Many people cheer the Detroit Lions for their action on the field every Sunday, but over the years the Lions have shown the city of Detroit as well as the state of Michigan, that there is more to them than what they do on the field and that they are also about uplifting the community and the people in that community.
On Friday afternoon, the Jim and Cheryl Caldwell Foundation which is head by head coach Jim Caldwell and his wife Cheryl, in collaboration with the Lions, announce the grand opening of “The Project Phoenix Learning Center,” a new 21st Century computer lab and learning center, as they cut the ribbon of the new center at the Detroit Lions Academy.
“My wife Cheryl and I, some years ago were trying to think of different ways that we may be able to impact communities in which we worked and also impact the communities in which we lived.” Caldwell said. Often times when individuals get blessed with resources and things of that nature, they tend to not do a whole lot for the folks for which they live around and work with but it was kind of our goal to set out with a plan to impact as many people as we possible could with what the Lord had blessed us with.”
Coach Caldwell and his wife Cheryl of 37 years have certainly taken the time to share their blessings with many programs overs the years, considering this new learning center at the Detroit Lions Academy marks the sixth “Project Phoenix Learning Center” of the Jim and Cheryl Caldwell Foundation and the first in Michigan, with the help of the Lions organization.
“There a lot of places that have a dream of possibly serving young people but we were looking for places that already had a young people in place and where there was need and a lack of funding.” Caldwell said. “We felt we could get a little bit more activity going in a shorter period of time, if we did that way. So this is the sixth one we have open, we have three in Indianapolis, where we first get started, we also have two in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where we keep a home and where I once worked at one time at Wake Forest University.”
“I really don’t think anything happens by accident.” Caldwell continued. “I think there is a reason that we’re here [in Detroit] and that’s just of one many, I think. Nevertheless, I think we are fortunate in that regard because we do have an organization that has a strong interest in trying to make a difference in the community and just so happens that they have taken over a school to help students that maybe lost their way a little bit and trying to get them on the main track, so I think that’s great.”
Robert Wooley who is the Lions Director of Community Relations and who works personally with the Detroit Lions Academy, also shared his excitement about Detroit’s first ever “Project Phoenix Learning Center.” Stating that he thinks that students of the Detroit Lions Academy will not only learn more with this new technology but that they will also be more empowered to succeed.
“It’s absolutely an honor to be a part of the unveiling of the first ever Detroit based project, Phoenix learning center founded by the Jim and Cheryl Caldwell Foundation. As the Lions Director of Community Relations, I oversee the organization’s living for the city initiative which is committed to health and wellness and of course the education of Detroit youth.”
“As part of the Lions’ living for the city initiative, our goal is to ensure that the Detroit Lions Academy students are empowered to lead in the 21st century and nothing is more important than giving these students the best education possible, moving them forward, in some cases from the bottom and the middle to the top. There’s no way better way to do that, than through the power of technology. This learning center, thanks to the generosity of the coach [Caldwell] and Mrs. Caldwell, will empower these students with the skills they need to succeed in life and it’s such an intricate part to the education that these students will receive as part of the Detroit Lions Academy.”
As the first “Project Phoenix Learning Center” in the state of Michigan, the Detroit Lions Academy new learning labs not only include 20 new computers but it also includes Promethean ActivBoards, ActivSlate, ActivExpressions, a network printer, internet accessibility and specialized interactive instructional software. Which once again leads back to providing the students with high level technology access, while also enriching the academic environment in aligning curriculum with technology resources.
As expected, the students, parents and staff of the Detroit Lions Academy couldn’t be more excited. Cheryl White, who is the principal of Detroit Lions Academy shared her excitement about the new learning lab, even mentioning how her and coach Caldwell met and how the Lions organization continues to bless her and the school with new opportunities every year.
“Our school is happy to accept such a wonderful gift to integrate into our academic program” said Cheryl White, Principal of Detroit Lions Academy. “We have some students here, who are challenged, their challenged with behavior, their challenged with attendance and their definitely challenged in academics. So it’s our job to make sure every is educated with a quality education. So when I met Mr. Caldwell and he said to me ‘let’s talk about a computer lab’ and I was just overwhelmed because he hadn’t even been to the school but he heard about our kids.”
“The Detroit Lions have been very instrumental [with our school]. We’re going into our 14th year of partnership and it’s almost like a marriage. I can’t tell you the wonderful things that have happened since we have been partners….They help to select me [as the principal] and I feel blessed that way and I keep getting double blessing because every year something great happens.”
As some of the selected students, staff and parents took in the new learning center and even experimented with the new technology, they were not only surrounded by Coach Caldwell and his wife. They were also surrounded by the Lions 2014 rookie class which includes tight end Eric Ebron and many more. According to Caldwell, he brought his rookies along in the hope that they will be inspired and also start foundations here in the city and in their own communities, like many of his veteran players have done already.
“I think it’s very important. Caldwell replied, when he was asked how important is us for his rookies to see the new learning lab. “What I have told them often times is if we’re just playing football that’s not enough. “Obviously we have a community where I think they could have a strong impact on. Often times in NFL cities, you’ve seen that players attach themselves to the community and the results and impact they have on the city is tremendous. So I wanted to give our guys a head start in that area, get them around and give them an opportunity. Most of them at this age haven’t started foundations yet but maybe they will start foundations and we’re just trying to give them some different ideas and have them think a little bit about the thought process that goes into it.”
“The [veterans on the Lions already] do a tremendous job [when it comes to being involved in the community]. Caldwell continued. “They’re active particularly on our days off, which are Tuesdays. That’s a big day for us and looking at the schedule that’s coming up in terms of community relation involvement, we have a number of players that are involved in several different things across the city. A number of guys, Don Carey, Stephen Tulloch — have their foundations, James Ihedigbo has an event coming up as well. They really do some important things in our city.”
For Caldwell, education is something that he feels can not only lead to success in the classroom but it can also lead to learning about how to succeed in life.
“Number one [education] is a bridge between obviously difficulties in life and maybe an opportunity for a great living in prosperity.” “I also think it makes a tremendous impact on generations to come. You may not be able to reach them all but sometimes maybe just one or two in a particular setting will make a huge difference in our world. Education has been very important to us, we’ve been fortunate that we were able to operate in a setting that provided great educational opportunities for us and we want to try to extend that to others.”
If you’re wondering if Caldwell and his wife Cheryl Caldwell plan to continue creating new lab learning centers in more inner-city schools in the city of Detroit, you will be happy to know that the answer is yes.
“We do them frequently. I think our first one was maybe 2009 or 2010, so we try to do as many as we can. We have to do fund-raising and all that kind of stuff but we put the great majority of the money in and then we raise a small portion of it to make certain that there is some commitment to it as well. So we may have another one going up in the Spring somewhere in the city, hopefully.”
One thing’s for sure, the Detroit Lions Academy is thankful for their new lab learning center. There is no doubt that the residents of city of Detroit and state of Michigan as a whole are grateful for Jim and Cheryl Caldwell Foundation which is head by head coach Jim Caldwell and his wife Cheryl in collaboration with the Detroit Lions.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Editor of Radio One Detroit
For more of L-Beasley’s (Lauren Beasley) sports news and in-depth sports content, click here.