‘HE’ scores! in Stapleton, NY
If you’re headed to Staten Island, N.Y., be prepared to cross a bridge.
The Salvation Army there has learned all about building bridges of a different kind, including one that connects a popular after–school basketball program at P.S. 78 to the Stapleton, N.Y., Corps.
Lieutenants Jacknier and Katherine Tripari, the corps officers at Stapleton, said some of the children who attend the Thursday afternoon basketball program return to the corps in the evening to learn about music and about God.
“We teach children the basics of basketball,” said Lieutenant Jacknier. “We are in a community where there’s not much to do outdoors and many kids find themselves at home in a not–so–favorable environment.
“What we do is try to give them skills and an outlet, other than just being at home doing nothing.”
‘More than basketball’
Lieutenant Katherine said Thursday is also “troop night” at the corps, including Adventure Corps. Last year, about 10 kids from the basketball program made their way to the corps when they were done playing ball.
“We have a teen night that follows all of our troop programs, so any kids who are a little bit older and want to stay and have time dedicated just to them, can also do that,” Lieutenant Katherine said.
Three years ago, Captain Stephen Mayes, the former corps officer in Stapleton, started the basketball program.
“It’s a school program, but they let us lead it and bring the influence and presence of Christ in a way that can be allowed in a school,” said Lieutenant Katherine. “It’s incredible to see that growth happen and to see them latch on to more than just basketball.”
Finding his niche
One of those success stories is Isaiah Danielson, a 6th grader. For two years, he has been coming to the basketball program. He also started going to the corps, where he honed his trumpet skills at Star Lake Musicamp.
Danielson said of the corps, “We learn about music and about God and how He helps us with everything.
“He sent His Son Jesus down to die for our sins. He has done everything for me, my brothers, and my whole family. Being at the corps has changed my life.”
Lieutenant Jacknier said of Danielson, “We’re talking about a kid who never played an instrument. Because of this basketball program, the door is opened for that to happen. He’s developed into a pretty good player.”
Danielson and his brothers, Joel and Jeremiah, also love the basketball program, which tips off on Thursdays, right after school.
Helping each other
José Ferrer, a 5th grader, lacked confidence in his game until he started attending the basketball program.
“I couldn’t do it because I didn’t believe in myself. But now, I believe in myself because they’ve taught me a lot,” Ferrer said amid the sound of bouncing basketballs.
“I was here last year and I’m just excited to be back to play basketball,” he said. “The teachers are nice and fun and we learn a lot about basketball.”
While most of the players are boys, Brianna Kernall, a 6th grader, also enjoys competing and improving her game.
“They push us to learn,” she said.
Two of the people encouraging the kids are Corps Cadets Devon Owens, 16, and Josh Stevenson, 17.
“I like to help the kids do what they want to do and progress in things that will help them in their life,” says Owens, who grew up in The Salvation Army.
“By coming to the corps, they can have more than basketball to advance their lives and use their talents to spread the Word of God to people.”
Stevenson called the program “energetic and friendly.”
“I like the environment,” he said. “I think everyone enjoys us being here. Everyone here enjoys it.”
David Kelly, a candidate intern from the Stapleton Corps, has led the program for the past three years. He said new kids join each year.
“We have about 15 to 20 new kids. Our programs are a great opportunity to reach out to them and get them into church.
“[Our programs] are bridges that allow us to go into the school system and invite the kids out for a talk about Jesus. Obviously, we can’t do it here in the schools, so we go to the corps where we have an opportunity to teach them. It’s an opportunity to make friends, be with kids their own age, and do activities. So it’s a great program all around.”
Being a partner
Kelly said Louis Bruschi, the principal at P.S. 78, is an “incredible partner.”
“The relationship between The Salvation Army and P.S. 78 is incredible right now,” Kelly said. “It’s what it was meant to be.”
Bruschi said P.S. 78 is a state-designated “community school.” While the school is the hub, there are many community partners, including faith-based ones like The Salvation Army.
“The basketball program has really been a great way to grow the culture in our school community and to help people understand that the community exists inside and outside the school,” he said.
“Because the students have more personal support and direct interactions with people in the community, there’s a little more connectivity in the community. There are other people who can reach them when they’re having a crisis—and at that point, that’s when it becomes most powerful. These are often children who would be considered at-risk and they’re not at risk because of their connection to the program.”
Lieutenant Jacknier said the corps loves being a community partner.
“When we think about ministry, we sometimes think of it within the walls of the corps,” he said. “This program has really been an opportunity for us to leave the confines of our building and go to the local school and build relationships with the children there.”
by Robert Mitchell