By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Write
Chauncey Lauray had Curtis Knight
right where he wanted him. The12-year-olds had been going
at it on the chessboard in the new Boys and Girls Club on
Sigourney Street. But now, Curtis' queen was just about done
"You've got him. Finish
him!" implored 68-year-old mentor Bill Russell to Chauncey.
"No," said Chauncey,
smiling. "I want him to suffer."
After relenting, Chauncey put
his opponent in checkmate. Then, before shaking Curtis' hand,
Chauncey- dressed in a professional basketball jersey - did
a shoulder shimmy, worthy of a hoopster after a big dunk.
"I love this game!" he declared.
Chess is just one of the activities
that the 400 or so young people participate in at the club.
The new building is a hallmark of a $150 million investment
in Asylum Hill, one of Hartford's most desperate neighborhoods.
Connecticut Public Television, St. Francis Hospital and Medical
Center, Asylum Hill Congregational Church and a city housing
program for first-time buyers are part of the neighborhood's
A core of Asylum Hill Congregational
volunteers, chagrined by the notoriety of the neighborhood
-drugs, prostitution, shootings - decided to change its reputation
and transform the street. They led a five-year effort to raise
$7 million to build the Boys and Girls Club, which opened
Where once there stood a vacant
abestos-laden brick building, fronting a crack house, now
there is hope and the buzz of youthful energy.
Most of the club members come
from single-parent homes, with little adult supervision in
those bewitching after-school hours of 3 to 6 p.m. Instead
of mischief, the kids can fill idle time in a gymnasium, computer
lab, game room, or in mentoring sessions, cultural programs
or leadership training.
"I can't think of the words
to describe how good this investment was for this neighborhood,"
says Tachica Murray, 23, a single parent who sends her son
Trevon, 7, to the club. "With the crime and everything
that goes on here, what is the closest playground that the
Murray works as an office assistant
and gets out at 4:30 p.m. Trevon gets out of school at 2:30
"It's proven that kids who
don't have after-school activities, particularly in lower-income
neighborhoods, are far more likely to be caught up in all
the problems that can happen in low-income neighborhoods,"
says Lee Allison, a retired corporate executive, Asylum Hill
Congregational member and Boys and Girls Club trustee.
As city leaders wring their hands
over the persistent episodes of violence among young people,
one of the things you notice in the club is that unharnessed
energy is expended in productive activities.
The street-smart staff at Asylum
Hill doesn't play when it comes to discipline. Unit Director
Alonda Simmons has no reservations about snatching a young
man's cap off his head while he walks indoors.
Program director Chad Williams,
meanwhile, recently ordered all the kids into the gym for
a reprimand because they were becoming unruly.
A few days later, Eric and Karl
were ready to rumble when William sent the elementary school
boys to his office and demanded that they each write 10 things
that they didn't know about the other and three ways that
they could have avoided their altercation.
"We try to teach them that
there are more things that they can find out that they have
in common, and that they like about each other," Williams
Chauncey Lauray's and Curtis
Knight's chess grudge match was less about winning and more
about understanding the consequences of rash decisions.
"It's like life," Curtis
said. "If you make the wrong choice, you're in trouble."
Stan Simpson's column appears
Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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