Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey tells SEEN about the importance of youth sports teams and how Detroit PAL is benefiting students in Detroit.
By Stephanie Steinberg
Name: Tim Richey
Schools attended: Birmingham Groves High School and Michigan State University for B.A. in English
1. What is Detroit PAL and how does it benefit youth?
Detroit PAL is an after-school program that builds character in children through athletic, academic and leadership programs. Its causes are important because they are designed to provide youth with healthy and quality after-school programs while connecting them with caring adults in the community who can serve as mentors. We teach important lessons about life at Detroit PAL and encourage children to practice healthy lifestyles, good sportsmanship and teamwork.
2. Why is it important for police departments to be involved in youth programs?
It’s important for police to serve in a role that really helps to foster a safe and clean environment in the city of Detroit. These days it is critical to have open dialogue with young people in urban communities and for them to be able to discuss issues freely. We feel it’s great for police to learn more about what young people are thinking and to interact with them about their lives. Most importantly, we want to build trust between both law enforcement agencies and the children and their families. This will only help our communities to be stronger, happier and healthier.
3. What does your role as CEO involve?
My role is largely involved with looking at how effectively we are serving the community. I track if we are achieving the outcomes in character development for our kids that we are built to achieve. We also want to be sure that the relationship between players and coaches are strong. Coaches should have the best interests of children and youth development in general in mind so I spend time setting up procedures where we can work with coaches. I also work with the board on strategic planning and long-term goals for our organization so we stay financially healthy. I’m actively engaged with donors, corporations and philanthropic communities. But I am constantly looking to add and strengthen programs where and when we can.
4. Do you coach or volunteer with any of the teams?
I launched a soccer program in the city of Detroit in 1996, perhaps the first significant one in the city. Over the course of the next two decades or so I developed soccer programming, recruited players, coached many of the teams and worked with parents who eventually became coaches. I also was responsible at times for field maintenance and building new soccer fields because we were starting from scratch. I was proud to have coached hundreds of boys and girls in soccer over about 23 years. During this time I met some incredible people and loving families who became friends of mine and of our league. It was a truly rewarding experience.
5. PAL raised $20 million to redevelop old Tiger Stadium into a field for baseball, football, soccer and other sports. Why did PAL decide on that site?
Our 50th anniversary is next year. As we were moving toward that 50-year period, we were all reminded that despite this incredible service that had been provided to children in Detroit for decades, we never had our own facility. We didn’t have a permanent headquarters either. So our PAL board made a decision to pursue a permanent headquarters around the same time the Detroit Conservancy reached out to us about partnering at the former site of Tiger Stadium.
Between these discussions and a $3 million earmark for the site, we were excited to be involved in the redevelopment of The Corner Ballpark. We recognize there are hundreds of corners that need our programming throughout the city, but this was a great opportunity to bring to life this historic corner while raising our profile at Detroit PAL. So we’ve been able to leverage the site and grow our brand into neighborhoods throughout the city. Our exposure with The Corner Ballpark has helped to raise our profile around Metro Detroit.
6. PAL runs 700 to 800 sports teams for over 13,000 students in Detroit. What are your strategies for staying organized and keeping track of games and athletes?
This requires us to have a strong team of staff committed to quality, after-school programming. We have identified commissioners for each program to train with the goal of providing a clean and safe environment for kids to play. We utilize a couple of databases including Salesforce and SIPlay (a portal for parents to register). Our portal allows coaches to communicate directly with parents about practice times, schedules and more. We can post standings and schedules there too. We want to have the resources needed to ensure that we are running quality programs while using the latest technologies to help communicate everything that’s happening on to our stakeholders. We have done a good job with that given the resources we have.
7. For other leaders who run youth-focused nonprofits, do you have any advice on how to reach kids and get them involved in programs?
You need to have activities that are compelling for kids. And you need to have committed, dedicated, caring adults or team leaders who can engage and inspire them. We’re also thoughtful about evaluating our programs so that we improve wherever we can. We survey all of our parents, coaches and kids at the conclusion of each and every season. This feedback allows us to improve the impact we have. We want to hear from kids and their parents so that we can best meet the needs of the community.
8. On the flip side, you also have roughly 2,000 volunteers. Do you have any tips for maintaining and growing such a large volunteer base?
It’s about surveying the volunteers and having an appreciation for what they want and need. We understand that we must acknowledge our volunteers and thank them for their valuable time. We had a PAL Appreciation Day at The Corner Ballpark in August where we invited their families to come down for a few hours. There was food, games and activities. We wouldn’t be anything without our volunteers so we do everything we can to keep them and thank them and learn from them how we can get better.
