The First Community-Based Laboratory of Its Kind in the World: The Flint Community Lab Celebrates Grand Opening

Posted on October 9, 2020 by

October 9, 2020

Media Contacts:
Shelly Sparks, Flint Development Center – /810-422-9833
Leslie Burk, Freshwater Future – /231-348-8200
Marcia Gray, Thermo Fisher Scientific/Nalgene Water Fund – /617-990-7720

The First Community-Based Laboratory of Its Kind in the World:
The Flint Community Lab Celebrates Grand Opening

Flint, MI – On Friday, October 9th, 2020, The McKenzie Patrice Croom Flint Community Lab, part of the Flint Development Center, celebrated its grand opening with a live streamed virtual event featuring lab staff and students, partners, community leaders, and funders ending with a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

The Flint Community Lab — the first community-based laboratory of its kind in the world — provides Flint residents with a trusted resource for free water testing of lead and other pollutants. Through generous financial support from both philanthropic and private funders, the Flint Community Lab unifies residents around a common issue: the safety of water in their homes. The success of this project to date is due to the commitment of Flint Development Center and Freshwater Future along with the involvement from a host of dedicated partners. This innovative approach and collaborative community involvement has already received national recognition including the 2020 US Water Prize.

The project’s focus is providing residents with knowledge about the safety of their water, and resources to help people trust that their water is safe, as thousands of pipes have been replaced in the City of Flint and the system continues to improve. The lab will provide free water testing and resources in Flint to help residents navigate the myriad of information they see and hear about water quality, to ensure their families’ health. Shelly Sparks, Director of the Flint Development Center, hopes that “The community lab will provide an opportunity for Flint to be a model as an innovative approach for the community to take the lead to gather data, analyze, and find solutions to our future water issues.” With the lab now fully functional, teams of students and volunteers will take and analyze water samples, survey homeowners, and provide filter, fixture and plumbing education.

April 2014 marked the beginning of the Flint Water Crisis. The cameras may be gone from Flint, but the real truth is that for many still living there, the crisis isn’t over. Trust in the drinking water and government waned after the Flint water crisis, which resulted in roughly 140,000 people being exposed to lead contaminated drinking water between April 2014 and October 2015.

The importance of having a way for residents to access trusted information about the water quality in Flint became so evident that the next step was to create a permanent community lab located in a trusted facility. In fact, The Flint Community Lab is named in honor of McKenzie Patrice Croom, whose father Juwan Croom is a life-long Flint resident and the son of Sharon Reeves and Michael Harris, a founding partner of Flint Development Center. Mckenzie was born with seizures that were complicated by her exposure to Flint’s drinking water. Mckenzie was only two years old but so strong, full of life and a true fighter at heart. She represents the need for the community to know and trust that their families have safe drinking water in their homes. This coordinated vision for this community lab provides Flint residents a long-term trusted source for water tests, a place where residents can go to have their water tested for lead and other heavy metals at no cost.

While filters are being used to reduce lead in water and the system continues to heal, many residents still don’t have enough information to trust the water in their homes. Jill Ryan, Executive Director of Freshwater Future, notes that “Community leaders helped us realize that the key to developing trust was through a multigenerational approach including training and education for youth who could then pass that information along to adults in the process of testing homes for current lead levels.”

Residents will receive a personalized report with the results from their tap water and have the option to meet with lab staff to review the findings. The reports will emphasize the importance and need of using filters and filter maintenance as well as helping uncover needed pipe or fixture changes within residents’ homes. Ryan believes that this project’s ultimate goal is “having a lab that is based in Flint, operated by Flint residents, with the purpose of serving Flint residents that embraces the resilience of Flint residents.”

Staff at the Flint Community Lab aim to test tap water from every occupied household in Flint by the end of 2022. Testing will be free for the first three years. In addition to restoring trust, Sparks believes that the lab will also help drive prosperity on the northside of Flint. “Our idea is to allow the community to dream again and believe in a community that is safe,” Sparks said. “What we are doing here really brings more opportunities for our youth. It helps the kids to dream. Maybe they become a chemist or water advocate and then they become advocates for the city. That’s the dream for the whole city.”

Thank you to Project Funders: Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Cedar Tree Foundation, CPI International, Consumers Energy, Freshwater Future, Crown Foundation, Hagerman Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Nalgene Water Fund, Ruth Mott Foundation, TCF Bank, and Donors to Patronicity/Online Fundraiser

Thank you to Project Partners: City of Flint, Flint Development Center, Freshwater Future, Genesee County Latino Hispanic Collaborative, Flint Neighborhoods United, University of Michigan Biological Station, University of Michigan Flint Bio-Chemistry Department

To view the virtual ribbon cutting video:
Flint Development Center’s Facebook page –

Future’s YouTube page –

View a virtual tour of Flint Community Lab –

For more information, please visit Flint Development Center website –


© 2021 Freshwater Future. All Rights Reserved.

Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.