Dennis Talbert, Interim Chairman of the Board at Brightmoor Community Center
This community crusader and his band of volunteers have given new life to the 90-year-old center that was on the brink of closing
As Dennis Talbert walks around the Brightmoor Community Center, he greets people in the recreation room and stops to chat with them in the hallway. Back in the center's office space, he's looking at pamphlets, trying to plan a science fair complete with real scientists for the Brightmoor neighborhood's children.
"Why can't our kids be exposed to that in the same way the kids at Roeper and Cranbrook and Country Day are?" asks Talbert, the interim chairman of the board at Brightmoor Community Center. "We have to become advocates in a community where we create atmosphere and opportunities for kids—for families to thrive."
Along with serving the kids of the community, the community center is a place the whole neighborhood can enjoy, with programs and services for kids, seniors and those in between. And yet the center was almost shut down last year due to financial difficulties—until Talbert came up with a plan.
Talbert, a Brightmoor resident since 1990, joined the Brightmoor Community Center's board of directors in December 2012. Just a few months later, he received a call from the previous executive director.
He asked, "'Hey, are you sitting down?' I say, 'As a matter of fact I am.' He says, 'Well, we be broke.'"
One look at the financials confirmed it. With $341 in the bank and six full-time employees on staff, something needed to be done—quick. Just two days later, the chairman of the board resigned. Talbert ended up taking on the position on an interim basis.
"The goal was to kind of say, 'You know what, let's put this puppy to sleep but with grace,'" Talbert says of the center. The next day, he gathered the employees—some, he says, who had worked at the center for nearly 30 years.
"It was just really heart-wrenching," he reflects, adding he went home immediately seeking guidance.
"I just kind of laid across my couch and said, 'My God, what did I just do?' And, you know, 'How could I ruin these folks' lives like this?' Then, I said, 'OK Lord, what is the next step here in this venture?'"
The answer? "I just sensed the Lord say, 'Don't shut it down.'"Talbert's next step was to approach foundations for funds. His background as a youth pastor in the community helped him in creating fundable programs, he says, and now the center has activities that foundations view as making Brightmoor Community Center "a viable asset to the community."
The community center is also up and running thanks to volunteers and "a lot of sweat equity," he notes. Today, the center has a butterfly garden in its park. Plus, it offers free wireless Internet, an art program running three days a week thanks to the College for Creative Studies, a dance program that has around 70 students and a college mentor program run by native Brightmoor students. Talbert has even worked to forge a relationship with Gompers Elementary School across the street.
"It's not just a physical gathering, it's an intellectual gathering," Talbert says of the center. "It's a gathering of ideas. It's a place of entertainment. That's what we hope to see the community center become."
Talbert describes the center as something that "can be the magnet that draws folks back in this community" and "to serve the residents of this community."
When he took the interim chairman position in April 2013, the whole idea was that it was temporary. When asked how long he sees himself staying there now, he responds, "You'll have to pick up the phone and call the Lord. Only God knows that.
"So, (Martin Luther) King talked about the beloved community, his beloved community—this is my beloved community. They've adopted me," Talbert says. "The least that I can do is give them whatever I have."