Monday, May 16, 2016

It Takes a Village to Build a Village

It’s recited by many that it takes a village to raise a child. New Level Sports (NLS) is taking that mantra to heart, literally, with development of a three-year project that’s been envisioned for years. Now that it’s happening, time for the community to step up and residents to get off their sofas and step out.

              The vision? The Youth Village. It’s an ambitious, five-acre, multipurpose complex situated on the western edge of downtown. In its final form, the Youth Village takes up fully one-city block, and is chockfull of resource facilities to activate the mental, physical and spiritual (not religious) potential of boys and girls.

              The Youth Village gives Battle Creek youth not only hope, but also opportunity. And we’re not just talking jobs. The higher purpose of this ambitious project is to “define, manifest, live in, prosper in and pass on an ever evolving vision to succeeding generations,” according to NLS Director Chris McCoy, who’s also Pastor of Faith Assembly Christian Fellowship.

              For nearly 15 years New Level Sports, a nonprofit youth support service, has successfully served urban youth and their families across the region. More than 10,000 of them over the years, according to its website In that time, NLS has motivated countless kids to fruitful life, education and career success. And not just kids of color.

              Not one to rest on his laurels (nor shrink from social justice issues), McCoy launched into the Youth Village project with unbridled passion. A capital campaign kicks off with a weekend of programs and events Friday May 20 through Sunday May 22. The goal is to raise $3 million to support the project’s three-phase development plan.

              The Youth Village stands on five proverbial pillars: Education, Personal Growth, Arts, Enterprise, and Sports. The project seems to align well with the two-year-old BC Vision initiative currently happening. Indeed, it complements rather than competes with other existing systems (i.e., schools, service agencies, businesses). That’s because of its holistic approach to developing children; it reclaims a way of being we seem to have lost – at least in lower income communities that have been stripped of so many resources all in the name of economic austerity.

              The Youth Village is different. Think Boys & Girls Club on steroids.

              From an early childhood development center & 24/7 childcare facility (not all jobs are 9 to 5), a youth garden and youth-operated micro businesses (screen printing, embroidering, catering), to a “dream lounge” & career center, and multi sports complex – the Youth Village is a young person destination with purpose.

Youth will be trained by instructors in business, entrepreneurship, development, cultural and community planning and personal growth development. It’s amazing to watch kids who once felt hopeless begin to discover and unleash skills, abilities and talents previously untapped within them.

              Pie in the sky? No, a slow burn. I’ve been watching McCoy cobble together support for this vision for years. See, it takes a village to build a Youth Village. McCoy says the project provides a progressive, clean and actionable path to enact positive changes in the minds of our youth. For us, by us. Hallelujah.

              Anyone remember ice skating on the “duck pond” at Irving Park? Everyone chipping in to sweep off the snow in order to skate? It was a collective endeavor for the common good that brought a lot of folks together. The Village Project offers a seasonal outdoor rink for that purpose – and I’m referring to more than the sweeping part.

              Back to adult residents and living room couch politics. Armchair quarterbacking works well when it comes to watching sports. Backseat driving is effective if you’ve got a GPS ap on your phone. But experience has proven that marshalling social change from the sofa doesn’t work. Neither does merely writing charity checks from behind an office desk or at the kitchen table – no matter how many zeros there are behind that first numeral.

              Just like growing food, community change happens when we step out the front door, roll up our sleeves and dig in. And I don’t mean telling other folks what to do. Instead it comes from asking what needs to be done and joining it.

              McCoy believes every young person, despite their background, has the ability to achieve their goals and dreams. I do too, given the proper early childhood foundation and access to resources. Lakeview and other outer lying communities have those things. Working together, we can make them available on the Northside too. At the Youth Village.

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

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