NEIGHBORS: Northwest Activities Center: A neighborhood square for conferences and collaboration

Hosting an astounding average of nearly 500 events a month, open seven days a week, 365 days of the year, the Northwest Activities Center(NWAC)  is, in fact, a neighborhood convention center at the corner of Meyers and Curtis.

It is home to a theatre, the National Conference of Artists’ gallery space, a Detroit Parks and Recreation health club, pool, community computer lab,  a micro-branch of partner organization Fifth Third Bank and more.

Ronald Lockett is the executive director of Northwest Community Programs Inc., the non-profit that operates the NWAC for building owner, the City of Detroit. He says you can walk down the hallway and pass events ranging from joyous baby showers to repasts comforting bereaved families.

Meetings are held by groups ranging from police cadets, to the South Carolina club, to black bowlers, to supporters of the historic resort town, Idlewild. There are programs offering dance, Zumba, karate and basketball. The space rental fees provide income to the center that also receives funding from the city. It opened as the NWAC in 1975.

“We never close,” said Lockett, who has worked there 18 years. “You’ve got to remember, people rent here to hold holiday dinners. We’re like a hotel.”

After school and during the summer, youth programs attract community children to develop their minds and bodies. More than 100 children a week, 5ththrough 12th  graders, participate in Racket Up. They carry squash racquets and textbooks to the center for a workout on the court and in the classroom.

“We recruit students from area schools and they can earn their own racket after their first year,” said staffer Amy Zeiter.

The Computer Clubhouse Network, one of 152 “Clubhouses” around the world, is housed on the lower level. In the evening, a dozen or so highly motivated youth, ages eight 8 to 18, use the program’s self-learning method to tackle STEM experiences and learn leadership. In addition to training in coding, software and other computer skills, there is a 3D modeling station and the opportunity to be selected to show your project at the organization’s bi-annual Teen Summit, an international gathering held at Boston’s famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

James Beckem, an alum of the program, now teaches programs including coding and music technology. He also leads the trips to the MIT, where he says the kids form friendships with students from around the world.

Beckem said he wants to see others benefit from the program that has given him so much. “We’re entering our first robotics competition here in Detroit and students can still apply to be involved,” he said.

Clubhouse director Najna Ali said, “This program is a collaboration with kids from around the world and James is an example of the achievement that is possible.”

NWAC director Lockett said the center’s programs serve the community, and some programs get their start there and branch out on their own.

“We’re kind of an incubator for those who are serious about a community idea,” he explained.

In fact, he noted, “Midnight Golf (a youth program)  got their start here and last year Crain’s magazine named them the best run nonprofit in the city.

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