12/10/2012 09:46 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Life's Lessons Learned at Neighborhood Recreation Centers

As a kid, I literally grew up in the recreation center in my neighborhood in Washington, D.C. My parents never had to worry about where I was; they always knew I was safe. I was with adults. There were supervisors always around. It was a safe haven for a lot of the young people in my neighborhood.

Spending a lot of time at the recreation center taught me how to interact with people, whether they were competitors or teammates. It was a place where you learned about fair play. And, you learned how to compete. We garnered a lot of social skills from being in that environment. Plus, it helped me hone my athletic skills. Actually, I started out as a baseball player at a very young age. I played on several baseball teams, until I found basketball. Once I discovered basketball, it dominated my life in terms of what I looked forward to whenever I went to the recreation center.

Playing the game of basketball -- in that structured environment -- allowed my teammates and I to compete against guys from other recreation centers around Washington, D.C. So, not only did I compete against guys in my own neighborhood, but I also had the opportunity to play against my peers from all over the city. I think that is what really helped prepare me for my high school and college days, and even my professional career.

Today, when I go back to my old neighborhood, I look very fondly at the recreation center I frequented as a youngster. The facility is still open. I have great memories of growing up and learning a variety of skills there, along with so many of my friends. Without that experience, I'm not sure where I would be today. Many of the young guys growing up in my old neighborhood who were not involved in athletics or who didn't participate in activities at the recreation center, ended up taking a different path in life. Unfortunately, a lot of them are no longer here. And some of them are in prison.

My intention, as Mayor of Detroit, is to make sure that I give the young men and women in our city the same kind of opportunities that I had as a kid growing up. My hope for the
"Active and Safe Detroit" Campaign that we have launched is to make sure that we keep all recreation centers open in the city.

Recreation centers are a very important part of any community. Most people look at recreation centers as a safe place for kids to go and play. And while that is true, today a lot of our seniors also utilize neighborhood rec centers as a social gathering place and as a way to stay fit and healthy. I think there is nothing more important than having seniors and young people together in the same environment, getting to know each other. There are a lot of valuable lessons that can be learned between those two groups. We want to raise as much money as we can in our campaign to make sure there are quality programs and services in Detroit's recreation centers for both young people and seniors.

Recreation centers also are a vital tool for our city's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. Kids don't spend as much time on the streets getting into trouble when there are easily accessible, free or low-cost neighborhood rec centers for them to use.

Rec centers provide a much-needed -- and safe -- "escape." Most importantly, recreation centers enhance the quality of life for all people -- young and old. And the life lessons learned by participating in activities at recreation centers will have a long-lasting impact. I can attest to that firsthand."

To learn more about the Active and Safe Detroit campaign and to find out how you can help, visit