Calling all alumni of Hazel Park Public Schools

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 13, 2016

HAZEL PARK — An ambitious project is underway in Hazel Park Public Schools. The goal is to create a comprehensive database containing every graduate from the district. This is not only important for chronicling the history of the district, but for keeping graduates up to date on the work of the Promise Zone, which helps send graduates to college.

All graduates of Hazel Park High are asked to submit their most up-to-date contact information — whatever they’re comfortable with sharing — to Kayla Roney Smith, executive director of the district’s Promise Zone and College Access Network, at kayla.roney@hazelparkschools.org.

This can include your current home address, email address, phone number and social media accounts. Donations are also being accepted to support this and other projects.

“The Promise Zone has already seen great success in our various programs, and it’s important for Hazel Park alumni to be able to play a role in the future of the organization,” Roney Smith stated in an email. “We would like to provide alumni who are now living throughout the city, state, country, or even the world with chances to share their talents or treasure, and help Hazel Park’s future leaders achieve their dreams.

That will only be possible if we are able to communicate with those alumni to share our stories and the stories of our incredible students. That is where this alumni engagement project comes in.”

The project is a collaboration with LJPR Financial Advisors. Leon LaBrecque, CEO and co-founder of the fee-only fiduciary wealth management firm, helped start LJPR in 1989. Today the company manages more than $630 million in assets for individuals and nonprofits.

LaBrecque is an attorney, CPA, CFP and CFA. He is also a 1973 alumnus of Hazel Park.

“The ‘60s and the ‘70s were a glorious time for Hazel Park,” LaBrecque said in an email. “We were this tiny city with a bunch of hard working people who tried their best in everything from football to wrestling to band. Like a lot of communities, things changed: The state decreased funding, and our tax base was decimated by the financial crisis.

“A few years back, I was at an event with a local community college when I heard just how bad things had gotten — but this wonderful ray of hope in the form of the Promise Zone was a possible way to get better,” he said. “I contacted the Promise Zone with the intention of making a donation, and found a group of highly motivated people impassioned not only with education, but also with making the community better. I was hooked.”

The Promise Zone guarantees all graduates of Hazel Park High School who reside in the district (including parts of Ferndale) a tuition-free path to an associate degree. And depending on the specifics of a student’s financial aid package, they are often awarded the equivalent scholarship to be taken to any other post-secondary institution in Michigan, including four-year colleges. This can also include trade schools, with proper approval.

Another part of the Promise Zone is the College Access Network, which provides guidance to students and their families as they navigate the complex process of applying for higher education. The graduating class of 2012 was the first to benefit from the promise. Since it started in 2011, the College Access Network already has served more than 1,000 students planning to go to college.

This past year, the Promise Zone surpassed $200,000 in total scholarship funds directly awarded, and it has continued assisting students in seeking out funds to supplement and multiply what it was able to provide.

As the Promise Zone works to send more graduates to college, it’s also working to keep track of those who have already graduated. For the first phase of the alumni database, yearbooks were used to create a baseline of past students. For the second phase, the Promise Zone is trying to consolidate contact information by reaching out to alumni on social media.

LJPR paid for a student intern who worked on the database over the summer. LJPR will also be promoting the effort with its PR agency and video from an award-winning California creative team and a local videographer.

“We’re making some significant progress,” LaBrecque said.  “We hope to fully assemble a complete database and social media outreach. The process is dynamic, which is fun. In addition, as most Hazel Parkers can tell you, we have multiple generations of Hazel Parks, so sometimes we can find a mom, brother and sister in one look.”

He said there are many ways graduates can help the project.

“Hazel Park alumni can go to (the Promise Zone’s) Facebook page as well as our website — see the good we’ve been doing,” LaBrecque said. “Parents in surrounding communities: Have a look at how your kids, through open enrollment, can participate not only in a great school system, but go to college as well. Business owners in Hazel Park and surrounding areas: Look at how Hazel Park is growing at a fabulous pace, from world-class restaurants to one of the biggest building projects in Oakland County (in the form of the Tri-County Commerce Center). And of course, anyone who values our kids — who sees a boarded-up building as an opportunity, or a vacant house as a future home — invest with us in the future of this community.

“My father was a machine repairman; my mother, a waitress,” he continued. “They moved to Hazel Park with the American dream: to have a house, to educate their children, and to live in a good community. Scrappy little Hazel Park taught me a lot about life, hard work, and taking pride in where you’re from. My little town let me get a multitude of scholarships and build a successful business. My little town produced world-class athletes, including an Olympic gold medalist. My little town gave me grit. I want to pay it forward. I hope others will as well.”