Flint Soap Box Derby gears up for additional workshops made possible by federal funding

FLINT, Michigan — Federal funding secured by Congressman Dan Kildee will allow five local organizations to expand their educational programs and extracurricular opportunities for Genesee County youth. Congressman Kildee recently announced that he secured $1,905,421 in funds to be distributed to Sloan Museum of Discovery at the Flint Institute of Science and History, the Crim Fitness Foundation, the Flint Institute of Music, the Flint Institute of Arts, and the Flint Soap Box Derby. 

The legislation includes 15 different Community Project Funding requests, which benefit residents across Genesee, Saginaw, and Bay County. The government funding package also fully funds the Flint Registry, providing the organization $5 million to continually help the city recover from the water crisis. 

“Investing in our children’s education is essential to our community’s success,” Congressman Kildee says in a press release. “But not all learning happens in the classroom,” he says. “By increasing access to art, sports, and STEM education outside the classroom, we can help our kids succeed in the classroom, and become well-rounded adults. In Congress, I will continue to bring home federal resources for mid-Michigan students.”

Sloan Museum of Discovery at the Flint Institute of Science and History will receive $1,000,000 for afterschool STEM education programs. The Crim Fitness Foundation will receive $463,500 for the Families for Life (FFL) program to support its initiative on expanding adult education, literacy, and social-emotional learning. The Flint Institute of Music will receive $193,921 to support music therapy programs for students K-8. The Flint Institute of Arts will receive $148,000 to expand their JumpSTART program, and bring more art education into early childhood classrooms. The Flint Soap Box Derby will receive $100,000 to expand their STEM learning and workforce development programs. 

The 2nd annual Flint Soap Box Derby Race was held at Chevy Commons State Park, located on N. Chevrolet Avenue in Flint, on June 4, 2022. Kevin Cronin, executive director at the Flint Soap Box Derby, says the funding is “a game-changer” for the organization, which has a long local history. “The Flint Soap Box Derby has a pretty remarkable legacy across the city of Flint, going back to 1936,” Cronin says. “It started as a youth program, focused on the race itself, on Cadillac Street. It raced there for 33 years until the track that still stands behind Flint Southwestern today, Cronin Derby Downs, which was named after my grandfather, was built in 1969.”

The races continued there until the early 90s, until a hiatus. After years of no races, Cronin brought the popular event back to the city. In November 2018, he started the Flint Soap Box Derby nonprofit, and held the first series of building workshops and races in May 2019. 

“We really took the initiative of hosting the building workshops ahead of the race, which is something unique to our program, and different from other soap box derby programs you’ll see around the country,” he says. “The reason we did that is recognizing that there hasn’t been a race in the area for a while, and as a result, a number of kids, families, schools, and community organizations didn’t have that baseline layer of what a derby was, and the importance of what it can do from a STEM educational experience as well. We really lean into that.”

With the $100,000 federal funding, Cronin says the nonprofit is geared up to build upon its success in serving community schools and organizations across Genesee county. Flint Soap Box Derby has partnered with Freeman Elementary School, Beecher Community School District, St. John Vianney Catholic School, Swartz Creek Middle School, and Springview Elementary School in Flushing.
A vintage look at the earlier days of the Flint Soap Box Derby.
Cronin says the new funding will allow anybody who wants to partake in the derby building process and racing portion can, regardless of cost or logistics. “Right now, we’re limited by resources where we can only withstand a series of about four to five workshops leading up to the race in June,” he says.

“Our intention is to fill out the calendar, have building workshops and annual races in the spring and early summer, and throughout the rest of the calendar year, we’ll have additional, hands-on, STEM-based educational curriculum. They’ll have some learning element, and a very fun and energetic element where kids can come have fun, make new friends and engage in a really laid back, non-classroom environment.”

The program aims to help students picture and cultivate future career paths, by using the tools and techniques they learn in the workshops. Given Flint’s automotive industry, Cronin says the programs can help with the workforce needed in the next 5-15 years, specifically in areas like transportation, autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles,and cybersecurity.

“It’s really exciting in that this funding gives us that opportunity to build upon our current proven successful model, implement new offerings, and most importantly, provide a significant value to the local community – especially our youth, in a way that is educational, rewarding, and meaningful,” Cronin says. 

The application was turned in over a year ago, and the federal funding line was passed in December of 2022. Cronin says the funding will come from the Department of Education, which requires an additional application process, and anticipates receiving funds in May. 

Flint Soap Box Derby is hosting an open house this Saturday, March 11 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 3163 Lapeer Rd. Youth and their families can attend, learn about the program, tour the facility, enjoy refreshments, and learn about the annual race. Cronin says the goal is to showcase how the building workshops utilize important collaborations as a bigger community.

“We want to reintroduce ourselves to the community; it’s been since last June since we’ve had an event that scale,” he says,” and also, to look forward to building some momentum for our workshops that begin in a couple weeks.”

For more information on the Flint Soap Box Derby, visit: flintsoapbox.org
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.