Coach K to devote more time to growing education center after stepping away from basketball

Posted November 5, 2021 5:37 p.m. EDT
Updated November 5, 2021 7:59 p.m. EDT

— Mike Krzyzewski has coached and mentored hundreds of basketball players during their time at Duke University. But the work of a center he founded in Durham has had an even bigger impact on the lives of thousands of students.

As Krzyzewski prepares to retire from coaching at the end of the upcoming season, he says he wants to help the growing Emily K Center and the Durham youths it serves to continue to thrive.

The Emily K Center, on West Chapel Hill Street, helps first-generation, low-income students get to and through college. Krzyzewski founded it 15 years ago and named it for his mother, a fierce advocate for education even though she never made it past the eighth grade.

"There are a number of parents who believe in education from low-income families, and we try to help them to fulfill their dreams of getting an education," he told WRAL News on Friday, following a ceremony to open a new wing at the center.

"We want them to feel like there’s hope, that there’s somebody who is going to help them. But even more importantly, that there is someone who is going to believe in them, and as they learn through education ... they also learn to believe in themselves," he added.

The 7,500-square-foot expansion includes flexible classroom spaces, one-on-one advising rooms and additional space for staff.

"My mom would be crazy really if she was here. She could not believe this," Krzyzewski said.

Valerie Anderson, chief program officer at the Emily K Center, said the expansion will allow the staff to provide more focused help to the 2,000-plus students they serve each year.

"We literally had students working on the floor and little nooks and being creative about use of space. This allows us to really educate students the way we know they learn best," said Anderson, a first-generation college student herself.

The expansion was paid for through a campaign that raised $18.9 million – it had a $15 million goal. Money from the campaign also has allowed the center to expand its financial assistance to students for all four years of college and triple its endowment to meet the needs of students for years to come.

"I would love to see it just be a place for families and students to grow and thrive together," Anderson said. "We have tremendous equity gaps that we need to overcome as a society. Centers like this are a big piece of the work, but there is a lot more work that needs to be done."

Krzyzewski, who serves as chairman of the Emily K Center, said he expects a bigger role for himself there once he steps away from the basketball court.

"I’m looking forward to coming here more often. I don’t know if the staff is," he said with a laugh, calling the center his family's commitment to Durham.

"The center is really Durham. Durham is our home, and we believe in Durham. In believing in Durham, you have to believe in the youth, the youngsters of Durham," he said. "There’s talent, there’s abilities that can be found everywhere, and we just want to make sure we provide a place where those abilities can be enhanced and where dreams can become a reality."

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