Doubling Down on Detroit

Jul 09, 2018

Dear Dreamers and Dream Makers,

Our 2018 Michigan Youth Impact Program has completed its program that utilized United States Marines, University of Michigan football players, and public-school teachers from Detroit to create trust, develop leadership and make an impact on the direction of young boys lives from the inner-city of Detroit, Michigan.

Our focus this year was addressing major issues effecting urban school districts, as well as, enriching English Language Arts, Science, Mathematics, and Life skills. To do this, our at-risk youth worked on developing respect for institutions, authority figures, and themselves for their foundation to propel in learning environments and academic institutions that they will engage in once leaving our program.

This year demonstrated the resolve of the Youth Impact Program at Michigan to adjust and tailor our program more to the challenges that our youth from Detroit face. We utilized University of Michigan staff and student athletes who were from inner cities and understand what these students are facing in a drastically different environment between home and their futures. This doubling down on former players with a younger generation is reflective of the spirit in the rejuvenation regarding the city of Detroit. Grit, determination, and a never quit attitude thrive in the these young boys and clearly brings a brighter future for everyone.

In Detroit schools, over 50% of Detroit students are chronically absent. It is one of the worst rates in the country. It is difficult to have students show up for consecutive days including weekends, yet we had 63% of our boys with perfect attendance. This is no small feat for getting our participating youth on buses at 7:00 am each day as they rode the buses back and forth from Detroit and Ann Arbor. With the 2 hours plus drive on a bus each day, these boys showed determination to complete the program.

Once at the Michigan Stadium, the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, our youth participants sat in teams for breakfast and lunch to enjoy meals prepared by the same food service as the University of Michigan student athletes. It is just as important to fuel our youth with knowledge as it is with healthy food. This also included a presentation and discussion by the athletic nutritionist who dispelled some myths for them regarding food and existing habits that can be changed to a healthier lifestyle.

Active involvement from the University of Michigan staff and student athletes brought about an experience that was like none other for the boys. Head coach, Jim Harbaugh and his father, Jack Harbaugh both spoke to the boys to help motivate and encourage them through tough adversity revealed through the program. Throughout the program the mantra, “Who has it better than us? NOBODY!” could be heard echoing on the field and into the locker room from the first to the last day.

One of the key components to the success of the Michigan YIP is the academic component. The University of Michigan is held in high regard in our nation as one of our great academic and athletic institutions for the rigor and competitiveness on and off the field. We too, raised the bar for the boys participating in our program. These students, who are generally 1 to 2 grades below grade level, were challenged with not only completing tasks but ascertaining real live solutions to problems by applying lessons from the tasks.

English/Language Arts took on the challenge of poetry this year. Not only were our participating youth taught and tested on the mechanics of poetry, but they were encouraged to write poetry themselves. We saw an increase in achievement of 19%. One of our teachers presented the boys with his own original poem showing that even as an adult we can have “the freedom to fly.”

A new component to the science this year was to create a STEM activity to bring new opportunity of experience and ways of the thinking to this competitive and group project. The teams were challenged with creating an astronaut out of ultraviolet light sensitive beads and a shelter to keep them safe from the rays of the sun. The greatest academic gains were seen in science as the academic achievement grew 40.5%. More projects will be on the horizon that will also work across the curriculum in the hopes that all areas of academics will see a boost.

Mathematics was the biggest challenge this year for our students as we asked them to not only understand how to multiply facts, but we pushed them with word problems that involved multiple ways of thinking. The student achievement was the lowest in this area, as growth was limited to 8.7%. It was interesting to unravel the layers of misconceptions regarding these problems and finding out that some of the biggest issues were related to decoding and reading and not the actual mathematics to solve the problems. A more focused delivery of targeted arithmetic skills will be implemented in the future, while higher order thinking and real-life applications will be addressed in the STEM/science component.

Leadership was a new category for testing this year. The boys were challenged with learning the Marine Corps 14 Leadership Traits. We found a surprising gain of 24.2%. The participants were challenged by learning these traits by listening throughout the day for the traits and studying at home. The Marines and student athletes did a wonderful job integrating these traits on and off the field. More formal lessons and activities regarding these traits will be explored in the future.

Life skills was a raw and honest look at life for inner city youth and how they can be the agent for change for themselves and for others. Chris Bryant, University of Michigan Football staff, was a former player who grew up in Chicago, which has many similar dynamics as Detroit, coached the boys on what it takes to be resilient and persevere through obstacles. This could only be worked through with someone who truly understands their situations because he has lived it.

This year, Michigan YIP was not just all work, discipline, and academics. We had fun as well. The Detroit Lions organization opened their locker room and field doors to these talented young football athletes and allowed them to practice at Ford Field. Included in the fun was also an afternoon of basketball in Crisler Arena and bowling. An activity teaching gratitude allowed everyone in the program to share their appreciation and receive thanks from others. These opportunities allow the boys to bond as teammates and learn that everyone has something special to bring to the table in their own way.


On our last day, there were 50 parents, relatives, and friends of the participating youth who attended the championship games and award ceremonies. Many families carpooled together to see their special athlete and team soar. As with all championship games, the winning touchdown was gloriously received by one of the smallest boys who had many issues throughout the camp, but always gave his best, which paid off in the end.

Hail to The Victors Valiant


Riki