Foundation gifts $1.5M to improve literacy at Detroit school

DETROIT (AP) — A foundation named after late Detroit-area philanthropist Archie “Art” Van Elslander is donating $1.5 million to improve literacy at his former high school, officials said Wednesday.

The A.A. Van Elslander Foundation gift will be used to create the Beyond Basics Legacy Program at Denby on Detroit’s east side. The intensive one-on-one program allows students who require additional support in reading to improve foundational literacy skills while catching up to their grade levels.

“With the gift of literacy, anything is possible for these students,” said Beyond Basics board member David Van Elslander, who serves on the A.A. Van Elslander Foundation board. “We are thrilled to support Beyond Basics’ life-changing work at our father’s alma mater.”

Art Van Elslander, a 1948 Denby graduate, founded the Art Van Furniture chain. Known as Art Van, he opened his first store in 1959. The business was sold in 2017. He died in 2018 at age 87.

“We hope this investment inspires other alumni to invest in this generation even more, especially when it comes to literacy,” said Detroit’s school superintendent, Nikolai Vitti.

Beyond Basics, a Detroit-area nonprofit, provides a one-on-one tutoring program that helps students achieve grade-level proficiency in reading in an average of six weeks.

“Many of our students are not at grade level at no fault of their own ... but you have to catch up and catch up quickly, and that’s what Beyond Basics does,” Vitti said.

The partnership with the A.A. Van Elslander Foundation “is really showcasing a solution,” said Pamela Good, Beyond Basics’ cofounder and chief executive. “The foundation’s generous gift empowers Beyond Basics to transform the lives of students who are not yet reading at grade level and help us to immediately get to work to bring literacy to these students.”