As a youth, Devin Park found the nurturing and support he needed at the H. Fletcher Brown Boys & Girls Club in Wilmington — a beloved inner-city institution near the Brandywine Creek. It’s where Devin and his twin brother Darin honed their basketball skills with a team of coaches and counselors.
“After school they taught us not just basketball, but also how to cook, how to play chess, how to use our mind,” Devin says. “They made us study and then do some more. These guys really kept a lot of us off the streets. And if it wasn’t for them, we don’t know what kind of trouble we could have got into.”
Fast-forward 50-plus years, and Devin, along with wife Cordi Park, are giving back as two of Delaware’s leading philanthropists. The couple works hard to nurture and develop young minds through a popular leadership camp at Sussex Family YMCA in Rehoboth Beach.
The Teen Leaders Program at the Sussex Family Y, which has been running since 2018, has quickly become a family favorite. The Parks run the eight-week program with students ranging from 11 to 15. Cordi spearheads the curriculum, which focuses on one particular pillar each week, such as teamwork, character development and physical fitness.
“We start with teaching overall leadership and the core values of the YMCA, which is honesty, caring, respect and responsibility,” says Cordi. “From there, we teach life skills, so we focus on money management, time management and self-care. We talk about cultural appreciation. We focus on the arts and go to some of the local museums and we hold a career week. It’s a real interactive program for them.”
Funded by the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, the Parks’ program enrolled 30 students this year (with a waiting list), who receive the couple’s unique brand of education and discipline. They’ve witnessed some miraculous results in the last five years, like the student who walked in on Day One with his hands in his pockets and his head turned down. Today? He’s a communications major in college.
“That’s my motivation because I was told I wasn’t going to make it,” says Devin. “I was told I was too small to play basketball, not smart enough. And all I ever did was prove everyone wrong. I love the kids who everybody gives up on, even the ones who give up on themselves — and say, ‘Come on, let’s hook up and let’s turn your life around.’”
Devin and his brother Darin were both first-team all-state basketball selections for Claymont High School in 1981. They are the only two brothers in Delaware high school basketball history to be named to the first team in the same year.
Both men were inducted into the Delaware Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame during its annual banquet earlier this year. In June, the City of Wilmington dedicated a basketball court to the legendary brothers at Burton Brown Winchester Park.
Education and basketball have provided Devin a natural outlet to mentor and develop young men and women. He started his career as Dean of Students/Assistant Principal working with adjudicated youth at Saint Gabriel’s Hall in Audubon, Pennsylvania that focused on restorative justice principles.
Over the course of 12 years as the basketball coach there, he became the school’s all-time wins leader. His players were so well-disciplined, he says, that not a single one received a technical foul call during his tenure.
Additionally, Devin and Cordi currently serve as ambassadors for the Alan Horwitz “Sixth Man” Center, a 100,000 square foot facility in Philly’s Nicetown neighborhood that combines basketball programming (spread across seven indoor courts) with academic, social-and-emotional and civic and career opportunities.
After a long career in education with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Devin says God sent him a new calling: “I needed to go out to the world and help the world,” he says. “And it started with feeding people in our neighborhoods and planting churches in different rough areas of Philadelphia and Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington to become resource centers.” From there, he says, “I heard a voice say now it’s time to go abroad. So we started traveling.”
The Parks partnered with advocates and officials on the ground to fund the creation of a free bible school in the African nation of Nigeria. “A two-year seminary diploma is what you got,” Parks says. But before long, word of the program’s quality grew, and school leaders met with local government officials to greatly expand the school’s scope.
Today, Freedom University and Theological Seminary is fully accredited by the Nigerian government and endorsed by the United Nations. It offers a diploma program in theology, as well as bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. programs. “And people thought we were crazy for setting up free Bible schools,” Parks laughs.
I told Devin years ago that what you’re passionate about is going to take over your life. He’s passionate about youth, basketball, ministry and just doing for others.”
— Cordi Park
The Parks and their co-investors have spread the model to facilities in Malawi, Liberia, Ghana, Zimbabwe and more. They’ve partnered to establish feeding centers and medical clinics around Africa, too. In August, from Liberty Church in Queens, New York, the Parks and others hosted a basketball team from The Bishops’ High School in Guyana. Their team is one of the best in the South American country, but the sport’s popularity among fellow Guyaneans pales in comparison to cricket and soccer. This contingent of students and coaches hopes to change that. With Devin as their ambassador, the team is planning to create a basketball camp for Guyanean kids and coaches, in hopes of growing the sport on a national scale, and eventually offering opportunities to play in America.
Through all their travels, projects and adventures, Devin, 60, and Cordi, 55, remain inseparable. “We just love what we do, and people can’t understand…you guys live together, you work together, you teach together? Most couples can’t even just live together,” Cordi says.
For the Rehoboth couple, teaching and giving is a way of life. They’ve raised four kids on the same principles of love, faith, discipline and high expectations. All four — Doris, Devin Jr., Brianna, and Nicole — have achieved lofty goals academically, athletically and professionally.
“I told Devin years ago that what you’re passionate about is going to take over your life,” Cordi says. And he’s passionate about youth, basketball, ministry and just doing for others. It just fuels us being able to have an impact on someone else’s life in a positive way.”
CORDI & DEVIN’S LOCAL FAVS
- Restaurant Sydney’s Restaurant and Lounge
- Coffee Sunny Bay Cafe
- Lunch Wawa
- Dessert Brick Works Brewing and Eats
- Shop Adidas (it’s all Devin wears!)