While many of us never particularly enjoyed extra schooling, there is much to be praised about the impact of Out-of-School-Time (OST) programs in empowering the youth of a community. And so,–
Congratulations to their efforts, because out of $170,000 slated to be cut, $150,000 was restored last week to continue serving 52,000 students in low-income neighborhoods.
After-school programs offer the advantage of being affordable child care when parents aren’t home from the 3 to 6 time-slots: They keep kids off the street. Oftentimes, they allow for more personal investment in a child’s academic achievement. At their best, they empower a child to become dream-pursuing, community-minded individuals.
Which is a little bit of what happened to Frederick Sanchez, the nineteen-year old Washington Heights native who recently earned a scholarship to play basketball in University of Maine, Fort-Kent. Standing at 6’1” tall, Fred is usually in basketball shorts and a white tee and known as an indomitable force on the basketball court.
“I think a lot of people use basketball here to get girls and get the Dyckman shorts,” Fred says, “But for me, I’m using it to go to college.”
According to Fred, going to college was a joke three years ago. Even later on, with burgeoning college aspirations, he did not have the SAT scores. What he had instead was a uncanny love and talent for basketball and a community of good friends that invested in him and kept him accountable.
He joined the Manhattan Bible Church Youth program freshman year of high school; he initially went to play in the local basketball tournament, and later became a member of the church itself when he became a Christian.
“For every eight kids, there’ll be one or two coaches to care for them,” says Denise Hykes, the youth coordinator at Manhattan Bible Church. Every Saturday, she says, she sat down the basketball team to do devotionals on God and godly living. Increasingly, Fred found himself associating less with the streets and more with community-minded individuals.
While the culture of the neighborhood has progressively moved away from associations with the gangs and general lawlessness of the eighties, it is still a neighborhood where households are largely low-income and headed by single mothers.
Like others, he grew up without a father and met his mother for the first time at the age of six. His mother was young when she had him in the States, so he was sent to live with his aunt in the Dominican Republic.
“For me, there’s only two things you can do in this neighborhood: Be on the corner doing drugs or basketball,” says Fred.
“The ideal is to become the guys in the R&B songs who get the girls and live the life, but not necessarily get a job or be a father,” says Karas Bonifas, 18, a friend and tutor to Fred.
For a while, Fred seemed to be on the same track: He was forced to transfer middle schools for delinquency and spent two years in special-education before heading to Walton High School; which is better known around here for being the local drop-out factory.
In the summer after ninth grade, however, he asked Denise Hykes’s help in transferring to Evangel Christian High School. Attending Evangel lessened his chances of being noticed by scouts, but it does surround him with better academic standards and student culture.
The move, and Denise Hykes’s help, is indicative of the deep personal investment of MBC staff in student lives. Hykes says, “It could be anything from teaching kids manners or getting them out of dangerous situations.”
For Fred, it’s surrounding him with the kind of community that keeps him accountable. Oftentimes, when his peers go out to chase the nightlife, Fred is the lone figure shooting hoops in the local park.
For college, Manhattan Bible Church recently gave him $300 to help his family out. Over the years, MBC gave him jobs in the church, and access to the gym in early mornings and late nights.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it is true that the person we become is affected largely by the community and support systems we’re surrounded by. When youth are invested into and empowered, they bring that encouragement into their relationships, inciting change that can change neighborhoods.
More than anyone else, Fred seems to understand very well the role that his community took in his life:
“I just want my brother and sister to have a better future. I just had a lot of people who invested in me, and I wanna pay them back.”
He continues, “I want to give back to my neighborhood. I want to come back and give that to someone else.”