didn’t want me to fail. I should’ve been in high school for another year to make up for this, in my opinion,” he said.

“I was always the one who was ahead in the special ed classes, but I struggled too much in the regular classes. I would get a D, or a C, which is fine with me, in the end I learned more,” he said. “But it brought down my GPA, which was annoying.”

His senior year, he wanted to take Algebra 2, but the school didn’t offer a special ed course. Since he already had all of his math credits, he asked the administration if he could take Algebra 1 again in a regular classroom setting with the assistance of an aid.

“They told me no because it would bring down the average of the class… which really hurt my feelings and really hurt my self-esteem. There was a few times when I was told that I wouldn’t succeed in school,” he said.

One of these individuals was one of his own special education teachers.

“They told me that I shouldn’t try to move on because I wouldn’t succeed. You always get one of those, usually, from the stories I’ve heard from high schools in general,” he said.

McGarry suggested the idea of offering a certificate program for special needs students to Quartey.

“The funny thing was, he was already thinking about that,” he said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”

MCCC has been a different experience for McGarry, however, and was part of his journey to claim equal treatment. For McGarry, receiving acceptance of his sexuality was just another experience that allowed him to find his inner strength.

“I view the college as a home to me, it’s been a place where I feel safe and accepted. When I first came out as gay I was really depressed. I didn’t really have any friends — well, I had friends, but I kind of pushed them away, because I felt like no one understood me,” he said.

There was a period of time after where he felt alone, and unsure of his direction. He questioned his ability to make a difference, and would think about giving up on his ambitions.

“I feel like I didn’t have anyone to talk to. And then I joined the GSA, and that really helped. And then I just slowly grew from there.”

He is now surrounded by a group of people who support him.

“I’ve since made really amazing friends and now… I’m at where I’m at,” he said. “It’s been… a metamorphosis.”

“I want to inspire other people to do better. Because one person can make other people change their minds, and think.”

And that person can possibly change someone else’s life, and so on, he said.

“The more people you affect, the more things that will change, that will get better. I’m a very optimistic person,” McGarry said.

Yet sometimes things don’t work out, and it can be disheartening, he said.

“Sometimes you have to make concessions, and downsize. I just keep trying,” he said. “It will get done, in some shape or form. That’s why I go big the first time.”

It’s important not to short yourself before you try anything, he said.

That’s what he was doing for a very long time, he said, so it’s been a little overwhelming having this new confidence in himself.

“I’m still catching myself doubting myself a lot, but, I’ve been catching myself doing it… which is cool.”

A lot of the credit, McGarry said, is due to the Community Service Club, and he particularly mentioned professor Sabo.

“She’s really pushed me to pursue things. She’s given really good direction,” he said. “She would catch me doubting myself and instantly just correct me… she pushed me to do better for myself.”

“A lot of the faculty here is very phenomenal.”

There’s a lot he wishes to do, but McGarry know’s that the proposals he keeps coming up with can’t be finished before attending a university.

He’ll be applying to Wayne State after one more year at MCCC. McGarry is just one political science class away from qualifying for the Global Studies Degree Designation.

“It will give me some more time to see these things through,” he said. “I don’t plan on leaving entirely.”

Leaving the city and college that shaped him into the person he is will be difficult,he said, but his heart is still strung to Monroe.

“My ultimate goal is to finish school, come back here, and get involved,” he said. “This is my home.”

McGarry sees a potential for synergy when minds both creative and analytical collaborate. He thinks the city of Monroe needs to access the creative minds within the county to bring positive change.

“It upsets me that there are people who want to have change, but their voices aren’t heard. Because people don’t want to hear it,” he said. “There’s great potential here—it’s a beautiful city.”

The city of Monroe is a place McGarry believes people want to call home.

“I love old buildings, old architecture. There’s real historical value,” he said. “And the college is one really good magnet for me.”

There’s a lot of work McGarry needs to do in order to reach his dreams, and that’s why he’s so serious about getting pieces into motion now, rather than later. In order to accomplish this, he’s building upon his education and network of people.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, he plans to continue being a part of what’s happening in Monroe.

“I still plan on coming down and being involved with as many clubs as I can… I know with me not being here, some things might not get finished,” he said. “I’m hoping there will still be enough momentum behind it all. I want to see it done, no matter how stressful it might be. Because it’ll benefit people. It will make things better.”

He sees Monroe as slightly broken, and seems to believe he’s identified one of the root causes.

“Almost all of my friends I know are leaving—they’re going to Cincinnati, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor… Detroit,” he said. “They’re all leaving. Because there’s no opportunities here for people like me, for people like us.”

McGarry believes that all it really takes for the desires of a community to be heard is people reaching out and coming together.

“Right now, it’s individual people talking,” he said. “They’re not coming together as a whole, not as a group.”

If possible, later down the road, McGarry would like to run for a political office.

“I want to give back to others, so they can have their voices heard. I want to be in the position where I can be their voice,” he said.

His dream career?

“Mayor of Monroe.”