Summer program encourages youth development

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Raji Gourdine and Althelstein Johnson are preparing to spend their second summer in a row teaching Selma’s youth about good sportsmanship and living a healthy lifestyle.

The two are heading up the Wallace Community College Selma National Youth Sports Program, a award-winning summer activity for area children between the ages of 10 to 16.

The 25-day program gives youth from low-income families something fun to do on those long summer days other than get into trouble.

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Gourdine says teaching children about sports, along with drug and alcohol prevention, helps them become good citizens.

“We know juvenile crime increases during the summer,” said Gourdine, who serves as project administrator. “We partner with other agencies to get kids off the streets and provide parents a low cost alternative besides leaving them at home.”

The work done by Gourdine, Johnson, and a number of volunteers managed to expand a small program operating with a $50,000 grant into a major summer activity serving over 300 children.

For this achievement, the Wallace Community College NYSP received the National Outstanding Service Award as a first year program. Wallace was one of two colleges selected for the award out of 200 programs nationwide.

Gourdine says he is proud of this award and the accomplishment the program has achieved after only one year.

“If we can keep at least one kid out of trouble, then it is all worthwhile,” Gourdine said.

Johnson and Gourdine, along with activities director Patrick Evans, were also asked to teach others about their program during a NYSP workshop in Florida.

“It was a very rewarding experience,” Johnson said. “There was strengthening as well as sharing. We were helping to inform others what the program should be like.”

This year children who attended the Wallace Community College NYSP program will receive sports instruction in golf, softball, basketball, karate, swimming, dance, and physical fitness.

“It’s a tie between basketball and karate as the two popular sports,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who teaches the education component of the program, says her job is to “enrich, empower, and entertain” the children in a non-traditional classroom environment.

“We provide them with information on alcohol and drug abuse, personal health, nutrition and career choices. A new aspect this year is cultural enrichment, where the children will visit the National Voting Rights Museum and learn good character traits like conflict resolution,” Johnson said. “Most of all, we just want the kids to have fun.”

Gourdine compared the program to a small elementary school, providing children with free transportation, meals, and physical education.

“Last year we partnered with the Brown Y.M.C.A. to pick children up from that location and drop them off in the afternoon,” Gourdine said. “We are still looking for other partnerships who want to be involved in the program.”

Agencies that have helped the Wallace Community College Program in the past include Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Selma Assessment Center, WCCS, the Dallas County Health Department, Reading is Fundamental Program and many others.

Applications for the sports program will be available beginning May 1.

They can be obtained by calling 876-9306, visiting the WCCS switch board in the Administration building, or by going online at and clicking on the NYSP link.