Shock host "Reading Timeout" with Pitney Bowes

A Fitting Finale

Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince were still two months away from the NBA championship when they helped open the Pistons’ third Reading and Learning Center at the Redford branch of the Detroit Public Library. April 2004 was a long time ago.

The center, known as the Teen Resource Center, had visible wear and tear when the Detroit Shock’s Kara Braxton and Alexis Hornbuckle visited in June for what was supposed to be the final stop on the Pistons’ and Shock’s “Read to Achieve” Tour. The center was clean, but dated, decorated with posters and jerseys of former Pistons.

One of the tour’s primary goals was to replenish the resources at each of 21 Reading and Learning Centers around Metro Detroit. It was clear more would be needed than a one-day check presentation to accomplish that, so the Pistons and Shock community relations department did a do-over, and renovated its oldest active Learning and Reading Center.

The center reopened Thursday with technology you couldn’t find in 2004 - improved desktop computers and a Nintendo Wii system - along with new furniture, wall décor and carpeting. There’s even a pool table. Shock captain Cheryl Ford and Pistons rookies Deron Washington and Jonas Jerebko ushered in a new era of fun at the Redford library, reading and playing games with 25 of the center’s most frequent visitors.

“It was cool the first time, but now it’s better,” said Touraine Taylor, 15. “I think more people will come now.”

Teen Resource Center coordinator Todd Kelly hopes they do - for the right reasons.

“The emphasis is on the learning and the reading,” Kelly told his eager audience before the ribbon cutting. “I know we have a lot of games down here - we have pool, we have the video games, we have the Wii and everything like that, but let us keep in mind what we’re about. We’re still part of the library.”

The importance of reading did not go underserved Thursday. The event was held in conjunction with the “Fast Break to Reading” initiative spurred by the WNBA and corporate technology leader Pitney Bowes. Cheryl Ford read aloud excerpts from Harper Hill’s Letters to a Young Sister before the group scattered throughout the center. The passages emphasized the importance of pursuing education and discovering how your interests can influence your future.

Listening to youth speak passionately about their goals in life has been one of the most exciting aspects of these “Reading Timeouts,” said Pitney Bowes representative Stephanie Green. “It gives you a chance to, when you’re not used to talking with kids every single day, it gives you an opportunity to speak with them, just to see where they are,” she said.

Shock guard Deanna Nolan also participated in a Reading Timeout, reading to students at the Pitney Bowes office in Farmington Hills. The Shock are one of 10 WNBA teams to partner with Pitney Bowes on the “Fast Break to Reading” program, which encourages youth nationwide to read 1,000,000 minutes. Each team hosted a Pitney Bowes Game Night, where students received reading pledge kits with books, bookmarks and T-shirts. Students had logged nearly 800,000 minutes by the end of August.

“Most of the kids are telling me they’re really loving to do it because they like to read,” Green said. “As a company, it helps us to understand and know that there are kids out there who are really growing, that want to grow and reading is essential.”

Interest in the program could have waned at the Redford library. The renovation closed the Teen Resource Center for two weeks, forcing youth upstairs into the “real” library, without their beanbag chairs and other diversions. But they stayed on schedule.

“The kids, they still came to the library,” Kelly said. “They still did the reading like they were supposed to.”

Since its initial unveiling in 2004, when it was dedicated to the legendary Pistons scout Will Robinson (who passed away in April 2008), the Teen Resource Center has been a sacred place for many local youth. They come to work on their studies, and, yes, spend a fair amount of time playing games and just hanging out. But they do so with the right intentions. Kelly said the center’s never had a fight.

“Kids like structure, contrary to what people might think,” Kelly said. “They like structure, they like order, and I always felt the only way for kids to become better students is to have some order. They can’t have chaos. I know sometimes in their school, sometimes on their street, there is chaos. But there’s not going to be chaos here. There’s order, and I see growth when they come in here.”

It was almost a year ago that a contingent of Shock players, the morning after winning their third WNBA championship, attended Alcott Elementary in Pontiac to open its Reading and Learning Center. Now they’ve come full circle, making sure the Teen Resource Center at the Redford Library is once again “state of the art.”

“It’s a first,” Touraine said of the new amenities.

And, as far as the “Read to Achieve” Tour goes, the last.