Laughing children played games and dribbled basketballs recently on the YMCA of Greater Flint indoor court. The sight of kids participating in the YMCA’s Safe Places after-school activity only a few blocks away from downtown Flint brought a grin to the face of program director Monica Holmes. “I know from 4-7 p.m., if we have kids in our gym or have kids in our program, they're not in the streets and they're safe, they're not hungry and they're learning something,” Holmes said. The Safe Places program is a free, community-based after-school/summer program for grades K-12 that focuses on youth development, educational activities and skill development. The YMCA is one of five Flint area-based organizations who sent groups of youths to Detroit Pistons games this past season courtesy of Pistons owner Tom Gores. The “Be Impactful” initiative, which was instituted before the start of the 2021-22 season, buses children to games where they are treated to a full game-night experience. “Sports have a real ability to bring people together and provide inspiration and hope, and I want to make sure kids in Flint have the same opportunities as everybody else,” Gores said in a statement to The Flint Journal when the initiative was announced in November 2021. The selected organizations also received $5,000 in grants. The initiative serves as a way for Gores to give back to the community where he was raised after immigrating from Israel as a small child. “It's important for Tom to give back to kids that to show them those circumstances and where you're from, it doesn't define who you are,” Pistons VP of community relations and social responsibility Erika Swilley said. “He wants them to see, ‘I came from Flint and now I own the Detroit Pistons.’” The Pistons put out the welcome mat for YMCA children in early March. After arriving at Little Caesars Arena, more than 20 children were greeted by Pistons community relations representatives. After a brief walk through the concourse, the children were seated in a suite to watch the home game against the Indiana Pacers. Giggles and screams of excitement filled the suite as kids put on Pistons-themed “Be Impactful” T-shirts and beanies to wear throughout the game. Candy jars were placed throughout the suite and pizza, hot dogs and other favorites filled the kitchen area. “It was breathtaking, and it was overwhelming,” Holmes said. “I know that I was more happy for the kids because I know that they'll never forget it.” As the children watched the game from their seats, Holmes and her team were brought down to the court during the second period to be greeted with another surprise – the announcement the YMCA would receive a $5,000 grant. “I wasn’t expecting the money, but I'm always ready for the money to help us with the kids because we're 100% grant-funded in everything that we do,” Holmes said. Holmes said she plans to use the money to fund a summer basketball camp. “It may not seem like a ton (of money), but it goes a long way for these organizations, and it’s just the cherry on top of the program,” Swilley said. “We want to give them something that they can take and put towards programming as well. This is just a part of what Tom Gores does in the Flint community.” The four other recipients of the Be Impactful program were Berston Field House, Motherly Intercession, International Academy of Flint and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint. The Pistons partnered with the United Way of Genesee County to organize the events.
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