CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — WCIA’s annual Day of Giving is set to begin Tuesday.
This year, six organizations will receive financial support. They are all groups that are working to declare victory over violence in our community. One of them is First String, Inc. in Champaign. That is a non-profit that gives boys and girls a positive outlet.
Train a child in the way he or she should go. That is what First String aims to do; using sports to give kids a chance to be themselves.
“We’ve got so many younger kids who want to be older,” said Founder Peter McFarland. “I want kids if they’re 9 to be 9 years old. If they’re 5, be 5 years old. I don’t want them to think they need to be older going through life. I want them to enjoy their youth while they can because when the youth is gone, it’s gone.”
That is why the non-profit held its first youth basketball camp earlier this month. Boys and girls in kindergarten through 8th grade attended with their families, hosted and led by former NBA and Illini great Kenny Battle.
“I’m always excited any time it’s involving our youth because our youth are the future of tomorrow and to get these young boys and girls in here at an early age, let them get a grasp on the game, let them understand there’s a lot of positive people that care for you and want you to succeed,” said Battle.
At the camp, Battle showcased the fundamentals of the game including teamwork, sportsmanship and growth. He said that can help curb the recent violence by our youth.
“Everybody’s out supporting and that’s what the community has to go, come together as one to get rid of all the violence and negative stuff going on and create a positive environment for everyone,” he said.
But it was not just Battle offering mentorship. Several community leaders joined in the effort, providing positive examples the kids won’t forget.
“If we can come back and give out just a little bit of time, and one thing about that, the kids are going to remember this forever, especially if their dads are out there helping them,” said McFarland. “If they don’t remember other stuff, [they’re] gonna remember when their dad coached them in sports. It’s definitely a plus, a win-win for everybody.”
But for that to happen, it all starts at home. Battle said a foundation is needed in kid’s lives, which he credits his own mother for giving him.
“What the parents teach them at home, they’re going to go out into the schools, churches, the community and do,” said Battle. “That respect level starts there and continues to grow. Without respect, who knows where I would’ve been. My mom wasn’t playing. What she said is what she meant.”
And for kids who attended the camp, lessons are already being learned.
“The reason why you should have teamwork is because you don’t always get to have the ball…It’s about others,” said camper Kyrin Ortiz.
First String currently caters to a certain age group. So, McFarland wants to create a bridge for kids who age out. That way they do not lose the connections they have built. Something Day of Giving funds can help with.
WCIA will be collecting donations in their back parking lot in Champaign from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on November 30. You can also donate online.