One year ago, Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores pledged $100K for SAY Detroit kids to distribute to charity. Here is how it will benefit the community

Vince Ellis
Special for Pistons.com

Kate Hardy admits vast experience with fundraising pitches.

As the founder of Six Feet Over, a Detroit-based nonprofit aiding survivors of suicide loss, she is accustomed to presenting elaborate appeals to philanthropic groups. But when she arrived at the SAY Detroit Play Center this summer to answer questions from inquisitive kids seeking answers to how she would use a grant to help her life’s mission, she was all nerves.

“It was … unique,” Hardy recalls with a chuckle. “I told them when I was there, ‘I have never been so scared to talk to a group of people.’ I've spoken in front of 700-plus people before, but when I sat down in front of those kids and I could have (fainted).

“They were just a ball of power in that little room. I had heard of pitches like that happening, but not to a group of informed kids who would be given the agency to make that decision.”

Hardy and other area nonprofits were given the opportunity to vie for $100,000 courtesy of a unique pledge from Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores. Last December, during his yearly call to Mitch Albom’s radiothon, the radio host and Detroit Free Press columnist’s annual fundraiser for SAY Detroit, Gores pledged $350,000.

But in a twist, Gores said $250,000 would be earmarked for SAY Detroit. He tasked the SAY Detroit kids with distributing the remaining $100,000 to charity.

SAY Detroit youths participated in a six-week program at the play center located on Detroit’s east side that consisted of weekly workshops led by staff and local leaders from the philanthropic community. Curriculum included how to identify and prioritize relevant causes; how to set goals, assess and evaluate charitable organizations; and ultimately where to allocate funds for the Tom Gores Youth Community Giving Project.

After the program was completed, four nonprofits were granted $25,000 each. They were Six Feet Over, Green Living Science, Bridge Builders Counseling and Mentoring, and the Detroit Recovery Project.

“It is so empowering for young people to learn to use their voice and see how it feels to make an impact in someone else’s life,” Gores said when the recipients were announced. “There is so much to do in our community and these kids at SAY Detroit are so smart. I’m proud of the way they came together to collaborate, get into the details and make informed decisions.”

The recipients are not well known, a fact noticed by David Greenwood, director of athletics for Detroit PAL, a highly regarded nonprofit with a Pistons relationship. He also made a pitch.

“Is Detroit PAL flush with money? No,” Greenwood said. “But as I sat in the room and I listened to some of the other people that were there and I became cognizant of who was vying for these dollars, I looked at it as an opportunity to potentially forego the dollars that would be given to PAL in order to help another nonprofit survive.”

When Gores made the pledge, he hoped it would give the kids a glimpse at the importance of helping others, maybe igniting a philanthropic spark in the kids who use SAY Detroit’s services.

“It really gave me an outlook on how it works,” program participant Ke’Von White said. “I went to the interview stuff during the summer, thinking of a way to give and thinking about the pros and cons of giving to all the groups. I think when I grow up, when I have fat pockets, I think I'll do some charity work.”

Gores, who along with the Pistons Foundation has supported SAY Detroit since 2015, has a history of structuring his donations in unique ways. With Albom’s radiothon and another anticipated Gores appearance coming Thursday, here’s how the grants will help the community.

Six Feet Over helps those left behind after suicide

Hardy’s mother took her own life in 2003, one of several suicides to impact her life, which led to her starting the nonprofit in 2012.

Suicide prevention is one goal. Another goal is providing financial assistance for those left behind.

“Most people that we work with, their loved one, did not have life insurance,” Hardy said. “They're mostly low income or they're now in a situation where they lost the breadwinner, and they don't have money coming in. The biggest concerns are paying their mortgage, food and that kind of basic living.”

Why did her cause connect with the SAY Detroit children?

Recently, the New York Times reported “self-reported suicide attempts rose nearly 80 percent among Black adolescents from 1991 to 2020 while the prevalence didn’t change significantly among those of other races and ethnicities.”

