#LifeOnTheAvenue: Partnerships between schools, anchor institutions build momentum along University Avenue Corridor

Durant-Tuuri-Mott partners with Kettering staff for an art program for the students, as well as through Service Saturday clean-up initiatives where students help clean up and beautify the area.

Life on the Avenue#LifeOnTheAvenue is a series that will profile the people, organizations and places in the University Avenue Corridor that make the region unique, compelling and – most importantly – vital to Flint’s bright future. Follow along on social media using the #LifeOnTheAvenue hashtag.

In the middle of the University Avenue corridor sits a school -- but not just any school. It’s Flint’s largest elementary school with approximately 700 students.

Durant-Tuuri-Mott has a rich history in the community with a building more than 90 years old. It is found next to the Flint Children’s Museum and around the corner from Kettering University. The school and its officials have not only embraced the University Avenue community but the community has embraced the school through programs with the students and various clean-up and service projects.

“It’s exciting to see all the things springing up along the avenue and all the partnerships happening,” said Durant-Tuuri-Mott Principal Shelly Umphrey. “We are linked into those partnerships to offer more services for students and families. That’s exciting to have all these community partnerships help with the social aspect of education.”

Some key partners with Kettering University along the corridor and downtown Flint are Crim Fitness Foundation, Easter Seals and many residents. And they are working to bring more opportunities to learn, to grow and to succeed. There’s a buzz in the community, in the city. Residents, community members and leaders are coming together to show the power of partnerships, Umphrey said.

And that’s also true in her school.

Durant-Tuuri-Mott partners with Kettering staff for an art program for the students, as well as through Service Saturday clean-up initiatives where students help clean up and beautify the area.

Through a grant from the Community Foundation, Kettering hosted opportunities for young students to learn about art, as well as provides the opportunity for them to make their own art.

“Kettering is already so involved in the community, a program like this made sense,” said Regina Schreck, curator at Kettering. “A lot of kids are at risk kids. It’s our civil duty to show them how art and science relate. They are given a university experience and we are showing them something new and different.”

Kettering students have helped clean up the courtyard and other projects throughout the DTM building. Service Saturdays started eight years ago, but they became more scheduled and utilized on a regular basis in 2014. On average, 40 or more students participate in the clean-up programs, but there has been as many as 246 in one day.

Durant-Tuuri-Mott is also participating in the Flint Community Education initiative, partnering with Crim Fitness Foundation to provide after school programming and a community hub to help with needed services for families.

“When that program grows, kids have healthy, recreational things to do. It fosters a sense of community among the parents. Playing flag football in the big fields this summer was great. Families out supporting their kids is huge,” Umphrey said. “That’s the disconnect we’ve had over time. People aren’t connected to one another. When you have these parks, and these events it brings the community together.”

A few blocks down the corridor on the corner of University Avenue and Grand Traverse Street, Umphrey cites University Square as a great example of bringing families together with Friday Nights at University Square events. Neighbors getting to know each other is an important step to continued change and success, she said.

The University Avenue Corridor, filled with neighborhoods, small businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations and anchor institutions, has been at the heart of a mission to revitalize Flint through community collaboration. The Coalition was formed by Kettering in 2012, bringing together residents and area institutions to work collectively to beautify and draw investment to the area.

The UACC region extends from McLaren Hospital on the west to the University of Michigan-Flint on the East. It is bounded by Hurley Medical Center and Whaley Children’s Center on the north and the Flint River on the south. The organization’s mission is to transform the region into an attractive and crime-free community that is conducive to sustainable development.

Change brings family involvement

Umphrey has witnessed the transformation and beautification of the University Avenue community personally and as a principal. Umphrey has lived in a neighborhood along the corridor for about 20 years and has been principal of Durant-Tuuri-Mott for three years.

“I’ve been here a long time both as a resident and as the principal here just watching the growth along the avenue. I’ve seen places like the Local Grocer come in. The new businesses spring up, clean up efforts take place and the area down by Kettering is very visually appealing,” Umphrey said. “I’m excited to see that. It gives you hope for the community and the future of what happens not just for this area that connects to downtown but the Flint area overall.”

The University Avenue corridor is a unique community because the neighborhoods and the community members are linked, between Mott Park, Kettering and Glendale Hills, among others, Umphrey said.

“You have a lot of people worrying about the area in general instead of just a small section. When it’s linked and not just a small area, it’s given some momentum,” she said. “I think the major anchors, the universities and the hospitals, is unique to this area and has given it more excitement to change. It’s a positive energy.”

The new biking and walking paths along the avenue, past Kettering’s campus and leading downtown, have made a major impact, Umphrey said. She sees families outside strolling along the paths, something she didn’t see when her children were growing up.

She sees more people using Mott Park Recreation Area for recreational use, fishing in the river and using the neighborhood in a positive way.

“To see the plan for development of Mott Park for families to be together is exciting,” Umphrey said. “There’s a perception that the people of Flint have no other choice but to live in the city. I want our community to know that there are a lot people who live and are a part of not just the corridor but Flint because we choose to be, we want to be we are excited to be. I’m optimistic about our community.”

There’s a lot of positive momentum in the University Avenue corridor community, Umphrey said. And people are starting to take notice and talk about it. That will continue to move things forward.

“What has happened along the corridor is that whatever is springing up is opening up opportunities to spur conversations. Community activism is important. Lots of conversation is key,” Umphrey said. “I hope to see more common areas developed for families. I hope to see young people want to live along the corridor who are excited about Flint’s growth and are willing to be a part of it.”