Computers & break dancing

Angela Reyes, a mother and southwest Detroit native, “got tired of burying kids” from the increasing gang violence in her community. Using small donations, she began the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation in 1997. The program provides education and job readiness skills to ex-gangbangers.

Her living room functioned as an office for her and the two neighbors she recruited to help. St. Anne’s Church donated space for a classroom. As DHDC grew, it moved to a trailer at Chavez Academy, and then to a 1,100-square-foot building with 15 staff members.

In September 2001 Reyes moved again, into a 28,500-square-foot building in Corktown. As executive director of DHDC, Reyes oversees a staff of 40 — many of them former clients or volunteers — and handles an operating budget of more than $2 million.

It’s a “service center to help the community thrive and grow,” says David Olivencia, secretary of the corporation’s board of directors.

“They’re there to help all members of the community, with a special emphasis on helping the Hispanic and southwest community,” he says.

They offer a “GED program, job placement, wraparound counseling and technology,” says Reynaldo Magdaleno, DHDC’s information technology project manager.

Exciting things are happening at the DHDC, such as the new teen-violence program and an intramural sports program, says Hector Cruz, DHDC’s board of directors chair.

Other programs include bilingual and English-only GED classes, an English as a second language class, parenting programs and limited childcare, Magdaleno says. Programs are either free or are low-cost. For example, the 10-week GED class is free with a $10 registration fee and $14 for a book; childcare is provided.

Most of DHDC’s money is from federal, state and city programs, Cruz says. For instance, the federal Centers for Disease Control fund HIV awareness and violence-reduction programs, while the state funds programs to help the unemployed and ex-offenders prepare themselves for jobs, Cruz says.

Some of the services they offer are unique to metro Detroit. “We are the only organization to provide services for Latino men who sleep with men,” Magdeleno says. They also have the only Latina women with HIV support group in the metro Detroit area, he says.

For many young people, DHDC is the place to be. There is a large rec room that the youth call “The Cypher.” Its walls covered with graffiti, it’s where they come after school. They can learn how to DJ, the art of graffiti and even how to break dance. There are graphic design and music production workshops; silk-screening equipment is available for printing on T-shirts and hats. Programs last four to six weeks.

The “objective is to get these kids into something,” says Antonio “DJ Supreme” Villarruel, organizer for the Urban Arts Academy. “They find this place safe for them, they like being here and the interaction with the staff.”

Reyes began these programs “because a lot of people fall through the cracks.” She wanted to have a “place for people to go to that no one else wanted, who weren’t getting services. They’re disenfranchised, struggling, trying to find a job. Young people are looking for alternatives.”

A new technology center is in the works, Magdaleno says.

The center will feature multimedia and computer labs, a cyber café, a small stationery store, a conference center and the introduction of a new program, entrepreneurship.

The labs will be used to train clients in computer basics, graphic design, digital artistry and Web page design. Clients will gain marketing skills and the knowledge of how to run a business by running the cyber café.

A youth-run cyber café will offer sandwiches, bagels, juice and advertising space for businesses on a plasma screen TV. The papeleria, or stationery store, will sell paper, blank CDs, jump drives and the like. The conference center will be equipped with videoconferencing and information technology equipment so that businesses can have their meetings, conferences and trainings on-site. The tech center is a way to bridge the gap between local businesses and all metro area residents.

There are two elements, Olivencia says. First is to have all the tools and resources available so clients are able to get jobs in this digital economy. Second is to get metro Detroit corporations involved.

To that end, the DHDC recently held a technology breakfast fundraiser. It featured high-ranking IT executives from General Motors and helped raise awareness about the DHDC and its programs and helped garner donations, says Olivencia, who served as the event’s chair. It’s “like what the charity preview is for the auto show,” he says. There were about 250 guests including Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Magdeleno says.

“We received a public commitment from Microsoft to donate hardware and software for the computer labs. People were making donations on the spot. Overall, we raised $22,000 after expenses.” Funds up to $1 million are fully matched by a U.S. Department of Commerce program, Magdaleno says, adding that they still need to raise $100,000 to be open and fully operational in September.

Eventually this $4 million renovation will even have fitness and childcare facilities.

Detroit’s largest concentration of kids is in southwest Detroit, Reyes says, and the number has doubled or tripled over the last 10 years.

And kids remain Reyes’ biggest concern.


Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (1211 Trumbull St., Detroit) is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday. For more info call 313-967-4880 or visit

Rhona Mays is a Metro Times editorial intern. Send comments to [email protected]
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