James B. Washington Education and Sports Inc. is moving across town and into a bigger location in an effort to reach more at-risk kids in need of direction.
The program started just over three years ago, first in rotating locations around the community and then at 2020 N. Palafox St., a 1,100-square-foot building with just two small rooms and a lobby. Thanks to a generous private donor, the program will increase its space tenfold in its new 11,000-square-foot building at 3920 W. Navy Blvd.
James B. Washington Education and Sports Inc. was founded by Benny Washington, who has been a teacher and coach basketball for 35 years. Washington's vision for the program was to stress the importance of good education, citizenship and staying out of trouble.
“Our vision is to increase the graduation rate among at-risk youth and eliminate gang and criminal activities among disadvantaged inner-city youth,” Washington said.
The program started with tutoring, but organizers soon realized they needed a hook to get kids in the door, landing on basketball as bait as the bait. The program immediately grew from one or two children to 40 participants from both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Their first step when children join is showing their report cards, so volunteers can determine in what areas they would benefit from tutoring.
Those first few months were without a building at all and volunteers would move their tutoring location around the community such as Theophalis May Community Center or in Tryon Branch Library study rooms.
In 2018, Washington brought in more programs to engage with the community, such as the Father & Son Forum, which is a monthly meeting in which motivational and community speakers come in to provide help and resources to men on topics such as financial freedom, insurance and avoiding incarceration.
“A lot of times, the single-parent moms will come and be involved,” Washington said. “A lot of them were dealing with their kids and their sons and their husbands, or their boyfriends were the ones that were either unemployed or underemployed or incarcerated or getting out of incarceration, and they are just trying to find resources to help them along the way.”
Washington eventually secured a building at 2020 N. Palafox St. in December 2018, and the building officially opened in March 2019.
Lisa Bosarge became involved with the program in 2019 when she was looking for a basketball trainer for her son. When she learned about Washington and his programs, she knew she wanted to get involved as a volunteer.
Bosarge is a self-taught artist and has been practicing for the last 15 years and was looking for a way to help disadvantaged children.
“It's all about volunteering and giving them new opportunities and new experiences, that they may not be able to afford or may not be exposed to,” Bosarge said. “It is the place for kids to come after school and do something positive and learn something new.”
She hosted a reception at First City Art Center called “Coming Together Show” in August that gave the students the opportunity to show off their art skills. It included self-portraits and masks the kids made during the summer enrichment program that takes place in July. The summer program helps children learn subjects like math, English, science and social studies, followed by time for arts and crafts.
“It's almost like it's therapy for the kids,” Washington said. “Some of the kids who are not the best students appear to be some of the better artists.”
Bosarge hopes to bring in more artists from the community to volunteer on a weekly basis instead of on a tight deadline.
While it may take up to a year to get the new building in shape and ready to host programming, having a larger space to do more art projects, store art supplies, and without carpeted flooring will be beneficial.
Other volunteers such as David Clark, who has been with Washington since 2019 when he was searching for a more competitive basketball league for his son, sees Washington’s vision. Clark found out about Washington’s nonprofit and started to help by creating a website for the basketball team, finding places to buy basketball uniforms and creating a Facebook page for tutoring.
Clark views the kids he helps coach as his own and wants to help them succeed as much as he can.
“As I learned more about the mission and everything that coach is trying to do, I do anything possible to help him,” Clark said. “That's pretty much why I give so much of my time to the whole thing.”
While much of the nonprofit's programming will take in their new building, field trips locally to learn about resources, such as the library, and farther away to the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama, are also part of the curriculum.
They plan down the road to go to places such as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, to expand their art program and have weekly classes, and to be able to take in more kids and have more space to do events for parents.
Washington hopes to gain more funding from organizations such as the Escambia Children’s Trust to grow the initiatives and upgrade the new building with computers, art and classroom supplies and provide Internet to allow more kids to access all the non-profit has to offer.
“Not all our kids, but the majority are from single parents or grandparents who are raising the kids, so somebody's got to be an advocate for those kids,” Washington said. “Whether it be academic tutorial, self esteem, just really creating positive programs to keep them kids off the streets.”
To register for child, visit their current location at 2020 N. Palafox St. To donate or find out more information about James B. Washington Education and Sports Inc., visit their website at jbweducationandsports.org.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Washington Education and Sports getting new building for youth program