From Miami to Tampa: Mentoring program connects with local youth through sports and life lessons

A Miami-based nonprofit is expanding its operations to the Tampa Bay area by implementing a mentorship program.

A key tool in fostering growth and development in local youth? Basketball.

Mentoring Valuable Protégés (MVP) coached about 20 teenagers on basketball Friday during its first mentoring event of the summer. Six mentors organized various basketball drills for the youth to participate in at the Jackson Heights Community Center.

“We use sports as a catalyst to mentor them in individual growth, wellness and education,” said Donald Quire, Tampa area director of MVP. “We want to create positive opportunities for the local youth in Tampa.”

Quire, 27, has been playing basketball since the sixth grade. While growing up in Miami, he said, he saw a lot of teenagers in his neighborhood end up in jail or killed.

“Without sports, I can't say that I wouldn't have chosen the route that some of my peers chose in my old neighborhood,” Quire said. “I can honestly say sports has kept me away from a lot of that because it kept me occupied in a positive way.”

This past year, there has been a spike in gun violence in the City of Tampa. Police say there have been 443 investigations of firearms offenses from Jan. 1 to June 1, 2015. During the same time period last year, there were 320 investigations.

Amid growing concern over gun violence this summer, Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced in early June that the city would extend hours of nine park facilities in Tampa. This initiative aims to help keep children safe by providing them with a positive, constructive atmosphere to spend their free time this summer.

“Our parks can be more than just a safe haven; we want to give kids in our community exposure to new activities, life skills and positive role models,” said Buckhorn during his announcement. “Coaches, mentors and police officers can be positive role models for combatting the lure of the streets or gangs.”

Extended park hours were initially tested at four centers in mid-June on Friday and Saturday nights. More than 1,300 kids participated in the three trial weekends, said Ali Glisson, public affairs director for the City of Tampa.

Employees at Tampa’s park and recreational centers first-handedly see the impact that role models and mentoring programs have on local youth.

Chris Jordan, recreational leader for Jackson Heights Community Center, says that mentors give young people a chance to learn different skills they might not know about otherwise.

“I’ve been working here for more than thirty years and I’ve seen these young men and women go from nothing to something,” Jordan said. “With programs like MVP, mentors have the opportunity to see what a young person can do with their life if you give them the resources and encouragement.”

MVP also has a program called LAACH ON, located at the Woodland Recreational Center. Its purpose is to mentor youth to inspire them to focus their energies on academics, self-improvement and career development.

Quire graduated in Dec. 2014 from the University of South Florida with a degree in Business Management.

Attending USF and graduating has truly taught me the importance of academics, Quire said.

“A lot of times, we see sports as something that can get us out of our environment,” Quire said. “If we’re not good at sports, then we think that we can't really leave. But children and teens have to remember academics. Knowledge is power.”

MVP aims to further expand its operations by partnering with more local recreational facilities in the City of Tampa.

Mentoring events will be held at the Jackson Heights Community Center on Fridays at 6 p.m. and at Woodland Terrace Park on Sunday at 6 p.m. Find more info here.

An official grand opening and ribbon cutting for MVP is expected to take place in three weeks. During the event, the founders will speak to parents and children.

The hope is to make a tangible impact on the lives of young people in disadvantaged areas, in turn improving the whole community.

“It starts with one kid, one parent, one family at a time. As a whole, we can help build Tampa into a better and safer city,” Quire said.

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