Duggan plans summer youth rec centers in churches

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced plans Thursday to transform city churches into summer recreation centers for Detroit children next year.

The mayor unveiled the plan during his annual citywide community meeting at City Hall, saying 20 recreation centers have closed in Detroit over the last 40 years. The 19 that remain for the city of nearly 700,000 residents "doesn't do any good," he said.

But Duggan said there are churches throughout Detroit that have gyms. In exchange for their use, the city would fund and hire the play leaders, provide two daily meals and a snack and a one-time investment of $20,000 toward capital and equipment improvements at the churches.

Mayor Mike Duggan wants to use church gymnasiums as summer recreation centers for children ages 6 to 14.

"Those gyms by and large are empty during the summer," said Duggan, who said he plans to formally announce the program on Friday. "What would happen if you combined summer recreation with exposure to our churches? I don't know if anybody has tried this but we're about to."

The city said that the "summer activity centers" will serve children ages 6 to 14 and will offer curriculum in areas including technology and math, athletics and literature in Detroit-based organizations not currently operating summer programming.

In each center, the city would provide a supervisor and up to four play leaders. A hiring fair will be held at selected sites to ensure Detroit residents will have access to the jobs, city officials said.

Among the requirements, Duggan said, the churches that want to participate would have to be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday from June 15 to Aug. 24.

The sites also have to have indoor activity space for 20 to 60 children and dining space. They also must meet the physical requirements for a child care license. 

Churches without gyms also will have the ability to partner with others that do, he said. 

The city expects to open up registration for the effort next spring for children who belong to the churches first and then it will be opened up to everybody else.

"This is what we're going to see if we can do," he said. 

Any Detroit-based nonprofits or faith-based organizations are invited to apply to become a host site but the city said preference will be given to locations in areas with high youth populations.

A workshop for interested groups will be held in October and awards will be granted in December, the city said.

The mayor discussed the proposal as part of an overarching theme at the opening of his meeting about the city's children, a group, he said "that's forgotten way too often in our city."

Duggan also spoke to the crowd about his intention to offer universal preschool for every 4-year-old in Detroit next year.

The mayor touted the plan earlier this year and said he's secured bipartisan supporters for the effort as well as from the governor's office. 

Duggan on Thursday night said that his hope is that it can be offered in Detroit next fall.