Pro athletes mentor youth at free sports camp

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A group of committed volunteers planned to invest in inner city youth, to offer a free youth football skill camp called Off The Streets & Into Cleats, from June 22-July 10, 2015. However, the endeavor evolved into something bigger. Although the majority of current participants were from the District of Columbia, over 2,000 boys and girls from the nation’s capital, Maryland and Virginia participated. As a result of positive parental feedback, the sports camp for all ages that has been held at the Deanwood Recreation Center in Washington, D.C. has been extended an additional week.

Volunteer coaches like Jack Roy Wright, who works with the Deanwood Cowboys, University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) football players, Arena Football League (AFL) players, current and former professional athletes are offering sports training, which would typically cost more than low-income families could afford.

The grassroots effort included community leaders like Steven Lee and his brother, Kenneth Frasier, founder of We R 4 Justice. The pair has worked to empower D.C., Maryland and Virgininia youth. Frasier collaborated with former and current professional athletes who are UMD alumni, such as Richard Taylor, Dominic Berger and Baltimore-born LaQuan Williams to start the brand, Off The Streets & Into Cleats. The sports camp also includes decision making and educational components. The men hope that the concept will expand beyond the District of Columbia.

“We founded Off The Streets & Into Cleats to take the kids off of the streets…giving them some type of structure,” Frasier said, “It’s a brand that we can basically bring anywhere. We want local people…to sponsor Off The Streets & Into Cleats to come to their area, and provide a high-level skills training and educational program to benefit the children.”

John Stokes, who works with the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), helped with camp logistics and obtaining 500 daily meals for participating youth through Feed The Children. D.C. Hunger Solutions, which seeks to create a hunger-free community, played a significant role in meal delivery and informing youth about nutrition. In addition to mentoring youth, Shaniece White worked as a licensed food handler. Raushaad Harvey led sponsorship and marketing efforts. He noted that Dale James, CEO of Aligned Development Strategies, Inc. (ADSI) was a sponsor.

Athletic talent like Taylor works with youth at the sports camp as a sports trainer. In 2013, Taylor founded Operation Hunger DC. The goal of the organization is feed those who cannot afford food on a daily basis in the District of Columbia. The philanthropist participated in sports at UMD and was later signed to the New York Jets as a defensive back.

“I’m one of the partners, so we (Operation Hunger DC) partnered with Kenneth’s nonprofit. We want to keep the kids off of the streets (and) keep them away from the violence. It’s just a great alternative to get them involved, feed them (and) mentor them…,” Taylor said.

Taylor and Frasier’s leadership extended to Baltimore during the Freddie Gray riots. Armed with additional volunteers, they visited Penn North in Baltimore to feed community members who had difficulty getting food.

Berger, another sports camp volunteer, was a track and field champion who also attended UMD. Although the USA Indoor Championship Silver Medalist is preparing for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he wants take some time to invest in local youth. Berger, who started running at four or five-years old, said that building friendships and comradery are perks that accompany sports participation.

“When Richard Taylor brought up this idea a couple of months ago, I was all in day one. Most of my family grew up in N.E. (D.C). I was all for supporting, especially a free camp in this area. I know this time of year, kids are out of school. It’s a lot of bad things to get into with a lot of free time. I think this is one of the constructive things to do,” Berger said.

Marvin Bowser, brother of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, watched youth engage in different on-field activities, while recognizing the value of the sports camp.

“It’s something that needs to grow. Particularly in the summertime, the kids need something positive to do. This teaches them team work, discipline, physical fitness, all of that. If they find a future in it, that’s great. Right now, it’s keeping them occupied in a positive manner,” Bowser said.

Please visit www.weareforjustice.org to obtain more information about Off The Streets & Into Cleats.