Coach Mike Krzyzewski is the founder and inspiration of the Emily K Center.
His mother, Emily, is his inspiration. A Polish immigrant who grew up in western Pennsylvania, Emily raised her family in a poor, racially diverse neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. Mike was a fixture in his neighborhood, particularly at a community center where he and his family enjoyed great support.
William, his father, was an elevator operator and Emily scrubbed floors at night in the Chicago Athletic Club to help provide support for Mike and his older brother, Bill. His mother’s devotion and love, coupled with her amazing work ethic, provided young Mike with an example he would follow the rest of his life. Emily also taught her sons to take advantage of opportunities whenever they presented themselves. These lessons, along with the community center where he received support and developed leadership skills, put Mike on the path to becoming the first member of his family to attend college -- a moment that changed not only his life but the trajectory of his whole family.
The Emily Krzyzewski Center, named in honor of Emily, who passed away in 1996, seeks to give Durham students the same opportunities -- a chance to go to college, become leaders, and transform their families and communities. Coach K, along with thousands of other supporters who are committed to building scholars and changing lives, are making this a reality in Durham. Watch more about Coach K’s story of college and opportunity here.
In 1999, Father David McBriar and Coach K shared a vision for building a gym and community space to serve Durham. As interest grew, a capital campaign was launched, and in 2003 the Emily Krzyzewski Family Life Center, Inc. officially earned status as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.
In 2005, construction began on the 29,000 square foot facility located a few short blocks from both downtown Durham and Duke University. On February 18, 2006, the Center proudly opened its doors to the Durham community. That spring the Center launched the Pioneer Scholars program with a small cohort of 36 students. As that program grew and students began to reach high school, the Center began the Scholars to College program in 2008 with an initial class of high school freshmen. By 2010 these two K to College programs served more than 100 students.
In 2012 the first class of Scholars to College students graduated from high school and the Scholars on Campus program was launched to support these students as they attended college. In 2013 the Center announced plans to double the size of the Scholars to College program, and by 2015 more than 220 students were being served in K to College programs. In addition to the growth of these programs, the Center continued to work with an increasing number of Facility Partners, now partnering with an average of about 70 organizations each year.
In 2016, we proudly celebrate 10 years of programming. This year, 25 students will graduate from high school, our largest group to date. In addition, our first cohort of college seniors will graduate from college. We are also eagerly anticipating the launch of Game Plan: College, a new program that aims to change the face of college access in Durham. We look forward to many more decades of building scholars and changing lives!