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Wilmington-Based Reeds’ Refuge Center Connects Underprivileged Youth With the Arts

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Photos courtesy of Reeds’ Refugee Center.

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Growing up in Wilmington’s rough Riverside neighborhood, Frederick Reed used his ears to overcome the things he didn’t want his eyes to see.

Music was his refuge from the “guns and drugs and poverty,” providing a soundtrack that allowed him to believe more was possible for him and that negatives could be overcome with the beats and melodies and lyrics he heard—and later created himself.

“I think music helped me become an entrepreneur and to help the youth of today tap into their interest in music,” he says.

Reed and his wife, Cora, own and operate Reeds’ Refuge Center, a Wilmington-based nonprofit that helps youth ages 6 to 20 develop and learn through a variety of arts- and education-based initiatives. The free program thrives on contributions (monetary and time) from the Reeds, who also opened two daycare centers with corporate and community support, along with government grants. “The doors are open to everyone,” Reed says.

Ironically, Reeds’ Refuge is located in the former New Castle County Probation and Parole building. The space used to be dedicated to keeping an eye on those who had stumbled in their lives, but in its current incarnation, it is devoted to creating straight channels for those hoping to find ways out of difficult situations.

Reed says that between 75 and 100 children are enrolled in the program at any given time. The center serviced 1,000 people in 2019.

wilmington non profit reeds refuge center

Reeds’ Refuge offers a variety of programs, including STREAM and culinary arts.

Participants can get instruction in a STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) curriculum. There is also training in culinary arts, music and life skills.

“I really like the classes,” says Rainen Toates, 10, who is also Reed’s nephew. “One of them is BYO [Building Youth Leaders], where we talk about what we want to do when we grow up and how we can change our emotions and actions.”

Toates also enjoys “Freestyle Friday,” a reward for students who participate enthusiastically during the week. During those times, kids get to work on their dance moves and create “different beats” on electronic equipment.

The word “refuge” is well-employed. Children can get meals, counseling, homework assistance and behavioral counseling from certified instructors. Reed, a musician and performer, taps into the kids’ love of music to create enthusiasm for the more mundane parts of life and to teach that there is a way to escape Wilmington’s treacherous areas.

“We believe in giving opportunities,” he says. “I love creating paths.”

While a lot of what Reeds’ Refuge accomplishes every day isn’t easily measured, its efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, it was named Outstanding Service Benefiting Local Communities at the Jefferson Awards, which honor students for their leadership and engagement. A year earlier, it won a Wilmington Award for community service. It was also the first recipient of a grant from the Be Like Frank Foundation, which supports programs that aid the city of Wilmington.

For three consecutive years, Reeds’ Refuge received a $140,000 grant from the Criminal Justice Center to help with expenses. Limestone Presbyterian Church in Pike Creek provides another big boost through consistent, multifaceted assistance and support. But the real engines are the Reeds themselves, who are at the Refuge night and day. They believe the work they do is vital to helping young people navigate the overwhelming challenges they face.

“Our goal is to let people know this is a diamond in the rough,” Reed says.

For more information, visit reedsrefugecenter.org. Published as “The Sound of Success” in the May 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.

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