9. Where do you see PAL in the next five years?
I want to continue to grow the number of people we serve and deepen the relationships we have with those people we already serve. These collaborative relationships are very important. We’re not built to do everything. We want to partner with great organizations so our student athletes can benefit from a variety of other options and opportunities.
10. You co-founded one of the first youth soccer leagues in Detroit in 1996. Do you see soccer growing a fan base in Detroit? Why or why not?
I think soccer is very popular. It’s taken a while to break into the urban communities, but it’s a matter of being consistent with offering leagues and programming to keep our youth interested in the sport. And you need to offer it in a fun and easy way. So I think the interest in soccer will grow even further. There’s a lot of burgeoning soccer enthusiasts in Detroit. FC Detroit has been great as well, and they are actually a partner with us. They have offered tickets to their games for our kids and have led some clinics for them. Just earlier this year we started to form some Detroit City FC and Select Program travel teams, which is a great addition to PAL.
11. Why are youth sports teams important in Detroit?
Our students need high-quality after-school programs. This is important because many of our kids need constructive after-school activities. They are often looking for something to do. It’s good for kids to learn about the importance of persevering through difficult times, doing your best and discovering that what’s most important is the relationships and friendships, the bonds they build with teammates. And it’s good for adults to cheer for their kids and form good relationships with other parents. A lot of our teams become their own small communities. From there, friendships are built. This is all designed to develop character, build community and teach important life lessons.
12. What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The hardest part is that we have been pigeonholed at times into being a sports organization. But for us, sports is not the end all, be all. Putting kids on a path that will make them happy and successful is what we’re all about. We want to be sure the mission of PAL is communicated effectively to the greater community. We’re not just about sports — we’re really a youth development agency and are designed to teach lessons about life. Sports is a great way to communicate this.
13. What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love seeing the smiles on kids’ faces. I love seeing the parents cheer their kids on and watching how coaches bond with their student athletes while encouraging them no matter what happens on the field. I also love engaging with the philanthropic community. And when someone sees and recognizes the value of PAL — that’s the greatest reward I can be given. They become our ambassadors. Finally, I love our staff here — it’s a great group of people who are ultra-committed to kids in Detroit.
14. Who’s been a mentor in your career?
I’d start with my dad, Dave Richey. He worked for Ford for more than 30 years. I learned a lot from him about work effort, being positive and being committed to a cause. When I started the soccer program, both Dan Varner and Mike Tenbusch from Think Detroit really were so helpful and have continued to be great supporters of Detroit PAL. I was so impressed by their commitment to the city and their ability to stay organized and I still rely on their experience.
15. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Dan Varner once told me, “When you have a challenging day and you’re wondering what comes next, run toward the challenge. Don’t run away from it.” It’s great advice I think about to this day.
Now on to some fun questions…
16. Favorite sport to watch?
17. If you could be any professional athlete, who would you be?
It would be fun to be Tiger Woods right now. It has been great to see how he made this comeback in his career. Plus you can play golf into your middle-age years and still be highly successful. I like that having the ability to have that longevity.
18. If you could watch a Tigers game in the stands with anyone dead or alive, who would you want to sit next to you?
Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland — what incredible depth of knowledge those two former Tiger managers had or have. They would have funny stories to tell about their experience, and I’d learn a lot about baseball from great minds.
19. Favorite sports team of all time?
Detroit Pistons 1989 — the first Pistons team that won a championship. Isiah Thomas is my all-time favorite athlete. The whole team was fun to watch. Gotta love the Bad Boys.
20. Anything else we should know?
The detroitpal.org website has great information for anyone looking to learn about us. We are always in need of volunteer coaches and caring and committed adults who can support our mission. We are built on the generosity of others.
We launched a new online store to sell Detroit PAL gear that I would encourage people check out. Fifty percent of the proceeds come back to directly supporting the organization. I’d ask readers to consider The Corner Ballpark to host their next event or meeting too. All revenue over and above our expenses generated through The Corner Ballpark goes back to the kids. Plus, our event space holds up to 300 people in a seated environment — or it can break down into two smaller rooms. Finally, we have very impressive board room overlooking the historic field that can comfortably seat up to 25. So there are many ways to get involved and support PAL.
Each month, we interview executives in Metro Detroit to get their business and career advice. If you know someone who should be featured in SEEN Around the Water Cooler, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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