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Community legend dedicates life to mentor Kalamazoo area kids

Community legend dedicates life to mentor Kalamazoo area kids. (WWMT/Franque Thompson)

A Kalamazoo man is making it his life-long mission to help young people reach their full potential. Several members of the community are calling Charles “Charlie” Parker a legend for his decades of service.

Parker said the work he’s done for more than 50 years in the Kalamazoo area is simply to help young people get ready to be the next leaders in their communities.

“We need our future doctors, lawyers, principals, truck drivers, all those people got to be replaced because the circle of life is there,” said Parker. “I look at it as building the future. That’s my main goal is planting the seed for the new harvest.”

Parker said he knew at a young age he was meant to help people. He’s the oldest of 12 siblings and helped his parents raise them. He said he wanted that kind of mentorship to go beyond his home.

“All kids want direction. They want someone to tell them when they’re doing things wrong, they also want you to tell them when they’re doing something great. And so, you’ve got to find that balance, said Parker.

Parker has spent more than five decades leading several youth mentorship and athletic programs in the Kalamazoo area. His long resume of service includes working as a former program director for the Greater Kalamazoo YMCA, City Recreation Department, Boys and Girls Club and Communities in Schools, to name a few.

For the past five years, Parker has been a behavior specialist at Arcadamia Elementary School, in the Kalamazoo Public School District. Parker said he strongly believes there is no such thing as a bad kid.

“It’s all about directing that energy into something positive. Even the kid that talks back to you all the time—you say politician, can be an entrepreneur and all those kinds of things. You’ve just go to catch that and channel it in the right place,” said Parker. “I call him a senator, or she can be a doctor or things like thatand they look at me because there’s not a lot of people putting those kids of thoughts in their head.”

After years of leading different youth programs, he and his family thought it was time to start their own foundation. Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E. was created in the spirit of Parker’s younger brother, who died unexpectedly. Parker’s children said his brother also had a passion for helping people. The organization still maintains the same mission Parker has invested his life’s works to—pursuing leadership and community engagement.

“As we know, we have a lot of things that’s been happening to our community, a lot of things that’s been going on within our community and we are the people who are going to change that,” said Teleshia Parker, Charlie’s daughter and board member of Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E.

All of Parker’s children and several nieces and nephews serve on the board, keeping family first. Parker said it was important for them to create events for other families to have fun, positive engagements with each other.

“If we better each other, we’re going to better our community and if we better our community we’re just going to make our community stronger,” said Parker’s daughter, Teleshia. “If you have resources and you have something that can help someone better themselves or someone get further in life, it’s nothing to lend those resources to them, it’s nothing to help them along the way. I think as a community, sometimes we can be with our fist closed. Open that fist up and help somebody.”

Parker said he’ll continue serving the community and mentoring area youth, all while maintaining the mission he’s carried on for more than five decades.

“That, to me, is dear to my heart because I like to build for the future. Without the future young kids today, they won’t be the future tomorrow. There won’t be a future, so I work real hard with young kids,” said Parker. “I feel good because I’m planting a seed. I see future leaders and they’re going to be in good hands.”

Parker’s non-profit is welcoming volunteers, resources and monetary donations to help Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E. continue providing services to area youth. The organization’s next big event is its annual “Trick or Trunk” hosted outside of Parker’s home. He said about 1,500 people participated in last year’s Halloween event. Parker and his family are encouraging people to learn more information on their website or social media pages. Anyone with questions can contact Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E. by email at info@kzoocharliesplace.com.

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