Like many his age, high school student Brandon Fuller sought an opportunity to be active in his community. But his time isn’t spent volunteering at a typical nonprofit organization. Instead, Fuller is a member of the Second Chance Church Teenage Block Club, the only all-teenage neighborhood group in Flint, Mich.
The teenagers who created the club in the summer of 2013 all attend the Second Chance Baptist Church, located on the city’s southeast side. Two of the group’s 15 members represented the block club at the recent annual gathering for the city’s three dozen neighborhood associations, and were among the youngest in attendance.
“I’m shocked that they have been so dedicated to this club. They really have shown ownership for it. It is going so well, in fact, all the younger kids now want to be in the block club when they get bigger,” said Art Horton, adult coordinator for the block club and the church’s other youth programs.
After the YMCA of Greater Flint provided the church with funds in 2013 to offer summer activities for first- through eighth-graders, the older kids asked, “What about us?” Brainstorming sessions followed and resulted in the creation of the block club as a way for teens to reach out to the church neighborhood.
For 14-year-old Fuller and his friends, the club has been a labor of love. “I’m not involved in any groups at school, so this is the only thing I’m doing,” Fuller said. “It keeps me out of trouble and makes me feel good. Did I say ‘It’s a lot of fun, too?’”
The group started with 10 boys and expanded recently to 15 members, two of whom are girls. The block club received a small grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF) in 2013 to buy T-shirts, tables and chairs for their group. The grant also funded the block club’s first outreach effort: a school supply giveaway for neighborhood elementary students.
CFGF was one of 25 community foundations nationwide that participated in the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Neighborhood Small Grants Program (NSGP), which operated from 1984 to 1994. It’s been 20 years since Mott’s funding for the program ended, but CFGF — like nearly 75 percent of the NSGP participants — still makes grants to neighborhood groups.
CFGF acknowledges and values the important role residents of all ages, including teenagers, play in creating positive local change, said Raynetta Speed, CFGF’s chairwoman of the six-member Neighborhood Small Grants Fund Committee. Additionally, funding the youth block club enables the foundation to hear firsthand the problems teenagers face, she said, while tapping the youths’ energy to seek solutions.
Since summer 2013, the teenage block club has met every two weeks. Each member contributes $10 in monthly dues to help fund projects. They also design and implement a variety of activities to help their neighbors and improve the neighborhood, such as community clean-up campaigns and food distribution days for low-income residents.
On Sundays, club members clad in their royal blue T-shirts are a welcome sight to churchgoers as they enter the parking lot. Because the teenagers serve as safety patrols, Horton said their presence has substantially reduced the number of purse snatchings in the area.
“We’d like to see these teenage block clubs throughout the city of Flint,” he said. “If we don’t get out and teach these young people how to get involved, if we don’t give them a chance to feel ownership for their cities, then what will our neighborhoods look like in the future?”