Rocket Mortgage Classic keeps Detroit connected

The golf tournament has raised more than $1 million for a digital accessibility initiative in each of the past two years.rocket mortgage

A year after Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert created the Rocket Mortgage Classic in his native Detroit, the PGA Tour event found itself at a crossroads: should the tournament be held in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic will?

Eventually, led by Detroit-based Rocket Mortgage CEO Jay Farner, advocacy groups decided to hold the tournament only if they could find a way to spur generational renewal in the economically troubled city. That pivotal moment led to the creation of the Changing the Course initiative, in which partners work together to directly target a crippling pain point: Detroit’s vast digital divide.

The pandemic highlighted how online access serves as an essential lifeline for Americans who depend more than ever on digital education, employment and healthcare opportunities. With Mayor Mike Duggan’s initial efforts to bridge the gap, Rocket Mortgage Classic’s initiative saw the initiative achieve notable early success: When the pandemic began, only 40% of Detroit households had full digital access. Today it is 67.5%.

“They can look for jobs, get telemedicine, or do their homework,” Gilbert, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, said in an email as the fourth annual RMC was held at Detroit Golf Club last week. “This is life-changing work that is a direct result of the tournament, the PGA players and our team at Rocket. The true story of the Rocket Mortgage Classic shows what’s possible when a bunch of passionate people work together to do good.”

Duggan, who took office in 2014, said a federally funded project is underway to bring every Detroit home into the digital age, but that it will take another decade. In contrast, he said what Gilbert and his RMC team were doing two years ago at the start of the pandemic was “coming in and saying, ‘Here’s an opportunity to take immediate action.'”

“For kids who are 10 years old, they can’t wait 10 years,” Duggan said. “That’s the beauty of the Rocket Initiative; It offers instant access to high-speed connections. This is a really big asset to the city.”

The impact was profound, said Joe Dumars, the Hall of Famer who played for the Detroit Pistons before serving as the team’s president of basketball operations for 14 years.

“Can you imagine that our children do not have access? [online]?” said Dumars. “I can’t imagine that for children. That changed Detroit.”

Neighborhood technology centers provide residents with access to high-speed Internet. Detroit now has 22 of the hubs.rocket mortgage

The Rocket Mortgage Classic has dedicated more than $1 million to this initiative over the past two years. Most of the change of course is being led by the Connect 313 Fund, which coordinates and supports citywide digital inclusion efforts with a data-driven philosophy. It was founded two years ago by the RMC, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the city of Detroit and Microsoft.

The initiative is diverse. First, it put digital devices in the hands of every student in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The Rocket Community Fund, the philanthropic arm of Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage, has worked with partners to distribute approximately 51,000 devices to students. In addition, around 10,000 devices were given to senior citizens.

The second phase opened Neighborhood Technology Centers, a trusted community space where residents can use high-speed internet. The recent expansion has increased the number of centers from five to 22. And now there are also seven Community Ambassadors, each embedded in a hub to work door-to-door at the grassroots level. The last element revolves around ongoing advocacy and education to ensure that a growing number of residents gain online literacy.

“We’re hearing from all sides of our community that this is a critical moment to truly have a generational shift movement in Detroit,” said Laura Grannemann, vice president of strategic investments at Rocket Community Fund. “We want to use that as a stepping stone.”

Outside of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, east of downtown Atlanta, Gilbert said the PGA Tour has not held regular events in urban centers. He felt it was important to bring an event into the Detroit city limits to shed light on the community.

“People told us, ‘You can’t, these guys are never going to play in Detroit,'” Gilbert said. “We have a saying that goes, ‘You’ll see it if you believe it,’ and I had a team that believed we could do that. And we did. The results were amazing.”

Players have welcomed the event and its causes, Gilbert said, adding that in 2020 a group of players led by Bubba Watson and Jason Day – on their own – created a charity-focused nine-hole exhibition, to raise money to share the digital bridge. Golf Channel televised it live and it raised more than $1 million.

“What has really struck me over the past three years is that, through its global television and media coverage, the Rocket Mortgage Classic gives the world a window to witness the renewal and transformation that the city of Detroit has seen over the past decade . ‘ said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan in an email. “It is clearly a passion project for [Gilbert] and it shows.”

With the Rocket Mortgage Classic a week into the calendar, Monahan said the event’s community impact is being felt every day around town.

Gilbert’s financial investment in revitalizing Detroit is far-reaching, and last year the Gilbert Family Foundation and Rocket Community Fund announced a $500 million investment in Metro Detroit to be spent over a decade. Duggan said Gilbert often comes to the mayor’s office with ideas about what to do around town, adding that “Gilbert’s mind works differently than anyone else I’ve met. He has an exceptionally gifted problem-solving mind.”

As Gilbert continues to strive to bridge the digital divide, Duggan said: “Ultimately, we need to wire all homes. But right now this is a really big step.”

About Stephanie McGehee

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