From the horrible water crisis to the myriad of issues from a declining population, the challenges for the Flint area are daunting. But one local organization has once again lent its values and mission to confront the many issues for the benefit of the entire community, especially the children. The YMCA of Greater Flint (YGF) has been serving our local community for over 130 years, endorsing its mission of promoting healthy living, youth development and social responsibility. It is to that end Frederick (Fritz) Cheek revisited the YGF’s mission back in 2012 and how to better serve the children of Flint, well before the water crisis became exposed. He discovered statistics showing that school-age children had nothing to keep them occupied directly after school and before their parents returned home from their workday.
Cheek recalls, “It was obvious the kids needed someplace to go and constructive things to do right after school into the dinner hours. We thought the kids simply needed a safe place to go after school and programs to keep them occupied.” As with all nonprofit organizations, funding any program or activity is a priority, but after some planning and garnering support from the Ruth Mott Foundation, the Safe Places program was initialized. Shelly McArthur, a YGF program director, includes overseeing Safe Places in her day-to-day responsibilities.
“We made a commitment and built on the premise that if you follow your mission, the dollars will follow,” Cheek points out. Not knowing what the response would be, Cheek initially approached the nearby Second Chance Church, which had just taken over the closed Stewart Elementary School. Pastor Derrick A. Aldridge welcomed the YGF with wide-open arms, and the Safe Places program was enthusiastically launched.
“We made a commitment and built on the premise that if you follow your mission, the dollars will follow. ”
– Frederick (Fritz) Cheek
“It’s all about a safe place,” Cheek asserts. “We surrounded the program with good people. We provide a meal for the kids, we help them with homework, engage them in activities and even conduct field trips.”
Aldridge points out to Cheek that a positive tangible effect resulted. He notes because the facility is now a church, some children started attending the church, and some of the older children walked the younger ones home. This demonstrates a neighborhood taking shape and children taking on responsibility.
With the Safe Places program’s overwhelming success, expansion was inevitable. Just after its first year, Cheek set up a Safe Places program at his downtown branch of the YGF along with looking at still another site at the historic Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. He also realized to continue the program’s success, another person is required to manage the day-to-day site operations full-time and oversee development and potential expansion.
In July of 2015 Rev. Moses Bingham was hired as the YGF’s director of Safe Places. Flint born and bred, Bingham previously held an associate administrator position with Mott Community College’s division of Workforce Development while already in place as Mt. Olive’s youth pastor. His resume shows he is well suited as the Safe Places’ “CEO.” He comes from a family of preachers and pastors and credits his father, Charlie, for instilling in him his passion for the Bible.
“He taught me a lot,” Bingham says profoundly, “and that is because he holds a wealth of biblical knowledge and is still an active evangelist throughout the city today.” Moses Bingham, who conducted his first sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle when he was only nine years old, has always been engaged in youth activities while serving at Mt. Olive since 2002 and was formally ordained in 2010. He is a gifted speaker but ironically and humbly admits to being very nervous just before giving any speech. But it was a certain speech that gave him widespread acknowledgment. As he attended a training seminar at the Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center in Augusta, Michigan, he was asked to give a talk on something that made an impact on his life. Just prior to his speech, he confesses due to his tension, he came up with an acronym for IMPACT: Intentionally Making Provisions to Act, Care and Transform. This was so well received that the YMCA of the USA asked him to represent the YGF at a conference in Washington, DC, in their recognition of National Advocacy Day.
“Must have been divine intervention,” Bingham says with a wink, “but we have taken that forward here at the YGF and we have been fortunate to have some success by putting our thumbprint in this community.”
Adding to this fact is an observation by Pam Bailey, director of the YGF’s fundraising and public relations. “Working downtown,” Bailey says, “I get to see firsthand the impact this program has on our youth. They are engaged and excited to be at Safe Places. I get to observe them grow and realize their potential: that they have a voice, they are important and they can make so much of this community.”
Cheek staunchly considers Bingham an ambassador for the YGF in and around the community because he is well known and out there all the time. Cheek says, “He has helped get our mission across. He is a big difference here!”
Bingham is respectful and mindful of his current role. “I pray all the time that [Safe Places] can be relevant, effective and efficient,” he says. “The Bible says never despise small beginnings. Safe Places is always aware of its mission and the results have shown we have grown and flourished.”
For more Safe Places information, visit https://flintymca.com/y-safe-places-2/ or call Bingham at 810-232-9622, extension 108.
Where to find safe places:
All sites operate Monday through Thursday
4 to 7 p.m.
The site coordinator is listed below each location.
3300 Saginaw St.
Ms. Valorie Horton
Cathedral of Faith
6031 Dupont St.
Mr. Kevin Owens
411 E. Third St.
Mrs. Amber Carlson
Flint Development Center
4121 Martin Luther King Ave.
Ms. Taelor Clark
Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church
424 Kennelworth Ave.
Ms. Linda Simmons