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Summer Programs For Kids Struggle

June 3, 2007

If we agree that an active child is a child less prone to trouble, how do we justify what we make our do-gooders do to provide for them? Summer's coming and all around the city, good-hearted folks are doing the shuffle, trying to find money for gyms, for equipment, for supplies.

Bernard H. Thomas, who runs the Hartford Knights mentoring program, says his and other programs are struggling to provide for the children who need them.

It doesn't have to be this way. The residents of Hartford (and other blighted cities in Connecticut) don't have to run a patchwork of privately-run programs for kids on shoestring budgets. There is money aplenty for everything the city needs to get their children off on the right foot.

We just don't want to spend that money - at least, not on the children.

And so we lose one generation, and then another. Superintendents come and superintendents go, and it just doesn't matter because the answer has never rested solely in the schools.

The answer, instead, lies in the much-mentioned and rarely utilized village.

Kenneth Thompson, the tireless executive director of the Gussie Wortham Foundation (named for Thompson's older sister, who was killed by her estranged husband in 1981), is looking for volunteers and teams for his annual August basketball tournament.

Neither he nor Thomas can do it alone - not even with their small army of regular volunteers.

A product of Hartford, Thomas wanted his son, Alex, to have a shot at a good basketball program, so he started one. Today, six years later, he comes in from South Windsor to work with 75 kids, 90 percent of whom live in the capital city, in an AAU basketball program that has morphed into more.

Once you start working with Hartford kids, you see needs that extend far past basketball. Indulging a Hartford kid in yet another basketball program is like handing a Mars bar to a starving man. It's nice and all, but where's the meat?

Knights kids get homework help. They get help with tuition should they apply to any of this area's fine private schools. Thomas, who runs a computer networking company, B T Solutions, knows that the way out of Hartford for some kids isn't just the basketball courts. They're going to need skills, and college degrees.

"Even now," Thomas tells them, "an associate's degree is not getting it. Down the road, you are going to find that a bachelor's degree is not enough."

Domonic Esson was at Weaver High, but he has since moved to St. Thomas More in Oakdale, with financial help from the Knights. He's not crazy about the suit coat and tie he must wear, but at least he'll be ready for his future in the work world. He intends to major in business in college. Alex Thomas talks about being an engineer, or maybe an architect.

If this was a perfect world, Thomas would have the $170,000 or so it would take to keep the Knights running the way he wants, and Thompson wouldn't have to scramble to keep his program operating. They both expect more kids this summer, and neither will turn down a child. People of a certain age will tell you that the old Hartford was a different, gentler town. Summers were packed with activities that children could walk to.

Are today's kids worth anything less? Chelsea Bourne is a latecomer to the Knights. She's a stand-out basketball player, and she loves the sport, but she also loves that the Knights have helped her with grammar. Her brain is like her ball-playing - aggressive. She's learning bigger words, she said, and she likes that. Her mother, Claudell, likes that her daughter is being challenged. A challenged Chelsea is a productive Chelsea.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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