First lady makes push for youths in Detroit

DETROIT - (BNW) - The idea came during a meeting of school chums in a northwest Detroit basement. But the day Think Detroit actually began was a Saturday in 1997, when Mike Tenbusch waited for volunteers who had agreed to meet at 8 a.m. sharp to clean the abandoned ballfield next to the Wigle Recreation Center on the John C. Lodge Freeway.

Tenbusch and his then-girlfriend, Maritza Ramos, were the only ones there.

They'll be here, Tenbusch assured the woman who later became his wife.

She went to buy some water. By the time she returned, more than 50 people - from grandmothers to grade-schoolers - came to cut and rake weeds, pick up trash and carve out a playground in the city's Midtown neighborhood.

On Thursday at that same Wigle Recreation Center, first lady Laura Bush came to praise Tenbusch, cofounder Daniel Varner and Think Detroit's coaches because they "refuse to let young people become statistics."

Think Detroit, Bush said, "engages and empowers young people both on and off the playing field."

It was the first lady's third appearance for her "Helping America's Youth" campaign, which her husband announced during last week's State of the Union address.

"I encourage all Americans to get involved in the life of a child," she told the crowd of about 200.

Tenbusch and Varner got word four days ago that the White House wanted to showcase Think Detroit, which gets $40,000 in federal funds and $35,000 in state funds - about 6 percent of the organization's $1.2 million annual budget.

Think Detroit began with 120 kids and 20 coaches, and now has 650 coaches for 5,000 schoolchildren who play soccer and baseball and learn about computers.

One boy, 10-year-old Justin Wood-West, who is a sixth-grader at Detroit's Spain Elementary School, said he had no idea what the first lady looked like until he met her Thursday and told her about playing baseball. He said he was impressed.

"I wish she could stay here," Justin said afterward.

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