The youth center is housed in the former Poe Trainable School across the street from Woodbridge Estates, a new residential development where streets are named after Motown legends such as the Miracles.
Wilson has won the support of parents, community volunteers, churches, businesses, government agencies and the corporate sector to help fund and operate the center. His backers include the Chrysler Foundation and UAW Vice President General Holiefield, director of the unionís Chrysler Department.
The center serves students from seven Detroit Public Schools: Edmonson Elementary, Midtown Academy, Malcolm X Academy, Crockett Academy, Burton International Academy, Owen Academy and Douglas Academy.
This semester, 270 young people have registered to participate in after-school activities. The center is open from 3:15-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Applying a holistic approach to programming, the center has had a positive impact on the community by:
- Creating a nurturing environment that enables youth to develop confidence, skills and values that promote healthy lifestyles, academic success and leadership characteristics.
- Providing opportunities for tutoring, mentoring, social development and recreation as well as exposure to the arts, technology and entrepreneurship.
- Increasing awareness of health, wellness, nutrition, rest and exercise.
- Providing a safe, drug-free environment.
- Focusing on the entire family unit with attention to mind, body and spirit.
- Helping families make ends meet through financial literacy training.
The center prides itself on creating its own educational programs as well as using widely respected curriculum materials developed by others. "I Think Iím Grown" is an example of a course developed in-house.
Aimed at students between 13 and 16, "I Think Iím Grown" provides practical information to help participants become financially independent as they grow up, including how to find a job and maintain a household. Students learn such things as how to prepare a resume, job interview skills, how to find an apartment, budgeting and keeping up with food and utility bills.
At the end of the program, participants receive an "Iím Almost Grown" certificate.
The center also operates a "Skills for Life" summer day camp for children 6-16 years old from throughout the Detroit area. The six-week program covers a wide range of classes and activities designed to supplement their experiences during the school year. Ninety kids enrolled last summer.
The curriculum includes enhancing academic skills, computer workshops, sports instruction, Digital video production training, field trips and vacation Bible school.
Improving basic academic skills is stressed through Read to Succeed Literacy Enrichment. This class is designed to help students read at or above their current grade level with emphasis on spelling, reading, comprehension, retention, word knowledge and vocabulary building. Instruction includes the use of phonics to achieve the best results.
Summer camp participants receive a free, nutritionally-balanced breakfast and lunch every day.
In less than a year-and-a-half since it opened, the center has evolved into a focal point for residents of the Woodbridge area that extends beyond its after-school and summer day camp programs.
"We have established our roots here and want to be an integral part of this community," said Mr. Wilson. "We are transforming into a comprehensive community center that fills a variety of needs."
For the last two years, the center has hosted a Harvest Party on Halloween thatís open to all Woodbridge families. The event attracts hundreds of children and their parents in a safe environment with a sit-down dinner, sing-along, carnival-type games and prizes. Kids are presented with a big bag of candy before they leave.
"Our goal is to be a catalyst that helps to bring this community together," said Mr. Wilson. "We want to have a positive influence on all aspects of peopleís lives."
Looking ahead, the center is preparing to add Head Start to its array of services to benefit low-income families and their children.
Children from 6 months to 3 Ĺ years old would be eligible for the program that includes mandatory parenting skills classes. The program would complement the existing Head Start at neighboring Edmonson Elementary that is aimed at 4 year olds.
The center hopes to launch its Head Start program for up to 30 children by January of 2010.