North End’s Considine Little Rock Family Life Center Remains a Pillar of Strength in the Community

It’s difficult not to be impressed by the Considine Little Rock Family Life Center, located at 8904 Woodward Ave. and Holbrook St., in the city’s North End community.  After all, under several names, the storied four-level brick structure has been anchored on Detroit’s most iconic urban thoroughfare since the 1930s.   The facility, once known as Considine Recreation Center, has been operated by its next-door neighbor, the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church, since the mid-2000s. 

“Considine was – and still is – a vital part of the North End community,” said Charlie Beckham, former director of the city’s parks & recreation department under Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration. “The center is critical to people who have depended on it for job training, social programs and activities for children, seniors, and families year-round.”  

Beckham said during the early years of the Kilpatrick administration, the mayor looked for ways to cut costs because of tough financial times in the city.  Several recreation centers were closed, and Considine was on the shutdown list until the pastor next door spoke out.  

“I went to the city asking to please not close Considine because of the value it added to the welfare of youth, seniors, and the whole North End community and beyond,” said Rev. Dr. Jim Holley, who, at the time, was senior pastor of the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church where he ultimately served 50 years before retiring in 2022.  “The city heard my plea, and Mr. Charlie Beckham helped complete a unique deal for the church to take over operating the Considine Recreation Center.”  

Since brokering the agreement with the city, Little Rock Family Life Center has offered a broad range of services to empower the North End community.  Over the years, activities and events under Little Rock’s purview have included providing quality sports and recreation programs, after-school programs, summer camps and educational activities for inner-city youth, seniors and families.   For a few years, beginning In 2017, Considine was the Detroit campus for Cleary University, a four-year business-focused educational institution based in Howell, Mich.  The satellite campus offered Detroiters a range of job training and career certificates.  

“Detroit is moving forward, and this new campus is about transforming lives,”  Holley said at the time.  “As economic development thrives downtown and Midtown, the North End is the next link in the chain along the Woodward corridor.”   

Considine Little Rock Family Life Center currently operates two adult daycare drop-in centers, one of which is named North End Village.  Considine also implements healthcare programs and services for children with autism, and Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD), one of Considine’s longest tenants, offers GED programs.   

“We host many community activities and events,” said Little Rock Family Life Center’s director, Gwen Vining.  “We have hosted the Delores Bennett’s Christmas Adopt-a-Child Christmas giveaway registrations,  monthly meetings of the North-End Youth Improvement Council, District 5 meetings, Detroit Area Agency on Aging forums, Detroit Board of Police Commissioners’ meetings, banquets, birthday celebrations, and lots of other events for the community.”  Vining said there are plans to refurbish and reopen the center’s bowling alley.  And the center’s gymnasium is where many basketball and other sporting events are held for various age groups.     

“There were some tough basketball players who played at Considine,” said Beckham, who played ball there in the mid-to-late 1960s.  “I know basketball was played fiercely at St Cecelia on the west side, but games at Considine and Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center on the east side were just as competitive.”  

The history of Considine Recreation Center runs long and deep.  A part of the facility was built in the early 1930s after two Jewish organizations merged to form Detroit’s first Jewish Community Center.  At the time, the North End was overwhelmingly white, with a heavy population of Jewish families.    

In 1939, the Aaron DeRoy Memorial Building of the Jewish Community Center, now the Considine Little Rock Family Life Center, expanded to include a gymnasium and Olympic-sized swimming pool, thanks to generous donations from Jewish members of Temple Beth EL, particularly Helen DeRoy and the Carrie Sittig Cohen Estates.   The Temple was diagonally across the street from the Jewish Community Center.    

In 1955, as more African Americans moved from Black Bottom to the North End, the recreation building was leased to the Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation.  In 1963, the City bought the center from the Jewish Welfare Association.    

The Aaron DeRoy Memorial Building of the Jewish Community Center’s name was changed to Considine Recreation Center in honor of John J. Considine Sr., the city’s superintendent of Parks & Recreation, from 1946 to 1962. 

“In the coming months, we are looking to do upgrades to the building to continue serving the community, as we have the Rev. Jim Holley Senior Residences opening later this year across the street,” Vining said. “And there are other senior buildings under construction in the area, so we want to have a place where seniors can come for various events, activities and classes along with the greater community.” 

Holley said he is optimistic about the center’s future.  While the facility is owned by the city but has been leased and operated by Historic Little Rock Baptist Church for almost two decades, Holley said the center will eventually carry another name instead of Considine Little Rock Family Life Center.   

“The church feels that it can no longer operate the center,” said Holley, who plans to refurbish Considine’s gymnasium and Olympic-size swimming pool.  “Under another 501 c3 organization, the  present facility will be renamed The Considine Community Recreation Center.  However, I have no plans to detach myself from the center because I feel like I owe it to the community to be a part of it.  I’m still working in and for the betterment of the North End.” 

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