Detroiters playing it forward with ping pong

New social club in downtown Detroit opened its doors to make money and give back to the community

DETROIT - Metro Detroiters have an opportunity to "play it forward" with ping pong.

There is a new social club on Woodward Avenue in Detroit that offers table tennis with a twist.

"The first question people asked me is a 'Why ping-pong?' right? Typically I respond 'Why not?'" said Diallo Smith who runs Drive Table Tennis Social Club.

Smith's code at Drive is "enjoy life, play ping pong, be happy."

Opening Drive Table Tennis Social Club was an idea Smith had after first moving back to Detroit from Texas in 2008.   It's an idea that encompasses more than just having fun playing ping pong.

"A business that existed (for) just more than money, making money,  but also existed to kind of change the dynamics of our community," said Smith.

Metro Detroiters that have already checked out Drive like its atmosphere and what it gives back to the city.

"I love the fact that, you know, it's not just  about being  some place cool for people to hang out but it's actually doing something good for the city," said Eric Ruelle.

The ping pong table players choose determines how they give back.  Smith calls it "playing it forward."

"Every time people pay, play and pay us and part of our revenue goes back out to those nonprofits to support their work here in the city," said Smith.

The causes people play for include the Detroit Zoo, Forgotten Harvest, Gleaners Food Bank, Developing Kids and the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

"Not only do I get to have fun with my friends, but I am pretty sure the table that we are playing on right now is donating to AIDS research so that obviously is awesome as well," said Clare McKenna.

McKenna, who lives in downtown Detroit, said she would like to see more places like Drive in the city and she is not alone in that thought.

"It just supports and helps Detroit out, and that's one of the things that moving back to the city from Chicago was one thing I was really hoping to get more involved in was doing more for the city," said Ruelle.

Smith said he loves what ping pong does for the community.

"I see people having fun together, building community with one another, networking with one another, laughing, talking trash, right? But enjoying each other," said Smith. "I think to me, what I love about this sport and about this venture, is not the sport itself, but what happens when people are playing."

Smith connected with Gingras Global to help get his idea off the ground.   Gingras Global is a social enterprise development firm that helps entrepreneurs open their businesses and stay open.

"They helped us kind of craft this idea not just having a business to be profitable but also having a business that can in many ways you know influence the landscape of the city," said Smith.

"We ultimately want to see business people coming around the enterprises that we develop for the benefit of the community," said Romy Gingras.

Gingras was a financial planner and started doing this as a hobby eight years ago.  She is now the founder and president of Gingras Global.  The company works with businesses to get them to support social enterprises like Smith's business by offering resources and as a way to fulfill there corporate social responsibility. 

Gingras said it's also about creating community.

"We also want to benefit the business people allow them to have a place to serve and create somewhat of a raising a business as a village mentality and support system," said Gingras.

Gingras said her company brings groups together to support social enterprises.  Those groups can be faith based or secular.  She said the social enterprises can be stand alone businesses or a project inside a nonprofit or an economic development set of businesses.

While working with Smith to open Drive, Gingras said they put him to the test by giving him a list of unpleasant tasks.  She said that's how they make sure entrepreneurs are willing to do the work to make their business a success.

"Stand in line at the city, find, to get permits, do research, do all the non glamorous stuff that nobody knows happens behind the scenes," said Gingras.  "All of those things that a new entrepreneur does not want to take a sobering look at."

Drive is the first social enterprise Gingras Global has helped open in Detroit, but Gingras said they are working on two other ventures and hope to have them up and running later this year.

Gingras Global has projects all over the world including Canada, South Africa and the Middle East.  The company commits to social enterprises like Smith's for about five years.

"I see Detroit as a blank canvas almost," said Smith. "I think the people who are really going to change the landscape of the future are going to be the people who have number one, just a big heart for something other than themselves, but also people who are willing to come up with new interesting and unique ideas."

As for Drive, Smith said it doesn't matter if someone is a beginner or training for an Olympic bid, they have a table for everyone to play.

"I'm pretty confident that if you visit us once, you'll be by again," said Smith.

Drive Table Tennis Social Club is open Monday through Saturday.  It often holds special events.  For information on pricing and memberships, click here.

To find out more about Gingras Global's work, click here.

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