Come Together Comes to Life

3 Impact Award winners from across Michigan honored as new foundation launches

When Tom Gores became Pistons owner, he made it clear that the appeal for him went far beyond basketball. The Pistons, he vowed, would do everything in their power to strengthen the fabric of community in the places where their fans lived and worked. Perhaps the most tangible evidence of his vision came to life Sunday night, when the Come Together Foundation was launched with the honoring of three Impact Award winners from across Michigan at a special concert performed by Sheryl Crow at DTE Energy Music Theatre.

Darnell Hall of Detroit, Natasha Thomas-Jackson of Flint and Catrina Harvey from Grand Rapids were the inaugural Impact Award winners for their work in nourishing the imaginations, bodies and spirits of young people in their cities. Along with the awards comes a $25,000 grant given to each organization the three honorees represent.

“In a nutshell, these kids are able to dream,” said Hall, a Detroit police officer honored for his work with the Think Detroit PAL program. “This money the Pistons are giving to PAL will make my job easier because it’s giving these kids opportunities to keep their dreams alive.”

Hall is an absolute authority when it comes to PAL’s athletic programs fueling youthful dreams. He joined when he was 8, eventually becoming such a prodigy that the skills nurtured in PAL’s track program earned him a college scholarship and ultimately a berth on the U.S. Olympic team, where he won a gold medal in Barcelona in 1992 as part of the 1,600-meter relay team.

Among other things, the influx of money will keep alive PAL’s participation in AAU Junior Olympic events that require out-of-town travel. For many Detroit youths, it’s the first time they venture out of the city and see a world unknown to them.

“To see them on a charter bus, some of them have never left the city limits,” Hall said. “To see them sit there and go, ‘Wow, I’m in Houston. Wow, I’m in Virginia Beach. I’m on a Naval base. It’s giving them hope, giving them something outside of what they see on a day-to-day basis. ‘I had a good summer. I wasn’t in the house, I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t getting in trouble. I’m finally doing something for me and it paid off.’ ”

Thomas-Jackson, a poet and writer, is the driving force behind the Raise It Up! Youth Art & Awareness program, founding it in 2009 in Flint, near where Gores spent his youth. She oversees six programs under the Raise It Up! banner and says the recognition and grant money will help the growing program thrive.

“This award is great,” Thomas-Jackson said. “Our organization is small. We’re always trying to meet the need and the need is always so great. Anytime we can get some support to help us do that and expand it, it means a lot, not just to us but to the community where we’re based. We serve 300 to 400 kids through our six programs each year and this allows us to provide more programming. Our staff is really small. We work with local artists in our community, so this grant will allow us to work with more of them. We’ll have more artists in the schools, working directly with the kids. It’s wonderful.”

Over on the state’s west side, Harvey is program coordinator for Kids Helping Kids. She joined Kids’ Food Basket in 2009 after years of volunteer service to the organization along with her six children. Today, Kids’ Food Basket provides brown sack dinners to 4,800 children in need every day in the greater Grand Rapids area.

“This allows our organization to continue with our sack supper program, but also to expand our volunteer program we have for our kids,” Harvey said. “It will allow them to be able to do different projects with Kids’ Food Basket to be a part of the solution for childhood hunger. This will have a huge impact, especially because we’re not federally funded.”

Harvey’s spirit has helped galvanize the Grand Rapids community around the program.

“Volunteers are the basis of our whole program,” she said. “They come in and repack our food. A lot of times what we get is in bulk. They also come in and make sandwiches. They pack the sack suppers. They deliver them to the kids’ schools. So we need volunteers to continue to do that sort of thing. Our kid volunteers also make the trail mix that goes into the sack suppers. We are honored because we don’t have to do a whole lot of recruiting. People hear about us. They hear about the program. Nobody wants to see a hungry child.”

Hall, Thomas-Jackson and Harvey were presented their awards by Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, coach Lawrence Frank and four players – Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Kim English. Crow was joined for two songs by a surprise special guest, celebrated Pistons fan Kid Rock.

But the real stars of the night were Hall, Thomas-Jackson and Harvey, everyday Michiganders doing the work that made Michigan the special place Tom Gores knew in the days his imagination and spirit were first nurtured.