Orion Watson knows how tough it can be to safely make it through the day in the Detroit Public Schools. As a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) external coach to the leadership team at Osborn High School, his goal is to improve the educational culture and climate. For Osborn students, that means a happier learning experience and exposure to “a different side of life and more positive things.”
Things like pizza. But more on that later.
Orion previously was a prevention coordinator assigned to Cody and Osborn, the focus of Life Remodeled projects in 2014 and 2015. While working directly with students, he saw opportunities to encourage their participation in Life Remodeled projects in their schools. Combined with infrastructure improvements by the city, Orion saw positive change.
“There’s been improvement in many areas, like street lights, which have made kids feel safer on their way to and from school, but there’s still work to be done,” he said.
Now, in addition to continuing his PBIS role, Orion is trying something much tastier.
He and his wife, Chirelle, who retired from Comerica Bank in 2016, were chosen by Lou Toarmina, founder and president of the pizza chain that bears his name, to receive a license to run a new pizza carryout at 12400 Morang in a fast-recovering area of Denby. The store is about a quarter mile from Skinner Park, which Life Remodeled partners transformed last year from the underused and under-equipped Skinner Playfield.
Orion grew up in Osborn, which borders Denby and is about a mile and a half from his new store, which is connected to a laundromat that he’s been told is the preferred wash-and-dry for east siders. He chuckles at the suggestion of offering a “dry and pie” special. But marketing will be important, and he is thrilled to have a community gathering place like Skinner Park so close.
Toarmina’s is just one of several new businesses to open recently in a flourishing commercial block near Kelly and Morang roads. Orion lists restaurants, a dance studio, a party store, a nail salon and a barber shop among the businesses, some of which survived Denby’s challenges during the nation’s mortgage foreclosure crisis.
“That’s a part of the whole rebirth of the community,” Orion said. “Denby High School and Skinner Park are like hubs of the community. To be within walking distance of our store is really great.”
And his desire to help young people apart from the school day is being realized as well.
“I have identified three young ladies, two from Osborn and one from Denby, to work after school and weekends,” Orion said. “This is not just about working with the kids but working for the rebirth of the community. That is really big for me.”