CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Back in September, a shooting sent ripples through the community living near Booker T. Washington STEAM Academy. So much that parents, teachers and even students demanded change. One organization aims to be part of the solution starting today.

That organization, First String Inc., is hosting their third annual “The Village Youth Basketball Camp” at the Martens Center in Champaign. It’s an opportunity for youth near and far to be supported as an athlete but more importantly, as a person. First String is intertwined deeply within the Douglas Center where they normally host this clinic and games during the season.

This year, the clinic will be held in two sessions led by Illini Hall of Famer Kenny Battle, with several community sponsors on hand as well. The camp starts today for K-2nd graders from 5:00-7:00 p.m., then 7:30-9:30 for 7th and 8th graders. Saturday’s sessions will run 10-noon for 3rd-4th graders then 1:00-3:00 for 5th-6th graders. Fighting Illini Keion Battle, Kenny’s son, is expected to help lead as well. A chance for those youth to hone their skills and fundamentals.

Peter McFarland, President of First String, is encouraging as many youth and their families to participate in this year’s basketball season. Not just to suit up and make highlights, but to be part of something he calls “a village,” hence the title of the clinic. He knows in order to see a change in the violence plaguing our youth, we have to surround them with love and nurture their potential early. Something he witnesses firsthand watching kids from his clinic grow up.

But Peter can’t do it alone, something he credits his “village” for. That includes working in tandem with the Champaign Park District and overall Champaign-Urbana community. For example, coaches and referees are often volunteers from the community, myself included.

Peter says they will have other Illini men’s basketball players on hand at the clinic along with members of Parkland College’s women’s basketball team, to show the youth what’s possible should they decide to commit to the sport and also playing it the right way their entire lives.

Those same relationships built during the clinic have lasted into adulthood for some, which encourages Peter each year to bring back this clinic. So if you’re interested, get ready today. There’s a registration process with the Champaign Park District, just click here to complete. Remember, max capacity per session is 60 kids so registration stays open until they reach it.

The Martens Center is at 1515 North Market Street in Champaign but Peter says the regular season games will still take place at the Douglass Center, which is near the STEAM Academy.

If you need more information on the clinic, you can click here.

For the experiences First String can offer your kids, click here.