By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Community advocates Derrell and Tina Roberts continue to put their own twist on the old adage, “If you build it, they will come.”
The Roberts Family Development Center co-founders unveiled their new event center with scores of supporters last month following the completed renovation of their North area space. “We are thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the North Sacramento community for the past 20 years and we are looking forward to changing more lives in our renovated main hall,” Derrell Roberts said.
Countless staff, volunteers and former students came back to the center during the renovation to reminisce and encourage others to lend financial support. The alums relived memorable camping trips and visits to college campuses. One talked about how his children participate in afterschool programs at the center as he did.
Richard Johnson recalled how Derrell Roberts came to his grandmother’s home back in the day while working for the Oak Park Community Center. “Mr. Roberts was just one of those community leaders who was known by everybody,” Johnson said. “Grandmothers, mothers, kids, young and old and he wasn’t afraid to knock on doors and meet the parents and talk to people. Ten out of 10 times, he was let in and that changed a lot of people’s lives.”
Twa’Lea Jordan, an attorney and educator teaching in Japan, worked for the RFDC from 2001-2005 and was hands-on in helping to create what people see today. “Outside, we had to lay the sod; there was no sod,” Jordan said. “We laid the grass. So there was an appreciation of that elbow grease that we just had whenever we came into work every day. … There’s a sense of pride there.
“I’ve seen Mr. Roberts hustle. I’ve seen him put in hard work in order to make the dream come true. I’ve seen the hard work actually pay off.”
The Robertses say they’ve been blessed to have the support for their vision to provide for the community. They pointed out how even when they didn’t have money for an unforeseen problem with their flooring, K.O.O. Construction continued to show up because they saw personally the center’s impact on the youth it serves.
Tina Roberts said the community sees the big picture of what the center provides. “It’s not just ‘this little old nonprofit,’” she said. “No, this is a major impact that you’re having on our city. These families are a part of the fabric of our community. These kids grow up, they become adults who give back to the community because they understand what that means and they’ve been a product of that.”
The Robertses already are planning for the future. If they can raise enough money, they want to open a health and education center, as well as purchase a nearby apartment complex and transform it into senior housing. “It’s just another goal we put in front of us to improve the neighborhood we live in,” Derrell Roberts said.
The center also unveiled a portrait of educator and supporter Mertie Shelby, and Lynne Cannady and her late husband David Ford. Shelby and her husband James Shelby, former CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, mentored Derrell Roberts. The Shelby family has pledged $50,000 to the center. The Ford-Cannady family donated $105,000 to ensure renovation of the center’s kitchen could be completed.
The Robertses call the renovated space a promise from them and their team to stay faithful to and focused on the communities they serve. The center began providing academic enrichment services in 2001. Today it provides academic wraparound services to hundreds of students in “high-risk neighborhoods” at sites in several school districts throughout greater Sacramento.