Youth center offers hope for 30 years

Rick McDevitt describes the meaning behind the murals, one behind him that has his likeness, at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. Thirty years ago McDevitt says he discovered an old building in Peoplestown near downtown Atlanta that was scheduled to be demolished and he saw a need for a teen center. He got funding from then Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank and others to remodel the building. Since then he has been helping children at youth center that bears his name. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Rick McDevitt describes the meaning behind the murals, one behind him that has his likeness, at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. Thirty years ago McDevitt says he discovered an old building in Peoplestown near downtown Atlanta that was scheduled to be demolished and he saw a need for a teen center. He got funding from then Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank and others to remodel the building. Since then he has been helping children at youth center that bears his name. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Thirty-plus years ago, Rick McDevitt was committed to creating a teen center in Atlanta’s Peoplestown and wasn’t above begging.

With proverbial hat in hand, he asked Bill Campbell, who was then Peoplestown’s representative on city council and later Atlanta’s mayor: Could a run-down, city-owned building in the community that was slated for demolition be spared and transformed into a teen center?

Campbell agreed, with the caveat that the city wouldn’t be expected to cover the renovations or the center’s operating costs. Others pitched in: Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and now the owner of the Atlanta Falcons football franchise, gave $80,000 in-store credit for building supplies; and building and trades unions did the renovation work for free.

“It took two and a half years to completely renovate,” McDevitt said. “And the community was so impressed with my begging that they told the city to name the center for me.”

Today, the Rick McDevitt Youth Center in Peoplestown still operates on a shoestring budget and is a haven for the area’s impoverished youth. It’s also where senior citizens gather, couples marry, baby and wedding showers are held, neighborhood meetings take place, and community members congregate after funerals.

Thirty years ago Rick McDevitt says he discovered an old building in Peoplestown near downtown Atlanta that was scheduled to be demolished and he saw a need for a teen center. He got funding from then Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank & others to remodel the building. Since then he has been helping children at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Thirty years ago Rick McDevitt says he discovered an old building in Peoplestown near downtown Atlanta that was scheduled to be demolished and he saw a need for a teen center. He got funding from then Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank & others to remodel the building. Since then he has been helping children at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

“It’s the only functional public facility in the neighborhood,” said George Epps, a lifelong Peoplestown resident and 24-year center employee. “I don’t know what we’d do without the center.”

Opened in 1990, the center had one main goal: keep the community’s youngsters in school, out of jail, and alive, McDevitt said. That appeared to some to be a tall order for the community that this year was rocked by the fatal police shooting in June of Rayshard Brooks, 27, at a local Wendy’s restaurant, and the shooting death of Secoriea Turner, 8, less than a month later.

Clinical psychologist Sunaina Jain said McDevitt, has “always been an advocate for kids, especially poor kids.

“The center has been at the core of his work to really help kids have opportunities they are not otherwise afforded,” said Jain, director of Decatur’s Pathway Transition Program and a member of the board of Community Cares, the center’s nonprofit and fundraising arm.

Jaquan Brown, who grew up in Peoplestown and now lives in Buckhead, said most youth programs focus on résumé-building, but not the youth center.

A house surrounded by a heart designed by a you sits in the playground at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. Thirty years ago Rick McDevitt says he discovered an old building in Peoplestown near downtown Atlanta that was scheduled to be demolished and he saw a need for a teen center. He got funding from then Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank & others to remodel the building. Since then he has been helping children at youth center that bears his name. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
A house surrounded by a heart designed by a you sits in the playground at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. Thirty years ago Rick McDevitt says he discovered an old building in Peoplestown near downtown Atlanta that was scheduled to be demolished and he saw a need for a teen center. He got funding from then Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank & others to remodel the building. Since then he has been helping children at youth center that bears his name. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

“They teach you something that is not measurable: self-confidence – that anything’s possible,” said 24-year-old Brown.

He’s working at Fed-Ex, taking classes to try to advance into management with the delivery giant, and aiming to buy his first home by age 30.

“I wouldn’t have any of these opportunities, to begin with, if it weren’t for Rick,” Brown said.

The center is flexible, offering both structured programs and opportunities for teens just to have fun and be themselves, playing basketball and ping-pong, watching videos, or playing board games.

“There are so many different things for them to do, plus they go on trips, have cookouts, and a twice-a-year basketball shoot-out,” said Lucille Lee, who has been involved with the center for more than 20 years and is in its senior citizen group.

Pre-pandemic, Jain and a member of her staff visited the center twice monthly to help youngsters work on the social and emotional skills needed to "negotiate the real world.” And Epps, the center’s program and facility’s manager, oversaw Kids United, a club teaching teens life skills, such as phone and table etiquette and the difference between rational and snap decisions,

(left to right) Rick McDevitt watches as eight-year-old Maddison Brown gets help doing her homework from program & facilities manager, George Epps at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
(left to right) Rick McDevitt watches as eight-year-old Maddison Brown gets help doing her homework from program & facilities manager, George Epps at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Center organizers will try the unconventional if it means keeping the teens in school. For example, when funds are available, they have handed out $10 bills on Saturdays as a reward to students with perfect school attendance.

Longtime community resident and leader Columbus Ward said McDevitt, the center’s managing director, is “constantly looking for resources for the center and looking for new ideas to make things better."

In Peoplestown, multiple generations from the same households have been center regulars, and many remember the experience fondly. Although grown, center alumni stop by, sometimes to show off a fiancée or to extend an invitation to their graduation, Epps said.

“I’ve had many a guy, maybe 32 or 35, who come back and say: ‘You saved my life,’” he said.

Program & facilities manager, George Epps (standing) helps Javontavious Coney (age 11) in the computer lab at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center.  PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Program & facilities manager, George Epps (standing) helps Javontavious Coney (age 11) in the computer lab at The Rick McDevitt Youth Center. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

MORE DETAILS

What inspires Rick McDevitt, founder of the Rick McDevitt Youth Center

“Keeping inner-city Afro-American children alive, in school and out of jail. Working with community leaders in an unrelenting effort to provide a safe and welcoming environment where these children can build confidence and prosper.”

What has been the biggest challenge?

“Racism and its rationalization of stereotyping. Ignorance is not curable but may be treatable. I am not a religious person but, spiritually, Jesus said: ‘What you do for the least of these you do for me.’ Powerful.”

How to help: Make checks payable to the nonprofit Community Care Inc., c/o Rick McDevitt Youth Center, 30 Haygood Ave., Atlanta, GA 30315.

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