This week's Game Changers recipient, who will join other March honorees in receiving a $1,000 grant dedicated to the charity of their choice, as well as a personalized jersey and plaque during a ceremony at an upcoming Red Wings game, is Courtney Ebonique Smith, founder and CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center.
The Detroit Phoenix Center is a high-impact nonprofit organization that provides critical resources and a safe, nurturing environment for youth experiencing homelessness.
[Learn more about Women's History Month at DetroitRedWings.com/Equality]
The organization serves young people, ages 13-24, who are at risk of and/or currently experiencing homelessness, as it provides emergency shelter and housing support, showers, meals, laundry services, transportation assistance, scholarships, basic-need items and clothing, while also counseling young people with things like career readiness, life skills and educational workshops.
Under Smith's visionary leadership, the Detroit Phoenix Center opened in January 2017 as the city's first and only drop-in facility to meet the emergent needs of teens and young adults in crisis.
"I founded the Detroit Phoenix Center because I recognized some of the gaps that are present within our community as a young person growing up in Detroit," Smith said. "I knew first-hand what it was like to experience challenges with housing insecurity and not having some of my basic needs.
"I saw those gaps still existed when I came back to Detroit and I wanted to elevate the voices of youth and create a low-barrier drop-in resource center for struggling youth in our community."
Smith's dedication to serving at-risk young people in Detroit has led her to be featured in USA Today, the Michigan Chronicle, National Public Radio, the Steve Harvey Show and many other local and national media outlets.
She is a two-time recipient of the Detroit City Council's Spirit of Detroit Award and a recipient of the Women's Resource Center's Women of Excellence Award and Alternative for Girls' Trailblazer Award.
Now in its fourth year of operation, the Detroit Phoenix Center has dedicated itself to responding to the immediate needs of young people and families who've been compromised due to the COVID-19 pandemic, launching the Phoenix RISE, Relief and Support program.
The support program helps people overcome hardships caused by the pandemic with food and income sustenance, computer and internet router donations, transportation assistance, grocery delivery and more.
"We've done a lot of important work during COVID-19," she said. "We've become a COVID-19 response site and have provided extensive resources for young people and families affected by COVID."
Smith, who earned her bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University and is currently pursuing graduate coursework in nonprofit management at Harvard University, said it's important for underrepresented individuals to see their peers in positions of success to know that anything is possible.
"It's critical because they need to see that no matter what they've gone through, they deserve a seat at the table," the young CEO said. "When I started the Detroit Phoenix Center, I was 25 years old and I was the youngest leader of a homeless service provider in Michigan. When I navigate this space, I'm often the youngest woman at the table and often one of few people of color."
Red Wings and Tigers director of community impact Kevin Brown said Smith is the perfect embodiment of a Game Changer and deserves all the recognition she's received for her tireless work.
"It has been enlightening to learn about Courtney Smith and the impact she's making on the lives of young Detroiters," Brown said. "Through the Detroit Phoenix Center, Courtney and her team roll up their sleeves every day to meet the needs of homeless and street-connected children too often struck by social inequity. The Detroit Red Wings are proud to recognize Courtney as a Game Changer and as a remarkable woman doing so much good in our community."
Smith said that as a lifelong Detroiter, she's thrilled to be recognized as Red Wings Game Changer.
"It's such an honor because growing up in Detroit, I don't think I saw representation of African Americans and women navigating the space of hockey," Smith said. "So to see what the Red Wings have done and how they have such a focus on inclusion and diversity, it's been extremely heartwarming. To be honored by this institution, it's incredible."
Smith said she's delighted that the Red Wings are helping the community make strides on inclusion and equity for women and underrepresented individuals, and she's grateful that the Wings continue to use their platform as a means to raise awareness and build support in the community.
"The Red Wings continue to make the necessary investment in women-led organizations and organizations led by people of color," Smith said. "I think it's important to have the hard conversations, use their voice and continue to do outreach and recruitment for women and in communities of color and really listen to those who are impacted by social challenges and social causes."
The social entrepreneur said the Game Changers series shines an important spotlight, not only on the honorees being recognized, but also on the incredible staff and support systems working hard in the background to make a difference day in and day out.
"I think it can make a huge difference because often times, the work that we do is thankless. It's wonderful for people who are doing incredible work to be honored," Smith said. "Because as our organizations are uplifted, we're also uplifting our team, our staff and our community. Although the spotlight is on a select few, it really represents an entire community and I think that's the light we need right now during this time and beyond."
While the Detroit Phoenix Center is still in its relative infancy, Smith said her organization is constantly adding additional services and increasing its staff to be able to help as many people as possible in metro Detroit and beyond.
Smith knows how important the people she serves are to the community and wants her organization to be a shining example of outstanding service and empowerment for years to come.
"I would like to see our amazing team continue to grow and also the youth in our program continue to see major success in their life," Smith said. "I would like to see the Detroit Phoenix Center looked at as a model in communities across the country to empower and support the hardest-to-reach youth, not as deficits, but as assets to their community."
For more information on everything the Detroit Phoenix Center provides, visit DetroitPhoenixCenter.org or call 313.482.0916.