Professionally and geographically, Maryum Rasool’s path was a winding one.
A Boston native, she and her family settled in Flint, her father’s hometown, after contracts for the construction company he owned took them to Morocco, Spain and other locations.
As the new kid in elementary school, Rasool occasionally drew unwanted attention from her classmates.
“I came to Flint with this big, fat Boston accent,” she says. “I remember working to suppress it.”
Back then Rasool had no way of knowing she’d eventually become not just a valuable insider to the community, but the head of one of North Flint’s most important neighborhood institutions. She recently celebrated her one-year anniversary as executive director of the non-profit Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village. Her anniversary at the helm of the resource and educational center coincided with an estimated $200,000 first phase of renovation to the 100-year-old building at 4119 North Saginaw St.
“You have to have the attitude, ‘Get the job done,’” Rasool says.
A former board member of the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, she urged her fellow board reps to fill the position she occupies today.
“One of the first things I wanted to do was put the director in place because without leadership it’s really hard to push things forward – without a leader who represents the vision of the organization and who understands the strategic plan of the community,” says Rasool.
“I had a couple of people approach me and say, ‘I think you would be good for the position.’”
Last year, the organization rented an ice cream truck and took it out into the neighborhood, using it as a traveling magnet for resident feedback about what the facility should provide.
“We didn’t develop programs based on what we thought the need was. We developed programs based on what the community around the Village told us the need was,” says Rasool.
Named for long-time city resident and community advocate Sylvester Broome, the building was reintroduced to Flint June 29. Formerly the Sylvester Broome Center, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village held a grand opening to showcase the newly remodeled facility, featuring a ribbon-cutting and refreshments.
Broome, who supported Flint youth, education and other causes, has long been admired in the community, which paid tribute to him by naming the former George M. Dewey Elementary School in his honor. Since its opening as a training and technology facility, the center has undergone evolutions that ultimately resulted in the mentoring, training, adult literacy and other initiatives at the 62,000-square-foot location.
About 300 youth daily visit the Village during summer months.
“A lot of these kids’ parents, I went to school with,” Rasool says.
Having been a North Flint resident, she says she brings insight to the executive director’s seat, including recognition of Flint as a “big small town” where credibility and reputations are important.
Particularly during the height of the city’s water emergency, the Village’s reputation as a source of neighborhood support became key to its efforts. Bottled water distribution, dermatology testing for those who’d been exposed to lead from sinks and showers, plus other initiatives were hosted at the site. Additionally, the Village housed organizations that hosted children’s programming.
Due to its first phase of renovation, the organization has been able to increase its services, Rasool says. Along with the necessary capital, contributions from neighborhood and community partners helped enhance the building’s facade, re-paint the first floor, update the gym, install a kitchen, and launch a lab with 37 computer stations, among other improvements.
Besides attending the Village’s new, ongoing summer camp, youth who are “caught” showing kindness and good citizenship can earn “SBEV Bucks” and redeem them at an on-site store. Another attraction is the Village’s game room.
But youth and their families are only some of the guests welcome to visit.
“We’ve been a great host site,” says Rasool. “This year alone we’ve had several events with a capacity of 1,000 people.”
She says the next phase of renovation to Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village will include additional improvements to the exterior, such as the landscaping, and to the interior, including energy-efficient updates.
Having started in a finance career, Rasool’s work and time spent in the non-profit sector have rewarded her. She chairs the board of Wellness Services and serves on the board of the YWCA.
Her winding path into the non-profit realm resembles the message behind the branding campaign scattered on billboards promoting the Village throughout the community.
“It was our summer camp’s theme,” Rasool says. “‘Character counts.’”