A new beginning, a community hub, a dream come true takes root on Flint's northside

FLINT, Michigan—It sat as a reminder of what used to be. 
 
It was Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School, a place where generations of Flint school children learned and played. Carved out from a corner of Max Brandon Park on the northside of Flint, the school has sat vacant for six years. 
 
A shell. 
 
Until now.
 
Now, it is the Flint Development Center. Now, it is a place for the young and not-so-young, a place to learn, a place to have fun, a place to find a friend. It is an investment. It is a new beginning. It is a dream come true. 
 
No longer a reminder of what was, instead it stands a reminder of what can be. 
 
More than 100 people flocked to the Flint Development Center on Thursday for its official ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration. The multi-purpose facility will house offices and programs of the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission, YMCA of Greater Flint, Flintball.com, and Shooting for the Stars.
 
“Especially in young people, the more they see examples of positive outcomes, the more positive outcomes will be created,” said Pastor Daniel Smith of Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church, which created the nonprofit that purchased the building in 2014. “That’s what this place has the potential to be—a hub for the whole community.”
 
Smiling and pointing over to the freshly cut lawn and the rebuilt playground, “Look over here,” Smith says. “We cut and trimmed the lawn the day before yesterday. Right after we did that, we had children from the neighborhood coming in and playing basketball. That tells me we already have people looking for a place that is cleaned up, a safe place for them to play.”
 
Shakeem Reebes, 20, went to Bunche Elementary School. It was, he said, “like any other school. It was fun.” Now, he serves as a Shooting for the Stars youth leader. 
 
Standing inside the old gymnasium with a new patched floor, he remembers playing every sport at Bunche—flag football, floor hockey, basketball, kickball.
 
“It feels good to see it coming back,” Reebes said. And, it feels even better to know that Flint Development Center will be a safe haven.  
 
“We have a new thing going on here—where if a kid needs help with homework or something, or if they are hungry and need to eat, or just play ball—they can do that. … I’m here to help kids. to tell them they can come here and it’s ok, that this is place is for them. This is where they can come and be safe and just enjoy being a kid.”
 
Taylor Clark, assistant director of YMCA Safe Places and coordinator at the Flint Development Center, is aggressive and determined to get started. Programming will be year-round and include field trips, nutritional food, learning activities.
 
“My plan is to get as many kids here as possible at all times,” she said. “The base goal is 25 to 30 kids daily or higher.
 
Smith notes “It took a lot of money and a lot of teamwork” to open Flint Development Center—and they aren’t done yet.  
 
Two years ago, the Ruth Mott Foundation provided a $126,680 grant for general operating support for the center. Last year, the foundation did something its never done before—the foundation agreed to guarantee a construction loan for the Evergreen Community Development Initiative to get this first of three phases of construction done.
 
With help from Ruth Mott Foundation, Chemical Bank and other stakeholders, more than $200,000 was raised to get portions of the school open for summer programs. A total renovation of the building is estimated at $800,000.
 
Opening the building and hosting the ribbon cutting are, Smith said, huge achievements—and he hopes it will inspire others to support their programming and the continued renovations. 
 
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver applauded the work happening at Flint Development Center.
 
“People are talking about the city of Flint coming back, well here we have evidence of that,” she said. “We see people coming together for the city. People who believe in the city, they are showing us that Flint is on the way back.”
 
For more information, visit FlintDC.org or call site director Shelly Sparks at (810) 293-4372.
 

Read more articles by Jake Carah.

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