“This is part of their life,” Hardy said. “It may not be talked about the way that it should be, and they recognize that. The resources aren't there for them, and they recognize that. Our support of community mental health is unacceptable in this country, but especially when it comes to black and brown youth.”

For more information about Six Feet Over, go to https://www.sixftover.org/.

Detroit Recovery Project seeks to rehab flood-damaged weight room

In June, Detroit flooding was national news. A downpour lasting several hours highlighted how the city’s aging infrastructure struggles to protect low-lying areas. Many east side homes and buildings flooded, including the Detroit Recovery Project’s addiction treatment center.

Nonprofit president and CEO Andre Johnson is blunt. The $25,000 will go toward replacing flood-damaged equipment in the facility’s weight room.

“We had almost four feet of flooding in our building,” Johnson said. “We didn't find out until after the fact that we didn't have the insurance that covers that. It’s a situation that we're still rectifying, given the amount of water and the length of time.”

The Detroit Recovery Project is dedicated to supporting recovery from mental illness, substance abuse and anti-recidivism programming, a personal mission for Johnson who is celebrating more than 33 years of sobriety.

“I could see the look on some of those young people's faces,” Johnson said. “I lost my mother, or I lost my dad in jail, or my big brother is using drugs.”

Johnson said he has never participated in anything like the project.

“We’re thankful that Mr. Gores has committed resources to Detroit,” Johnson said. “We know this is his home state and he owns the Pistons, but it means a lot for our organization. I’ve never received a donation like this, so this is going in our history book.”

For more information about Detroit Recovery Project, go to https://recovery4detroit.com/.

Bridge Builders hope to start joint camp for single-parent families with SAY Detroit

Bridge Builders Counseling and Mentoring, a non-profit based in Port Huron, supports single parents and their families by providing counseling. Bridge Builders mentors, volunteers and staff provide support for both the parents and the kids during crisis situations like sudden death or incarceration.

That mission opens the door to potential partnerships with SAY Detroit. There was already a mentoring outing to an apple orchard where SAY Detroit kids and parents were invited. The next potential pairing is a sponsored summer trip to Camp Cavell in Lexington.

“We're hoping that most of the money will be spent in providing that camp, because when I talked to the kids, that sounded like what they wanted to do,” said Teresa Jex, executive director of Bridge Builders.

Potentially 25 to 50 families could attend the camp that is located about 90 miles north on the Lake Huron coast.

It was to be a topic Wednesday when Bridge Builders representatives were planning a visit – along with another nonprofit - to the SAY Detroit Play Center.

“My mom was a single parent,” White said. “It was just me, her and my sister, and it's been hard on her. I like how they help people like me with finances and help them with their lives since they work with single parents. That struck home for me.”

For more information about Bridge Builders, go to https://bridgebuilderscm.org/.

Green Living Science helps kids learn about protecting the planet

Natalie Jakub, executive director of Green Living Science, commonly cites an attention-grabbing statistic when teaching the importance of protecting our environment.

She references a 2019 analysis by the World Wildlife Fund that estimates human beings consume about 5 grams – the weight of a credit card – of plastic per week.

When she told the SAY Detroit kids that stat there was an audible gasp.

“When you know the impact of what's happening to our food, our water, it's so eye-opening that it creates awareness, now you're interested,” she recalled. “You want to know more. You want to know how that's happening and you want to know how we can stop that from happening.”

Green Living Science was formed in a partnership with the city of Detroit's drop off recycling facility to provide youth education around recycling. The nonprofit recently expanded into working with businesses as well as the community around the curbside recycling program.

The $25,000 will go toward helping Green Living Science restart its youth education programing, which stalled during the pandemic.

“We lost our educator who had been with us for eight years, so we're trying to get back to a space where we can hire another educator so we can provide free educational youth services,” Jakub said.

For more information about Green Living Science, go to https://www.greenlivingscience.org/.