Monday, July 12, 1999

Evening of Entertainment to aid safe haven for youth

Evening of Entertainment to aid safe haven for youth
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea

During a typical workday, Wil Seegars has to wear the hats of a bus driver, psychologist, grant writer, secretary, programmer, coach—and executive director of Pinelake Cooperative Center in Ann Arbor.

With a focus on positive uplift, the youth center—where the walls are adorned with pictures of black leaders and information on African-American history—provides recreational activities during the school year. It also provides “life skills” training year round, as well as community service opportunities.

Seegars’ role as fund-raiser takes priority as the center hosts a jazz musician, dancers and other entertainment at a fund-raiser at Washtenaw Community College.

But his work continues year round at the center.

With a lot of director and staff turnover over the past decade, Pinelake has lost regular members—particularly girls—and some community support, said several Pinelake youths and a parent.

Detroit native, Seegars, 29, has held his current position for three years. He believes he has provided “a safe haven” for the 50 or so youths who regularly drop into what they affectionally call the “clubhouse,” located at the Pinelake Village Cooperative housing development off Maple Road in west Ann Arbor. He also recently hired a full-time female staffer who makes a special effort to work with teen-age girls.

When only one of four high school seniors who attended the Pinelake Center graduated last year, Seegars stepped up tutoring and encouragement efforts. This year, all four of the members who were seniors—Aliaa Meadows, Freddie Brann, Wyland Kirkland and Edrick McBoy—graduated this past spring from either Pioneer or Roberto Clemente high schools.

Many who regularly stop by Pinelake, which has been in existence for 10 years, have been coming sine they can remember.

Jason Cooper, 7, who has been active at the center for two years, said that he thinks Seegars is “pretty cool” and enjoys the frequent field trips the center organizes.

“I live here basically. When I wake up, I come to the clubhouse and see what they’re doing,” said Shamise Jones, 15, a Roberto Clemente 10th-grader who has been coming to Pinelake since 1990.

She added that a regular University of Michigan Pinelake tutor was “really helpful breaking algebra down” when Jones had difficulty with math during her junior high school years.

Many others see Seegars as a father figure who gives constant uplifting talks and coaching. He, along with two other Pinelake members and several volunteers, also works to aid Pinelake teens in finding their first jobs and applying to community colleges.

Seegars, who runs Pinelake with the aid of local and city grants along with individual donations, believes however Pinelake children should not assume everything will be handed to them for free. Parents are asked to contribute $35 for summer activities.

“We’re a small operation with big ideas,” he said.

As a former member of the Air Force and a police officer, Seegars believes strongly in the importance of trips not only to places like Kings Island or Disney World, but also to the Wayne County Jail, where he took one Pinelake male as a lesson when the teen was going through a difficult period.

Seegars believes that children living in the surrounding Pinelake Village Cooperative neighborhood, home to about 250 residents, should felt that they have opportunities.

As Pinelake resident Cynthia McCoy, mother of Edrick and two younger sons, said, “The crime (in this area) is not totally gone, but it’s tolerable. The (center has) helped me a lot. My children can come in and get advice and guidance.

Fund-Raiser Details
Pinelake Center will hold a fund-raiser Sunday featuring jazz artist Althea Renee’, African dance, and spoken word. The event will be held 5-9 p.m. at the Morris Lawrence Building on the campus of Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E. Huron River Drive. Tickets are $7 in advance or $10 at the door. For more information, call (734) 994-0431.

Photo Caption: Pinelake Cooperative director Wil Seegars takes up Brandon Fortson (not pictured) on a bet that Seegars couldn’t do 50 push-ups. Parents and youths at the center say Seegars has greet rapport with kids there.

Photo Credit: Michael Sugrue.

Originally published Saturday, July 12, 1999