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Text Box: The Southside Community Coalition and Center

Text Box: Introducing the Southside Community Coalition, our Center and our Staff




The Southside Community Coalition opened its center in October 2003.  Since then we have served hundreds of Southside youth, families and seniors. 

            We started as a group of interested Southside residents who wanted to offer services and programs to Southsiders.  In the beginning we set up a summer school program for high school students who needed help getting credits to graduate. 

            Then we decided that we wanted to have something for all residents throughout the year.  So, in October 2003 we opened our center.

            Now we have programs and services that meet a variety of needs.  They include: After school programs and tutoring; Teen Scene; Senior Coffee Hour; Food commodity distribution; Nutrition and health care forums; Summer breakfast and lunch programs; Summer youth programs and a garden club.     

            We are also connected to the Ingham County Health Department.  We do health care surveying on the Southside and we are a sign-up site for the Ingham County Health Plan.  Over 200 people have signed up for the Ingham County Health Plan through the work of our staff.

            We are happy to be part of the Southside and we try to offer programs and services that add to the quality of life in our community.

            Please come in and visit us.  We welcome you to be part of our center and our coalition.  We are here for you.   


Kids at our
Holiday Celebration

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Darius “Pete” Cunningham

            Pete has been our director from the day we opened our doors in 2003.

Pete’s History

            Pete has an interesting and extensive background.  He was born and raised in the “projects” on the southside of Chicago by a single mother.  He attended Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio where he played basket-ball and was on the team that won the NAIA championship.  He received his degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Giving Back

            After college Pete returned to Chicago and became a teacher in the Chicago Park District.  He went back into the same projects he grew up in. 

            Pete served two years in the Army.  He was chosen for the All-Army Interservice basketball team and played all over the world. 

            After his tour of duty he went to work for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in marketing.  He also play ed basketball on the Goodyear team which traveled throughout the US and to over-seas plants.

            Pete was transferred to Motor Wheel in Lansing in 1970.  He worked there until it closed in 1990.  He then worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and finally Michigan State University until he was selected to be director of the Southside Community Coalition.

Pete Loves Kids

            Pete loves working with and interacting with kids.  He says that kids of today need a father image, someone they can hang with and talk to.  If you touch their lives, you can make things better for them and their families.  He says that he still remembers the people who helped him. 

Pete’s Philosophy

            Pete’s philosophy is to make sure that the things you do in life will be beneficial for others and to treat others the way you want to be treated.  

            He says that the Southside is a perfect place to practice his belief that you should try to help people in need.  The programs at the Southside meet a variety of needs, with an emphasis on younger people.  The young people at the Center have opportunities to new and to feel good about the things they do.  He is proud of the staff who provide a range of programs, not just for youth, but also for seniors.  Everyone shares the same philosophy of caring about and helping others. 

            Pete also appreciates the volunteers who come from MSU, LCC, GM  and elsewhere in the community to help out.  You meet great people here, Pete says. 

            Pete says that people in the community should know that the center is available to all.  Everyone is welcome.  He would like to see more activities during the day when the kids are in school. 

            Pete has been married to Paula Cunningham for 36 years.  They have a son, a daughter and one grandson.

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Yolanda Sherrer

Yolanda is the VISTA staff person for the Center.  VISTA means Volunteers in Service to America. 

            Yolanda learned about the Community Center when her children started coming here.  She knew the VISTA staff at that time and began to volunteer.  She helped put on a talent show for the kids. 

            When a VISTA position became available, she applied and was selected.  She started in November 2005.

            Yolanda says that she loves kids and has always been around them.  When she was younger she worked in day care programs.  She says that kids teach you, it isn’t just a one way street.

Youth Programs

            Yolanda manages the Teen Scene program which has about 45 teenagers enrolled.  The group is sponsored by Ingham County Health Department and meets each Tuesday evening.  The group uses a curriculum for self growth and the development of personal values.  The youth have shared a lot and have become good friends.  In addition to their weekly meetings, they participate in a program at the Westside YMCA and they have taken trips to Cedar Point and Chicago. 

            The Teens also participate in a program called Peace-Jam.  Last year 13 youth 12 years old and up went to Kalamazoo for a week-end where they met youth from around the state and had an opportunity to meet and converse with international celebrities.

