A local Gainesville summer camp has been keeping children out of trouble and on the courts for over a decade.
Over 600 children ages 9-18 will learn about life and layups at Gainesville’s Summer Heatwave basketball program, said Guillermo Chacon, Heatwave’s recreational leader in charge of athletics.
Since the program was founded 11 years ago, it has helped reduce the juvenile crime rate by 68 percent during the summer, Chacon said.
According to Chacon, the program emphasizes both basketball and life skills. While teams train and compete against one another, they also learn how to work together and individually to maintain their good character, he said.
“The goal is to provide children with the opportunity to participate in structured, coordinated activities in the gym not the streets,” Chacon said.
During the program, participants learn about the “Six Pillars of Character,” which are created by the educational program Character Counts. These pillars include trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship, Chacon said.
Last summer, 627 children participated in the program, and this year, organizers anticipate meeting that number or even surpassing it, Chacon said. Gendered and coed teams meet at both the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center and Abraham Lincoln Middle School.
Over the years, Chacon has noticed a tangible impact this program has on both the youths themselves and the community as a whole.
Though this free program costs the city $104.75 per child, the cost to incarcerate a young person is $219 per day. Not only are kids kept out of trouble, the city saves money in the long run, Chacon said.
To Chacon, the most rewarding experience is getting to see children that have participated in the program for several years continue to learn and grow.
“It’s nice to see that they’re staying on course and on the right track,” Chacon said.
Nick Margjoni, the head basketball coach for Bronson team, said he played basketball as a kid and knows how rewarding it can be. Since the school he coaches for is very small, and he often has difficulty locating leagues for them to play in, he said he is grateful for the opportunity to participate in Heatwave this summer.
“It's very well organized, all of the kids love it and it keeps them out of trouble,” Margjoni said. “It's an awesome environment. I couldn't ask for a better league to play in.”