GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Every day, kids from all over Grand Rapids come to the Steil Center on Straight Avenue NW for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth.
Helping them with their homework and other needs are some of Grand Rapids’ finest. For decades, the program has brought police officers and the city’s vulnerable youth together.
“A chance to just spend time as two human beings, that from that good things were going to come,” said Patrick Placzkowski, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs. “We have spent some time working with the Calvin Center for Social Research and we’ve done some studies and it really has made an effect upon the attitudes and the perceptions on both sides.”
It’s a program Peter Secchia believed in. The former U.S. ambassador, West Michigan businessman and philanthropist died Wednesday at the age of 83.
His financial contributions — more than $1 million over the years — have been a big part of the success at the Boys and Girls Clubs, but his support went well beyond money.
From the Steil Center to the Paul I Phillips recreation center to Camp O’Malley, which gives city kids and city cops a chance to bond far away from the neighborhoods at summer camp, Secchia was there.
“He showed up out at camp. He showed up at the clubs. He got to know the kids and all of the staff that works there and the police offices that were mentoring kids day in and day out,” Placzkowski said. “I don’t think Boys and Girls Club Youth Commonwealth have had a fiercer advocate and supporter than Peter Secchia.”
It’s not the only example of Secchia’s support for youth.
In 1987, he joined with longtime Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly and former Spartan football coach the late George Perles, sponsoring a golf outing to raise funds for Special Olympics of Michigan. His involvement continued to grow.
“He really believed that these were, in his words, God’s special children. And he always wanted this to be at the forefront of people’s minds,” Krista Paulin, senior director of development for Special Olympics of Michigan, said.
Secchia’s support helped Special Olympics of Michigan to expand its efforts in West Michigan.
“It’s all because Peter really believed in us, and believed in that vision,” Paulin said.