Celebrating Growth and Those Who Raised Us (and a Building)

April 01, 2024

SAY Detroit Dedicates New Facility to Support Detroit Youth at the SAY Detroit Play Center at Lipke Park

A new education center bearing the name of former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his wife, Kelly, was dedicated on Monday, April 1 on the campus of the SAY Detroit Play Center.

Called the “Kelly and Matthew Stafford & Friends Education Center,’’ the facility expands SAY Play’s footprint by nearly 15,000 square feet, allowing the after-school center to add additional academic and enrichment programming to improve educational outcomes for hundreds of Detroit youth (ages 8-18).

“This whole day, this whole event, this whole place is about growth,’’ said SAY Detroit founder Mitch Albom, who created SAY Play in 2015. “Growth of an organization … Growth of a really talented number one draft pick … Growth of a hole in the ground that … has lifted from the dirt into this beautiful building that you’re here now sitting in. And most importantly, the growth of every child that comes through the door here… And if you believe in the future, then you have to believe in growth. And that’s what we’re here to do.’’

Along with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, City Councilperson Scott Benson, State Representative Donavan McKinney, the Staffords – who provided the initial $1 million gift toward the expansion – were on hand for the ceremonial ribbon cutting. Matthew spoke of realizing that after selling their house when they moved to Los Angeles, SAY Play is now the “home” the couple still have here in Detroit.

“As impressive as the house is, what makes it a home is the people in it.” he told the nearly 100 guests who were gathered. “What we can do for the kids around here is an amazing thing and something that I’m really proud to be a part of.”

The facility features six multi-purpose classrooms, a “black box’’ theatre, workplace development space, learning labs and more. It “not only expands the operating space for our center, it expands opportunities and experiences for this community and beyond,” said Eric Reed, SAY Play’s executive director.

The ceremony also carried an impromptu recurring theme: “it takes a village.” A tenth grader as Cass Technical High School who has attended SAY Play since the age of 7, Jeremiyah Jackson spoke of being “raised” by the staff, whom he considers family. “It’s a full experience for every kid that gets to go here. And I want you to know that, like you all are providing a lot for each and every kid that comes here… I signed up for the center. They gave me everything. And that’s where my life started.” High school senior Allison Woodard spoke of the opportunities SAY Play has given her, including her first job as a peer mentor and “unforgettable experiences like last May, [when] me and five other students went on a trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And when I say that was my first plane trip and my first time out of the country, it was crazy!”

Kelly Stafford, too, celebrated “being raised by the community of Michigan. We were kids when we came here. You guys groomed us to be the people we are today and we are so honestly proud to give back to the community that gave us so much and to watch these kids turn into adults.”

Representatives from other legacy gifts on hand for the ceremony included the A.A. Van Elslander Foundation, Clarence and Jack Himmel Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Trinity Health, The Forbes Company, Artichoke Garlic Foundation, and the Tom Gores Family Foundation.

Teasing that the playoff loss could help smooth the way to a warm welcome, Kelly looked forward to returning again and again to see “what this place does and turns into in the future.”

Welcome with open arms, indeed.