- Shelby Smith
Giving back is one of the most important elements of building a community, and passing that along continues that process of growing. This is where Give and Go comes in.
The hours of 3-7pm, after school, are perhaps the most critical time of the day for the youth. These are the least structured, and the least supervised time in a child’s day, and a lot can happen on the way home from school.
Andre Wright was born and raised in Brewerytown, spending the better part of the past thirty years here. He’s moved away several times, yet he always comes back. He grew up on the 1400 block of 29th and Master, and regards the annual 29th street block party as a “family reunion.” I spoke with Andre about the neighborhood, and he knows from experience what it is that the neighborhood needs. His respect for the community that raised him, combined with his background as an in-school therapist, were what started him thinking about better and more comprehensive ways to provide coping strategies, encouragement and positive programming to the overwhelming 80 percent of children who have experienced trauma. Andre told me that when he was younger, the neighborhood rec center was his safe haven. He also told me that he feels his responsibility is not only to the kids, but to his friends who have lived in Brewerytown forever. He said, “Sports are the perfect way to do that. There is no color, no race. It’s the best way to bridge the gap, making sure that people from the neighborhood are heard.” The idea turned into a reality in 2009, when Andre founded Give-and-Go Athletics with partner Caleb Jones as an after school sports program. What was once a basketball league comprised of four boys, has since expanded via word of mouth to over forty kids. When Give-and-Go was adopted by Resources for Human Development, and registered as a non-profit 501(c)(3), opportunities became endless.
Basketball sooned turned into baseball and dance in 2012. When the siblings of the basketball kids heard about the program, they wanted in, but not all wanted to shoot hoops. A baseball league was the resounding request of the neighborhood students, and to Andre, adjusting goals and expectations to satisfy the neighborhood students, became an immediate priority. In a matter of months, the organization raised enough money to offer group skills, life skills, and clinics for both basketball and baseball, with funds available to recruit coaches and obtain all necessary equipment.
In the past few months, Give-and-Go began submitting proposals to the Board of Education to implement programs through the schools, but issues arose in the matter of securing transportation from the schools to the gym where Give-and-Go operates. Unwilling to be thwarted, they then submitted new proposals to the board asking to secure use of the school gymnasiums for after school sports practices on the premises, which would eliminate the need for a new school bus contract. Those proposals were successful, and there are now flourishing in-school pilots at McKinley Elementary School and Bache Martin.
This led many to wonder, “What about girls?” There are some girls on the basketball and baseball teams, but at the co-ed level. There are not enough girls thus far to field full rosters or provide stipends for more coaches. If your daughter, sister, niece, or granddaughter plays sports, now is the time to enroll her in the Give-and-Go program, so that she can build a strong bond with her teammates, learn to balance school and extracurricular activities, and engage in healthy competition.
Andre advocates for children because he knows that they are the beginning, and they still have a clean slate. What they become later, is still totally up for grabs, and it is the duty of mentors, teachers and coaches, to invest in them while they are on a good path, so that they continue on that good path and grow into productive, responsible adults and citizens. Exercise is important, and childhood obesity rates are staggering these days as well. Kids need a well-rounded education, and that does not end when the school day does. Those four critical hours before they finally head home to complain about the broccoli on their dinner plates before bed are when Give-and-Go has the chance to influence kids. “There can never be enough positive socially-conscious programs in the inner city,” Andre says. If Andre is any benchmark for the future, the kids today will look back on the time they spent at practices and games in the gym as their safe haven as well.
Dance is an expanding program that Give-and-Go now offers. Caleb Jones’ sister, Sarai, was already working on a dance repertoire for young girls to learn, and Give-and-Go was in a position to use its stance and budget to get Sarai’s dance plans off the ground. In addition to Sarai, there are three other dance instructors, and between the four of them, they teach modern, jazz, tap, hip hop, and ballet. This has become a popular offering for girls, and boys are showing interest as well.
Back in 2010, Give and Go used the Broad Street Run as a platform to get people involved with the organization by running for the cause. Andre shared that, “While there are many causes that any city must support, youth programs are perhaps the most important, because they are the ones offering preventative measures.” This involvement with the ten-mile run began when Bonnie Dugan, of the “One Step Away” newspaper, saw a story and photo that Andre posted on social media of the kids competing for Give-and-Go, and she reached out for more information because she was inspired. She then took on the Broad Street Run Initiative entirely, understanding the effectiveness of asking people to donate to their friends, colleagues, and family members by sponsoring their races. People always feel more comfortable giving money to people they know, and to causes they can see. These funds raised by this network of runners offset the operating budget which allows for the purchase of sporting equipment, space, and the hiring of coaches, instructors, and staff. All of these resources are essential to keep the kids well-attended. This year marks four years for the Give-and-Go Broad Street Run team. The first year Andre ran it alone, the second year Bonnie joined him, the third year there were five runners. This year, there are an impressive twelve runners participating. While registration for this year’s run on May 4th has already closed, it is not too late to donate to the runners by simply following the links on the website: www.giveandgoathletics.com. If you are already registered to actually run, you can still join the team also! There will be a Give-and-Go after party following the event at Infinity, and volunteers will be needed to work that event. This year’s team of twelve has been divided into two groups of six representing the Give-and-Go staff and Team Brewerytown. Andre is currently looking for volunteers to cheer on the teams and support Brewerytown at Broad and Master by passing out water and encouraging the runners. If you are interested in volunteering, joining the team, or donating, please mention so in the comment section, and I will follow up with the appropriate contact information for you.
Another opportunity to see Give-and-Go in action is during the May 10th cleanup as part of Love Your Park Week. All parks throughout the city such as Fairmount, Sedgeley, Smith Playground, Hunting, and Gemantown will get some spring cleaning, and Give-and-Go in collaboration with Lemon Hill, will be hosting a cleanup at 30th and Poplar. Any and all help is appreciated, so comment your availability to receive further instructions.
What is Give and Go?
In the beginning, Andre and Caleb weren’t sure what they wanted to name their organization. They knew they wanted to give back, give time, give resources, and give money. We all know the Give-and-Go play in basketball, and Pick-and-Roll didn’t have quite the same ring to it, so they knew what to do. The play is about giving the ball to your teammate, then working the court, maintaining good position and receiving the ball back to score. When we teach kids, they teach us. They take what they’ve learned and they re-instill those lessons in us so that we can continue to be of service. That very important process is happening every day in Brewerytown, thanks to some very devoted residents. Volunteerism is essential to building strong foundations for youth, providing an example, and helping to build pride in a community. Thank you, Andre Wright. We hear you as you speaking up for so many others!