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Positive summer for youth project

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by Cleveland Tinker, Gainesville Guardian

reshoneflandersThe Heatwave summer youth project has wrapped up another successful year of providing a positive alternative to crime and idleness for area teenagers.

The season ended with the Summer Heatwave 2009 Classic Basketball Tournament championship games last Friday night at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center. The summer night-time basketball league is the centerpiece of Heatwave, and teaching life skills along with the fundamentals of basketball is a key component of the program.

As a group of 13-16-year-old boys stood around Davin Woody in the Lincoln Middle School gymnasium recently, they listened intently as Woody lectured them about the importance of being accountable for their actions.

“One of them didn’t show up for practice, but he is here today ready to play in the game,” said Woody, who is the coach of the Tornadoes, a basketball team that played in the league. “I was just talking to them about the importance of being accountable and doing the right thing.”

Heatwave was established last year when concerned residents and community leaders formed a committee to develop plans to give young people something positive to do during the summer to curb a rise in juvenile crime.

The committee accelerated its efforts after trouble began in early May of last year with teenagers, from a fight near Northeast Pool between teens and young adults from different east Gainesville neighborhoods to unruly gatherings of 50 or more teens at local Wal-Marts, had police and others looking for answers.

The committee sought input from local teens including participants in the Bold Leaders Achieving Quality Unity and Excellence, or BLAQUE, mentoring program. BLAQUE members overwhelmingly suggested that a night-time basketball league would be a good idea. The committee made a presentation to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners during a quarterly retreat in mid-June last year and was granted $117,350 in funding to operate the program.

Heatwave then established a program for girls by partnering with the local nonprofit organization Girls 2 Young Ladies late last summer. Girls 2 Young Ladies, or G2YL, is dedicated to nurturing the positive development of young black girls as they transition into womanhood through spiritual development, academic achievement, health and fitness, arts and culture, etiquette classes, financial and career planning and community service. East Gainesville resident Reshone Flanders is the founder and president of G2YL, which held its Heatwave summer finale ceremony Saturday complete with hors d’oeuvres, certificates of completion, poetry, dance performances and a fashion show.

This year Heatwave was funded with $60,000 from Alachua County and $50,500 from the City of Gainesville.

Rhonda Decambre Stroman, co-chair of the Heatwave committee, said the program was enhanced this year with the addition of concession stands at both basketball sites, Lincoln and the King Center. She said a professional photographer took pictures of each team and G2YL participants.

“We are more organized and making better choices,” DeCambre Stroman said, adding that the committee recently met with assistant city manager Fred Murray about funding for next year. “We are looking at stimulus money, corporate sponsors and gang prevention funds. We will leave no stone unturned.”

The basketball league is comprised of 16 teams that play in two groups, one for 13-16-year-olds, and one for 17-20-year-olds. There were 240 players in the league this summer.

The league employed 24 coaches, two program assistants and eight referees. The coaches had to take classes on coaching, and on how to effectively teach life skills. Games for the younger players were held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and games for the older players were held on Mondays and Wednesdays. All games were played from 5-9 p.m.

Woody, the coach of the Tornadoes, said teaching the players life skills is what is most important to him.

“Basketball is just the vehicle I am using to share my knowledge with them about life,” said Woody, who was raised in southeast Gainesville, and is now a successful real estate agent. Woody said coaches are required to talk to the players about a specific life skill before each game. He said though he has talked to the kids about drugs, decision-making, respect and academic achievement, he said he stress the importance of being dressed appropriately the most.

“If you look at my kids, you won’t see any of them wearing their paints sagging off them,” Woody said.

Meanwhile, almost 100 girls attended G2YL workshops this summer. The workshops featured experts in various fields talking to the girls about their area of expertise.

More than 20 girls listened to Cara Evans talk about how to stay out of trouble with the law recently at a workshop held at the Eastside Recreation Center. Evans is an assistant coordinator with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Teen Court program, and she used different scenarios to create discussions with the girls.

Evans said the ratio of girls to boys entering the juvenile justice system has steadily increased. She said it has risen from one-to-five not long ago to three-to-five now. She told the girls the best thing to do is to get from around their peers when they see they are about to commit a crime.

Denise Banks, 40, said she enrolled two of her daughters, 10-year-old Nyla Banks and six-year-old Elishe Banks, into the program when she found out about it.

“This is a program that our girls can actually learn something from,” Banks said. “It is all about the young ladies here, and they have been learning some great things from the people who have been coming to talk to them.”

Nyla agreed with her mother.

“I like how they talk to us and teach us to be proud of who we are,” Nyla said. “They also teach us things that can help us in life.”

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Written by Symphony

August 21, 2009 at 9:54 am

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