NEIGHBORS: Ford Center Offers Services Aimed at Social Mobility

The Ford Resource and Engagement Center, also known as FREC,  adds a welcoming, attractive gathering space for community groups and residents on Detroit’s east side. It’s also an example of the way a venerable corporation in the city—Ford Motor Co.—is giving back to the community by opening a place where residents can take advantage of a wide variety of services—from job placement for adults to ice-cream making classes for kids.

“The importance of FREC is that in a highly vacant community we now have a space and a place where community residents, groups and our young people can come to and enjoy the amenities we have not had in our community for a long time,” said Sandra Turner-Handy, who has lived in the area for 25 years.

The multi-purpose center is located at 15491 Maddelein, near the Heilmann Recreation Center andI the Fisher Elementary School. The center is physically connected to the Dorothy Fisher Magnet Middle School in the Seven Mile-Hayes area of the city’s east side..

The center opened in 2017 with a $5 million, five year commitment from Ford Motor Co.

Senior director for the center, Justin Kimpson, said since opening it has grown to offer many services and become the home base for monthly meetings of four community groups: Regent Park Homeowners Association, Mohican Regent, Black Family Development Circle Keepers and the Denby Neighborhood Alliance.

Among the services offered are free legal guidance, free tax services, and weekly food distribution. The center also provides a meeting space for gangs in collaboration with the Detroit Police Department 9thPrecinct Brotherhood program.

Turner-Handy, an active member of the Denby alliance, praised the center.  “FREC is a space that has something for everyone in the community, programs for young people, services and programs for adults,” said Turner-Handy, a mother of six, grandmother of 10 and great grandmother to one. “There’s a job placement program through SER Metro, cooking classes. There is such a wide variety of things going on. They even have free haircuts for young men. And they even have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Lab where the kids make ice cream out of nitrogen!”

Justin Kimpson, director of Ford Resource Center. PHOTO: Kory Woods

The center’s halls and rooms are designed with a mix of Detroit and Ford history. For example, there’s a Mustang Room, a Continental Room, posters of proud black men that circle the walls and murals that tell the history of Detroit. Video monitors tell the story of the Ford Resource and Engagement Center, one of two in the city. The first opened in 2013.

Pamela Alexander, Director of Community Development for the Ford Motor Company Fund, said Ford conceived the idea for FREC in 2012 when the region was recovering from a recession and the company was looking for ways to help the Detroit economy and the surrounding area.

“Ford is heavily invested in the non-profit community throughout the region because this is our home,” Alexander said. “We do our work philanthropically through partners, but it’s very important to us to hear the community needs and know what the community wants. It’s a partnership.”

The FREC allows Ford to support our efforts on social mobility, she said.

“If you’re born in the bottom 4% economically in this country you have a 4% chance of making it to the top 20% and most children born in the bottom 50% stay there,” Turner-Handy said. “ So a lot of Ford’s efforts are around how do we change that and the FREC is built around the change. So first we invest in basic needs, then provide opportunities for growth and development. That’s social mobility”.

Sgt. Marcus Thirlkell, of the Ninth Precinct Cease Fire Unit, said the Brotherhood Program under the cease fire Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative meets weekly at FREC to help young men build confidence and self-esteem and with career planning, SAT/ACT prep, haircuts and more

“FREC is important to our work because we partner with the community so we can be out front leading efforts to help growth and build relationships,” said Thirlkell. “FREC is an awesome place for the community to come, congregate, hold meetings, but it’s also a place where Ford Motor Fund is giving back.”

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