“The Flint Community Schools district is grateful for the Crim Fitness Foundation’s ongoing support and commitment to our students year-round. Through our partnership, our families have increased access to critical supports and wraparound services— an essential aspect of our whole-child approach to education. We look forward to our ongoing collaboration and know the Flint Community Education Initiative will be more important this upcoming school year than ever before.” 

– Anita Steward, Flint School Superintendent 

While these are the words of just one community leader, it’s a sentiment heard across Flint Community Education sites. Kerry Downs, Flint Community Education Initiative Director, started as a Flint classroom teacher collaborating with the Crim during the community education pilot launch the very first year in 2014. She remarked, “I have had the opportunity to see our work grow from the very beginning from one pilot site to now serving thousands of students and families across Flint with a focus that has never wavered; provide students with high-quality services, opportunities, and supports at no cost to Flint families.” In just five years, the Flint Community Education Initiative (CEI) has implemented a collaborative, shared model of leadership that has been the bedrock of its success and has fueled the expansion to 13 sites. The Flint Community Education Initiative collaborates with more than 70 partners to establish neighborhood schools as hubs in supporting student success, partnering with families, and cultivating vibrant communities.

With the Flint Community Schools, International Academy of Flint, and the Flint Cultural Center Academy, Flint CEI is now serving more than 4,000 students and their families with goals to increase literacy, attendance, graduation, and neighborhood engagement.

Community School Directors at each site coordinate support for the entire family, connecting them with the education, training, health, and employment resources they need. Apart from partnering with Community Health Workers to make sure families have access to healthcare and wellness resources which keeps kids in school, CEI also provides in- and out-of-school time activities for families. Students can take advantage of 1:1 success mentoring, literacy intervention, and expanded learning opportunities like robotics, music, art and dance, and much, much more.

Parents can join activities for fitness, financial literacy, parenting, gardening and cooking, employment training, or anything else that might help improve their ability to support their child’s education.

Mohammed Aboutawila, a Flint native and Flint Northwestern alum stated, “When you grow up here and you graduate from high school here, you become a Flintstone and you become part of a history, a culture.” Now entering his fifth year as a Community School Director at Flint Southwestern, Aboutawila talked of how it is a very emotional experience to lead others and contribute to a culture of success for Flint’s future.

He stated, “When I first started as a Community School Director, parents only came to the school for negative reasons, like if their kids got in trouble or were sick. They thought school was only for kids.” However, through collaborative partnerships and by listening to what families needed, the school culture has become more welcoming and now parents and students alike use the school for its vast programmatic offerings.

In addition to organizing programming, Aboutawila says that the best part of his job is paying forward the mentoring he received as a Flint youth and creating future leaders. Kenonate Hilbert and MaliQue Forward are just two examples of students who thrived under Community Education programming and Aboutawila’s guidance.

Hilbert, now a Southwestern graduate with a football scholarship to Northwood University, started in Community Education as a freshman. He said, “I could always go to Mr. Mohammed. He is like a big brother to me. I even went to him my senior year with some things in my life. He showed me genuine love.” Throughout the course of his four years, Hilbert led by example, becoming an Advanced Placement student in his junior and senior year, completing a Harvard college course and earning four college credits, and mentoring younger students at the request of school staff. Hilbert remarked, “I like to do things to help my community because many here have helped me. I know I can help young people get through some of the same challenges I’ve faced.”

In the future, Hilbert is looking forward to majoring in business management and starting small businesses to help his family.

MaliQue Forward has a similar story. He transferred to Southwestern early in his high school career and admitted he wasn’t focused on school. After making the connection with his Community School Director, MailQue found his GPA rising while assisting in delivering Community Education programming to younger students, planning student summits, and working a summer internship with General Motors. He said, “My brother left for college when I was in the fourth grade, so Mr. Mohammed stood in as a mentor for me and Community Ed. opened a lot of doors for me.” MaliQue has joined the Naval Reserves as a Logistics Specialist and is committed to play football at Concordia University, where he plans to major in exercise science. He hopes one day to return to Flint to coach football.

Both young men credit the dozens of touchpoints with Community Education for the changes in themselves, their family, and their future. Like Mr. Aboutiwila, they too are looking forward to paying it forward as young leaders in their community.