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'Taking Back Muskegon' hosts first-ever summer camp program at East Park Manor

East Park Manor progress.png
Posted at 6:09 PM, Jul 30, 2021

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — Good things are happening at East Park Manor in Muskegon Heights.

“Because of the simple fact that these kids in the projects, they don’t get half the resources everybody else has,” Taking Back Muskegon's Michelle Tyson said.

Which is why Taking Back Muskegon, a nonprofit focused on providing kids with programming to keep them off the streets, brought the resources directly to the kids that live there.

“We didn’t want to have to make them go outside their walls to get those resources when they have a whole center here,” Tyson said.

Michelle Tyson and Aviance Watts run a summer day camp at East Park Manor. From science experiments and art projects to a car wash to raise money for an upcoming trip to Michigan's Adventure, they're making sure kids who live there have something positive to do.

At first, they had about eight kids show up regularly.

Michelle says parents were nervous to let their kids go to the center because of ongoing violence.

“I said, 'If we stop right now, we will never get it going,'” Tyson said.

The Muskegon County Sheriff's Department and Muskegon Heights Police Department worked with Taking Back Muskegon and stepped up patrols through the neighborhood. That, combined with speed bumps added throughout the neighborhood, meant people felt safer. More kids started attending.

Now they're up to about 20 kids who regularly attend summer camp.

That's not all. Taking Back Muskegon unlocked the neighborhood park near East Park Manor, which was covered with broken glass and beer bottles.

“It feels so good to ride past here on a day like today and see this. Just kids having a place to play. They weren’t playing. Because there were empty beer bottles. They weren’t even coming in,” Taking Back Muskegon President Aviance Watts said.

For the first time in 20 years, the park is open and clean for kids to play at, and the basketball court has rims and nets again. It's also lit up at night.

Taking Back Muskegon President Aviance Watts says since they cleaned up the park, people have started cleaning up after themselves. Now, you have to look hard to find litter.

Watts says this is what community is all about: spaces like this one that keep kids on the right path.

“If you ask me, the streets have taken over. I mean that in a lot of different aspects. They’ve taken over our babies. They’re the ones who’s raising our babies now. They’re the ones taking our babies,” Watts said.

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