Program Spotlight July 16

Changing Friday Nights  Program Spotlight: Night Court

It is a late summer Friday night and nearly 100 teen members are participating at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor’s Joel E. Smilow Teen Center. What is the attraction? Night Court. 

On Friday nights, when the Teen Center is normally closed, Night Court is a unique summer program that combines mentoring and basketball to help members focus on positive behaviors and develop strong relationships with adult volunteer community leaders. After a very successful pilot program last summer, Night Court kicked off its second year on June 24 with a basketball league Draft Night. It was hosted by Denver Nuggets’ Forward and Benton Harbor’s own Wilson Chandler.
During the evening, Chandler spoke to the participating teen members and their adult mentors about his experience being selected in the NBA draft. He shook hands and took individual pictures with each of the more than 100 attendees and expressed appreciation to the volunteer mentors and instructional staff for their efforts and commitment to Benton Harbor youth. Most importantly, Wilson offered motivational tips encouraging players to listen to their mentors, respect the game, and set ambitious personal goals. 

Chandler said, “It is always great to be back in my hometown of Benton Harbor, Michigan. It’s a small town, so I know a lot of the families personally. Any time I am able to come home, go to the Boys & Girls Club and help the kids, it puts a smile on my face. I hope I was able to bring a little smile to their faces, too. Also, I just want to show them that just because you grew up in a small town it doesn’t mean you can’t dream big.”
Night Court offers positive alternatives to teens, delivered through adult mentoring and team sports. The program runs for ten weeks in the summer, from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. every Friday. 

Fifteen adult volunteers serve as positive role models who provide guidance through mentoring, coaching, team-building, and individual one-on-one support. Volunteers include: Edran Marshall, Robert Williams, Bryce Hurst, Dontrel Robinson, Ontaygo Johnson, Corey Neely, Justin Webb, Joseph Clark, Koree Vinson and Meri Rose Napier.

Each Friday, the program begins with a healthy, 30-minute dinner where teens and volunteers eat a hot meal together with time to bond in a safe, informal environment. 

Following dinner, a one-hour mentoring activity takes place. Each week features a topic with a lesson and interactive activity. Topics range, but include things like building trust, drug involvement and awareness, stereotypes and prejudice, cultural awareness and sensitivity, positive authority relationships, and self-identity.

Basketball skill-building sessions are followed by an eight-team basketball league for one and a half hours. Each team is coached by their assigned volunteer mentor. Not all of the volunteer mentors are proficient in basketball; mentors focus more on the importance of building a team atmosphere, good sportsmanship, and positive peer and authority figure interaction. 

In addition to members participating in Night Court, other teens serving as Club volunteers are on-hand to help with set-up, meal preparation and serving, scoring games, and clean-up.

The first year of the program was a success by increasing the Club’s average daily attendance from 72 to 100, while decreasing crime rates from the time frames of 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. on Friday nights in the city. 

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