            Yolanda also runs the after-school tutoring program.  Every day there are four tutors to assist students with home-work.  There are also games, arts and crafts and computers that the youth can use. 

Yolanda communicates with the teachers and parents of the students to keep track of their progress at school and to gear the tutoring program to the students needs.

            Yolanda also helps run the summer program which last year had 100 young people participate.  There was a free breakfast and lunch program, activities throughout the day and several field trips. 

Senior Coffee Hour/Luncheon

            She also helps run the monthly senior coffee hour and has helped set up the new YMCA adult fitness program at the YMCA.  She would like to have more programs for the seniors during the day when the children are in school.

Yolanda’s Vision

            Yolanda’s vision for the Center is to have more space for more children, more activities and more field trips.  She sees the Center as a safe haven for young people.  We fill a niche, she says.  We are smaller than other centers and more personal. 

            Yolanda encourages people to come to the Center and “check us out.”   See what we have for you and what you can offer to us.

            Yolanda has three sons, ages 17, 14 and 12.  They all participate at the Center.

Lisa Hale 

Lisa Hale is one of the two staff people who are hired under the Ingham County Health Department grant. 

Ingham County Health Plan

The main goal of Lisa and Jonathan Solis (the other staff person) is to tell people about and sign people up for the Ingham Health Plan (IHP), a primary health care plan offered to people without health insurance.  In their first year, Lisa and Solis  surveyed neighborhoods on the Southside and signed up over 250 people for the IHP. 

Lisa’s Background

Lisa was born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan and is a graduate of Michigan State University where she studied Chinese and Asian Studies.  She spent 6 months in China teaching English and has worked at Refugee Services helping refugee families settle in Lansing.  Lisa is a Buddhist and has coordinated events at the Kresge Art Museum for the Lansing Buddhist Association. 

Health Care Outreach

Lisa describes her work for the Health Department at the Southside Community Center as reaching out to people without health insurance and helping them overcome any fears or negativity they may have about the health care system.  She wants to help people get access to quality health care.  This includes teaching people how to use their insurance, how to get or change doctors, how to get appointments, when to go to the doctor and where to go for urgent care. 

Lisa says that once she and Jonathan have signed people up for services, they often call them for advise on how to access the health care system. 

Teen Mother Program

Lisa also leads a teen mother program with a grant from the health department.  The teen mothers attend Hill Vocational Center and have a special curriculum which includes parenting classes and youth programs.

A Health Department nurse also provides information on health and nutrition.  And there are speakers on infant and child safety, including how to use car seats, how to asthma-proof your house and how to protect against lead paint poisoning. 

            Lisa also works with Yolanda in coordinating the Teen Scene program and in other youth programs.

She has also helped set up the senior citizen program at the YMCA.

Lisa loves working at the Center.  She enjoys the range of programs and activities that the center provides and being part of creating new opportunities for youth and seniors.  She is  a talented grant writer and has helped bring new funding into the center for new programs.


Center Programs are supported by many grants, including:  Ingham County Health Department/Power of we; Healthy Choices; Infant Mortality Prevention; Michigan Nutrition; Youth Action Committee


Jonathan Solis

His Background

Jonathan (everyone calls him Solis) comes from New York City, where he was born, and California, where he was raised.  His father is Cuban and his mother is from Costa Rica.  He served in the military and completed his tour of duty in 2000.  He studied political science and Airframe Powerplant at Lansing Community College.  He has been active in the community.

Community Outreach

Solis works with Lisa on surveying the Southside neighbor-hoods for family needs.  They go door to door during the spring, summer and fall.  They have helped seniors get home repairs and ramps for wheelchairs.  They have helped people learn about resources in the community that will assist them.

Programs and Services

The surveys helps Solis and the Center develop new programs.  For example, the Center has a senior citizen exercise program at the YMCA that was the result of the surveys.  They also assisted a neighborhood get a stop sign at a dangerous intersection.  They have helped people identify home ownership counseling through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Getting Access

Solis says that many people don’t know how to access the system, both community and government services.  It is his role to give people access and to help them fight red tape, if necessary.

Health Services

Solis helps people  get health care and sign up for the Ingham County Health Plan.  He also helps coordinate the Quit Smoking program that the Center sponsors.

Teen Father Program

Solis set up a program for teen fathers to help young fathers stay in school and keep connected to their family.

