Jim Caldwell and wife donate 20 new computers to students at Detroit Lions Academy

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — A smile beamed from Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s face, as if Calvin Johnson had run a perfect route and caught a touchdown from Matthew Stafford.

But Caldwell wasn’t even near a football field. Rather, he was sporting a suit and tie, surrounded by a classroom full of students, staff, administration and a few Lions rookies.

Caldwell and his wife, Cheryl, were beaming as students were demonstrating some of the technology in a new computer room during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their Project Phoenix learning center at the Detroit Lions Academy.

The technology center was remodeled with 20 new desktop computers, Promethean boards and other hardware and software.

The Detroit location is the latest dedication by the Caldwells — each ranging at about $50,000 — along with three in Indianapolis, where Caldwell coached the Colts, and two in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he coached at Wake Forest.

For Caldwell, the decision to make an investment in the Lions Academy was a no-brainer, especially after meeting principal Cheryl White.

“I started asking her about technology and what availability they had in the building for the students,” Caldwell said. “It took me a couple minutes or so to realize this is a great place for us to start.

“I called my wife and said we don’t have to do a feasibility study and look around the city to find the place we’ll put the first one. There’s one that already attached to our organization that’s in need, so it worked out well.”

Caldwell said the foundation puts an emphasis on providing computers because under-served communities tend to have educational gaps in the availability of updated technology. The Project Phoenix learning centers were built in community centers the first few locations but eventually moved to schools.

“There’s nothing that’s done these days that doesn’t have some sort of technology background to it,” Caldwell said. “Everything in terms of education has changed and it’s very important to make certain, particularly in under-served areas of the city, that they get access to it, because it’s going to make a difference in terms of their education.

“It’s a bridge between difficulties in life and maybe an opportunity for a great living and prosperity.”

Caldwell and his wife are working on plans for the next learning center, which could open as soon early next year.

“We do them frequently,” Caldwell said. “Our first one was 2009 or ’10. We try to do as many as we can; we have to have fundraising but we put the great majority of the money in and we raise a small portion of it just to make sure there’s some commitment to it as well.”

Caldwell made a point to bring several Lions rookies along so they could get a jump start on community-service efforts and outreach. Among them were tight end Eric Ebron, offensive lineman Cornelius Lucas and cornerback Mohammed Seisay.

“It’s very, very important and what I’ve told them oftentimes is that if we’re just playing football, that’s not enough because we have a community where they can have a strong impact,” Caldwell said. “Oftentimes, in NFL cities, you’ve seen that players attach themselves to the community and the results and impact they have on the city is tremendous.”