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K-12 Education

What Europe Can Teach Us About Afterschool Opportunities

Terry Whitfield travels to Europe, learning from its youth-serving systems

A kid from Seven Mile in Detroit made it to Europe. It was AMAZING.

Thanks to the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the German Marshall Fund, I recently had the privilege to take part in a travel tour of the Ruhr Valley in Germany and Barcelona, Spain, joined by around two dozen travel companions, half from southeast Michigan and the other half from Buffalo, New York. Together, we learned how the two countries have integrated youth sports and recreation into the very fabric of their societies.

What I experienced was beyond all expectations.

With a focus on partnerships and innovation, both countries have evolved from their industrial pasts and developed new ways to utilize community spaces. In the Ruhr, this meant repurposing industrial areas to create recreation spaces for youth and other community members. In Barcelona, it was leveraging the 1992 Olympic Games to fundamentally transform from an industrial city to a world-renowned coastal destination.

If they can do it, why can’t we?

Since returning home, my view of Detroit and what I believe philanthropy can should accomplish has shifted. The experiences and interactions on the trip pushed me to think how foundations, in collaboration with grant partners and community members, can think more creatively about how to provide high-quality afterschool experiences for kids.

As I toured the innovative spaces and systems in Europe, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own childhood in Detroit. Growing up just off Seven Mile Road in Detroit during the late 1970’s, my childhood experiences were largely dictated by what was happening outside my front door. My parents kept my sister and I busy and curated experiences to keep us active and away from the television. This meant tap dancing at the age of five, boy scouts at seven, and drum lessons at 12.

Throughout my formative years, organized sports also played a large part in my upbringing. From pick-up basketball in my own backyard to the structure of organized football, these experiences helped me develop discipline and discover my space in the world around me. Through my participation in youth sports, I was to take my first plane ride, form life-long friendships, and play Division 1 football at Western Michigan University.

Meaningful experiences outside of the game

The lessons learned and experiences lived through my extra-curricular activities are not unlike those of all the other youth who grow up with dreams of becoming a professional athlete or world-famous artist or performer. But many of today’s young people do not have access to quality afterschool activities. This is in large part due to a lack of funding as well as inadequate coordination to match young people’s needs and interests to appropriate programming.

Detroit and other U.S. communities can learn from places like Ruhr and Barcelona. Thanks to a 10-year commitment to support the health and well-being of young people through sports, Germany has expanded sports and recreation across the country, adding new activities that meet the changing interests of young people. Similarly, Barcelona now provides subsidies to low-income families, ensuring that everyone has access to the benefits of extra-curricular activities.

Regardless of the model we choose to adopt here in Detroit, success will require collaboration between city government, schools, nonprofits, businesses, philanthropy, parents and youth. Together, we can alter the trajectory of Detroit’s greatest asset, its children by providing them with learning and development experiences beyond the classroom.

A fierce champion for Detroit children, The Skillman Foundation believes that high-quality afterschool programs are essential to the overall development of our kids. By learning from the best practices and innovations in communities like the Ruhr and Barcelona, we can ensure that other kids from Seven Mile, and all parts of the city, have access to afterschool activities that expand their view of themselves and what’s possible for their future.

Terry Whitfield

Strategy lead for afterschool, including advisory support to other afterschool efforts. Focus areas include afterschool programming, community organizing, and family supports

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