MAXWELL:  Youth programs need community aid

5/10/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Correction (5/11/00): The correct number for information about this summer’s National Youth Sports Program camp at St. Petersburg Junior College is (727) 341-4670. An incorrect number was published in Bill Maxwell’s column Wednesday.


When Colin Powell, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to Florida in January to help kick off a mentoring program for youngsters, Gov. Jeb Bush, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan and a group of other dignitaries were front and center. No matter where Powell goes, huge crowds turn out to help him promote his foundation, America’s Promise: the Alliance for Youth.

I have nothing against Powell’s effort or that of Bush and Brogan. I support their initiatives. I must point out, however, that although big names draw attention and big bucks, most of the real heavy lifting for young people is done by groups that operate in relative obscurity and with little or no money.

These groups survive because volunteers and otherwise low-paid workers are committed to helping children. Such is the case in Pinellas County, where Keturah Mills, an English instructor at St. Petersburg Junior College, directs activities for the National Youth Sports Program. Each summer, since 1968, NYSP, an affiliate of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has combined sports instruction with education programs for 250 kids, 10 to 16 years old. Other funding comes from the federal government.

Nationwide, NYSP has 68,000 participants on 188 junior college and university campuses in 47 states.

Adult supervised activities include swimming, basketball, football, softball, tennis, track and field, soccer, volleyball, dance/aerobics, badminton, gymnastics and wrestling. Community leaders also teach classes on alcohol and other drug-abuse prevention, nutrition and personal health, career opportunities and job responsibilities, math and science and tips on college admissions.

All activities and services are free, including medical examinations at All Children’s Hospital, accident and medical insurance, breakfast and lunch and transportation to and from SPJC’s Gibbs campus, site of the 9-week program. Because the children are at a college campus, they enjoy many opportunities to interact with students and teachers there.

“The primary goals of the program are to expand opportunities for disadvantaged youth in metropolitan areas to benefit from sports instruction, engage in sports competition and to generally improve their physical fitness,” Mills said. “We also want the children to acquire good health practices, learn to become good citizens so that they can participate in community life and find solutions to their communities’ problems.”

But these efforts cost huge sums, and here is where Mills and other NYSP staff members face disappointment. Although the overwhelming majority of the participants are African-Americans, few, if any, black people donate. Most private donations come from whites and businesses such as Kash n’ Karry ($20) and Publix Super Markets Inc. ($100). Other businesses and organizations donate water bottles, books and book bags and sports equipment and apparel.

Black people, particularly those with the financial means, should be ashamed of their stinginess, Mills said. In addition to money, the camp needs volunteers and motivational speakers, but few black people come forward, Mills said.

One tangible benefit of the camp is its ability to keep children out of trouble during the summer. “I think NYSP has kept my son focused,” said Edith Jeter, mother of Samuel L. Davis III. “His mind doesn’t have time to wander. It’s a very positive, safe program. One thing that surprised me was the physical at All Children’s. The doctor pointed something out that I was not aware of.”

“This is a great program that enhances the lives of these young people,” Mills said. “Moreover, it provides an excellent opportunity for the community to aid in giving positive direction to our youth. All of us can make a difference.”

The SPJC camp runs from June 14 to July 27, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Physical examinations, which are free of charge, are required and will be performed at All Children’s Hospital on June 8 (12:30 to 4:30 p.m.), June 9 (8 to 11:30 a.m.) and June 13 (8 to 11 a.m.). For information and applications, call Keturah Mills at (727) 341-4760.