DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — Five years ago, we highlighted the work of a former Detroit teacher on a mission to change the narrative from talk of violence to giving kids and adults in Detroit a safe haven from the streets.
She took on the project to re-open a rec center on the city's west side that had been shuttered and forgotten for a decade but now her field of dreams has led her down another amazing path and she would not let the COVID pandemic disrupt her journey.
When we first walked into the Tindal Recreation Center in 2016, Maria Adams-Lawton, the Rec's Executive Director, was in the middle of squalor from water damage to vandalism.
She knew with faith and a belief in the Detroit community, a transformation was on the way. Not just physical building but within the hearts of minds of those who call the 48221 zip code home.
What happened in these last five years? "This place has totally transformed,” said WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford.
Thanks to Ford Motor Company, Tindal got a new ceiling, lights and a gym floor, and this huge grassy area was reworked into a field of dreams that unknowingly would keep the lights on.
You see the Tindal Recreation Center and Maria's company Healthy Kidz Incorporated offers a lot.
Basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse senior activities, plus after-school care. It is a 7-day operation. It’s 16 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“We have to coordinate all of these schedules, a lot of party rentals,” said Tindal Recreation Center Executive Director, Maria Adams-Lawton.
But the bills at Tindal were huge. An electric bill alone for one month nearly $19,000.
Then a Godsend, University of Detroit-Jesuit, the only Catholic School that did not abandon the city of Detroit came to Maria in need of space for their students to practice sports after school, and Tindal's field of dreams was the perfect spot.
The extra cash brought in from UofD Jesuit would allow Maria who worked for 25 years as a Detroit Public Schools Math Teacher at Go Lightly the ability to keep Tindal afloat for the community especially with their after-school program.
“We go around to the area's schools and bring them over to participate in tutoring, homework help, martial arts, dance, and STEM,” said Adams-Lawton.
But when the COVID pandemic hit and the doors had to close, Maria had to reinvent Tindal once again. Her spot became a safe haven for kids to learn remotely.
“So, we put a bunch of tables in the gymnasium, kids brought laptops able to log on to their school system,” said Adams-Lawton.
“We had kids as far as Novi, we had public schools, charter schools, private schools that actually came,” said Adams-Lawton.
Now UofD Jesuit has purchased another vandalized rec center in Detroit similar to Tindal. They've pumped $7 million into the facility.
“For UofD to ask us to manage the new J-3 is what they call, Johnson's, Joe Louis and Jesuits it was unbelievable."
But it's so inspiring because the J-3 will be open to the community just like Tindal. But it was a 4-year battle for them to even purchase the center.
Two rec centers working hand in hand to help transform this community where today instead of sitting vacant, Tindal is a voting spot for Detroiters. A Head start program is coming, there is a computer lab and library.
“The man upstairs God is blessing me,” said Adams-Lawton.
This is not Maria's only project, when COVID hit, she created a program to teach young Detroiters about the forest and building homes not here in Detroit, but to the north, in a place that used to be a vacation spot for African American families.
We will tell you that special story in the coming weeks.