English as a Second Language (ESL)

He also set up an English as a Second Language class for immigrants who need help learning to speak English.  Students are doctors, lawyers, nurses, and engineers who have much to offer the community in their professions once they can speak enough English.


Solis says that the great thing about working at the Center is that the staff are empowered to respond to needs they identify.  We are a low budget center, so we have to be creative and personal to provide the services that people need and that will keep them coming back to the Center.


Lisa and Solis conducted over 1,000 surveys on community health last year.  They signed up over 200 southside residents for the ingham health plan.

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Monthly Activities at the Southside Community Center













Quit Smoking

By appointment


Teen Scene 6-8 PM

Bookmobile 3:30—4 PM

Active Older Adults at the YMCA 1-2 PM


Dad’s Group 6-8 PM

English as a Second Language (ESL)

6-8 PM



Active Older Adults (AOA) at the YMCA


ESL 6-8 PM



Quit Smoking


Teen Scene





Dad’s Group






Popcorn and Movie 4-6 PM


Quit Smoking


Teen Scene




Dad’s Group






Popcorn and Movie 4-6 PM


Quit Smoking


Teen Scene



Dad’s Group



Senior Coffee Hour

12-2 PM



Commodity Food Day


Quit Smoking


Teen Scene




Dad’s Group







The Center opens at 8 AM every weekday.  Staff are available to assist visitors at the clothing closet, the food closet and with other needs.  The Center also cooperates with the County Food Commodity Program each month.  And Center staff can assist southside residents sign up for the Ingham County Health Plan. 

Every day there is an After-School Tutoring program from 2:30 to 6:00.  Volunteers from Michigan State University and the community assist all students with home work assignments.  Computers, arts and crafts and healthy snack foods are available.

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          We can’t run a non-profit community center without volunteers.  And we have  been blessed with many dedicated and talented volunteers.

Our Computer Center

           Last year we had GM-UAW Job Bank workers who helped set up our computer center and did many chores around the building.  Thanks to Mr. Lyle, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Paul.

Our After-School Tutoring Program:

          Right now we have 17 students from Michigan State University who help tutor in our after-school program.  Thanks to:  Soloman Ajijo, Jennifer Williams, Ashli UpChurch, Yulong Zhang, Steve Gaitens, Karen Cheung, Roslyn English, Donald Wasserman, Joel Kerwin, Emily Jaffe, Justin Rumao, Angelica Randall, Julie Thelen, Timothy Clark, Matt Mahan, Catherine Engel, Samantha Farr.
         And thanks to Lansing Community College students:  Carol Martinez, Rebecca Nussbaum, and Leonard Leek.
         And last but not least, thanks to Stan Hale, a retired teacher who comes practically every day to tutor our children.

Our Summer Program

          Thanks to the Lane Scholars from MSU and other Michigan State Students who helped run programs for over 100 children last summer.

Our Mural

          Thanks to the students at Pleasant View School who designed and painted a mural on the walls of our Center.

Our Senior Coffee Hour/Luncheon

          Thanks to Bill Nelson and the Capital Area District Library and the presenters at all our programs.

Parent Volunteers

          Thanks to Leola Sherrer and Melba Bledsoe.

Board Members

          Thanks to our eleven board members who bring food to our luncheons, candy for the kids at Halloween, gifts for the kids and seniors at Christmas and put hours of volunteer hours into meetings, special events, and mentoring.

If we left anyone out, please forgive us.  You know you are appreciated and loved.

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Thanks to our community partners for their support:
City of Lansing
Ingham County Health Department
Ingham County
Lansing Community College
Lansing School District
Harry Hill Vocational Center
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
United Auto Workers Local 602
Ingham Regional Medical Center
Black Child and Family Institue
MSU Tutors
Hospice of Lansing
Community Mental Health
Food Movers
U of M Learning Service Center
Capital Area Michigan Works
The Boys and Girls Club
MSU Extension
South Side Community Coalition Board:
David Wiener, Chair
Ann Blair
Cleveland Henry
Veronica Johnson
Steve Thomas
Neil Wright
Cathy Lynch, Treasurer
Cordell Henderson
Murdock Jemerson
Laurin Thomas
Gordon Wilson

South Side Community Coalition
2101 West Holmes Road, Lansing, Michigan  48910
(517) 394-7400


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