Basketball Players Step Off the Court and Into Kids’ Lives
Athletes from Sacred Heart University’s men’s basketball team are participating in a mentoring program that benefits children of varying ages involved with Hall Neighborhood House in Bridgeport. Hall Neighborhood House hosts social, recreational and educational programs for children, youth, families and senior citizens.
As a settlement house over the past 125 years, Hall Neighborhood House’s expanding mission includes providing services that enrich and empower the lives of families, children and individuals in Bridgeport and the surrounding communities. These initiatives include their Youth Services program, the Hall Arts Academy (HAA) and the Ella Jackson Senior Citizen Center, as well as childcare preschool educational programs.
Mark Appelberg is president & CEO of E-Lite Technologies Inc. in Trumbull. He started working with Hall Neighborhood House as a volunteer two years ago, after reconnecting with an old friend from Notre Dame High School—former Bridgeport native and Seattle Supersonics pro basketball player Frank Oleynick, who runs “We Are Future Stars” basketball camps throughout Fairfield and Westchester Counties.
Appelberg joined the Hall House board of directors last year. He’s also a long-time SHU supporter, a former member of the SHU Board of Regents and owns a building rented by the University. A life-longer basketball player, Appelberg helped Hall House raise funds to completely renovate their gym, and this past summer they conducted their first Love Life summer basketball league. The league, he says, was very successful, though just a small part of the many community services Hall House provides. Seeing an opportunity for expanded support and mutual benefit, Appelberg reached out to SHU Head Basketball Coach Anthony Latina to find out if there was an interest in developing the youth mentoring relationship.
Latina says he immediately recognized the opportunity for positive synergies when Appelberg approached him, especially since SHU leaders and students are always looking for community service projects. “Hall House is a great organization that helps a lot of kids, and I believe our student athletes will benefit as much as the kids we will support,” Latina says. “We were open to whatever needed to be done and have had a few introductory visits for our team members. We will be mentoring students on a regular basis, helping with homework and general support and also working with kids interested in basketball, utilizing the recently renovated Hall House gym.”
Latina explains that the SHU participants are enjoying the experience serving as friends, mentors, leaders and role models for the inner-city youth Hall House serves. It’s especially relevant, he adds, since many SHU team members come from similar backgrounds and often turned to local gyms and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA for safe havens and recreation. In fact, Latina recalls that he participated as a student in a local mentoring program when he was growing up in Hartford, and he still maintains friendships from that period in his life.
Reginald Walker, president of Hall Neighborhood House, sees this support as an extraordinary opportunity for fostering a strong relationship between SHU and Hall House and praises the SHU basketball team for their mentoring efforts. “These young men aspire to do well in life, and their educational and athletic commitments will be of great value toward pointing our youth in the right direction,” he says. “Our board chairman, David Daniels III, and I believe that youth mentoring ignites the team’s civic spirit and teaches each player how he can help positively change the lives of other young people.”
Appelberg also expresses his appreciation for the SHU effort and says this mentoring program will go a long way in supporting their goal of getting children off the streets and into a safe, more productive environment like Hall. “Kids and seniors need a place to go that’s safe, welcoming, social and healthy,” says Appelberg. “Coach Latina is offering our kids and their parents tickets to home games at no charge, which is great, but it’s the weekly assistance and interpersonal support that makes the biggest difference. We have hundreds of kids and adults involved in many different programs at our facilities, and are looking for continued personal, organizational and fundraising support. We’re also hoping to expand our partnership with SHU, other area colleges and community organizations and businesses.”
If the mentoring program even helps just a few kids in need every year, it’s very worthwhile, Latina reflects. “Community Service and helping is an important part of the SHU mission and the educational experience for our student athletes,” he says. “We hope that we are teaching our student athletes that it is about trying to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves.”