Merit Park: Giving Hope to a Forgotten Detroit Neighborhood

by Jennifer Cain

Partner, The Vella Group
Published On: June 25, 2024Categories: Insights, Nonprofit Profiles

Community members and dignitaries recently gathered at a vacant parcel on Detroit’s Grand River Avenue to break ground on a recreational development called Merit Park. But don’t let the name fool you – Merit Park will be far more than a place for kids to play.

When it’s completed in late 2025, Merit Park will provide recreational amenities and professional development services to a neighborhood that has suffered from decades of disinvestment and neglect. Nearly 41% of families live below the poverty line, and the area’s more than 7,000 youth have had no gathering space for play, sports or personal growth.

Merit Park Bird's Eye View

The 57,500 square-foot complex will be state-of-the-art, featuring an indoor regulation basketball court and community event space, as well as an outdoor rock-climbing wall, turf field, splash pad and obstacle course. It will also offer mentoring programs; athletic training; sports leagues; training in sports, entertainment and culinary careers; and retail and restaurant space. Most programs will be offered free to all Detroiters.

Simply put, Merit Park symbolizes community transformation and hope. It also builds on what Give Merit, the nonprofit behind the Merit Park project, has been doing for more than a decade.

Grit & Community Outreach Bring Merit Park Vision to Life

Give Merit has worked with Detroit youth through its FATE program since 2012. The ten-year, cohort-based program combines project-based learning, character development, career exposure and mentorship to teach students from Detroit’s Jalen Rose Leadership Academy about the importance of education in achieving career and personal goals. Since its launch, more than 200 students have participated in the program, received more than $300,000 in scholarships and achieved a 100% graduation rate.

Merit Park takes Give Merit’s innovative youth programming to the next level.

Nearly eight years ago, Merit co-founder and chairman David Merritt – an active community developer and former U-M basketball player – envisioned a holistic life skills and fitness training center designed to help young Detroiters dream, believe in themselves and “take the shot” at achieving success. He also imagined Merit Park would benefit the surrounding community – events and programming for all ages, new jobs, new businesses, new opportunities where they’re needed most.

Now, his vision has become a reality thanks to the tireless efforts of his leadership team, including Kuhu Saha, Merit co-founder and executive director, and Tanisha Streeter, Merit Park vice president. They actively engaged with the surrounding community, worked in concert with an overarching neighborhood development program and built a network of supporters who truly believe in the project.

It started with a collaborative design session with area youth. The Merit team then conducted surveys and focus groups with youth and adults in the community. Those participants became eligible to join the Merit Park Neighborhood Council – an advisory board offering recommendations on park decisions, programming and partnerships.

To date, the $15 million Merit Park capital campaign has raised more than $10 million from public and private funding sources, including the Kresge Foundation, Ally Bank, the Mullick Foundation, the State of Michigan and Wayne County.

A Detroit Neighborhood Reimagined

While the city of Detroit has made great strides in the last decade, neglected neighborhoods remain. Not long ago, the Merit Park site featured two dilapidated buildings that sat vacant for 40 years. Today, those buildings are gone and construction is underway – it’s a beacon of hope for a Detroit neighborhood that is no longer forgotten.

Interested in supporting the Merit Park campaign? Go to or send questions to

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