by Catrina Shade and Russell O. Karr
Brooklyn Mitchell confidently declares that she enjoys Elevate because “it has been helping me develop myself as a person since 7th grade and now I am in 10th grade. I like the training I receive, it has made me a better basketball player and a better person.”
Likewise, David Williams, who is in his third year with the Elevate program, describes how the program has helped him. “I enjoy Elevate because it helps me with my grades. I also enjoy Elevate because it gives me training from the best trainers in the city of New Orleans, and allows me to play in front of Division 1 coaches. I don’t think I could have done this without Elevate.”
These are the testimonies of student helped by a unique program in New Orleans, Louisiana designed to inspire and encourage inner-city youth towards excellence in achievement.
Elevate is designed to help students grow and excel academically, athletically, and socially. Elevate started in New Orleans, but has a greater mission to provide inner-city students all around the U.S. with the knowledge and skills to aid them in growing to be a well-rounded person; socially, academically, and athletically. Elevate’s program is based on the foundation of mentorship by staff, and a lot of positive reinforcements and encouragement. Staff at Elevate lead as role models in the classroom and on the court. With a main focus on academics, Elevate offers high school students tutoring from students at Loyola University who help them with their studies and prepare them for their ACT/SATs. Each student’s grades are regularly monitored by Academic Coordinator Cedar Howard. At Elevate, academics are most important, therefore students are urged to keep a 3.0 GPA to play on the basketball team. This allows the students to fully understand their priorities as a student first and an athlete second. The athletic program at Elevate includes basketball training. Basketball training is taught by Coach Ben Aronin. Ben has coached 11 seasons of basketball on every level from elementary school to professional leagues with the International Basketball League, and has a great gift to inspire the young student athletes with the game.
The driving force behind Elevate is Executive Director Sky Hyacinthe. Sky explained the program’s history and his purpose for Elevate. “I was part of a group of people that saw the opportunity to give back to the kids and we created this program. I wanted to make a difference in the education and lives of the student-athletes in the inner-city area,” explained Sky. “Currently the program center is located in New Orleans, Louisiana, but we would like to grow in the United States. There are so many students who need this sort of focus and direction.”
Sky explained all aspects of the program, which is well-rounded. “Our students need to develop academically as well as physically and socially,” relates Sky. “It can seem pretty serious, which it is, but we also have lots of fun. In addition to the tutoring, sports training, and mentoring, hot meals daily, fun outings like laser tag and other outings.”
Sky understands the importance of socialization and approaches the program with family values. “The program has a family feel to it. We all come together as a family. They are shy when they are younger. But they can grow within themselves. They may be shy the first week or first month, But after awhile they start building relationships and friendships with one another. The shyness goes away really quickly.”
Elevate encourages the students to further their education after high school. Students also have opportunities to search and apply for scholarships with help from the Elevate staff. Students seek both academic and basketball scholarships. Collegiate and Divisional coaches and scouts come to watch the Elevate team play. Scholarships can be received by students from colleges based on academic excellence or athletic ability in basketball.
Sky explained how they help the students with their college plans. “They have academic assistance in getting scholarships. If they need help finding them, whether it’s a major or in the arts, or whether it’s because they were a part of Katrina, because a lot of our kids were affected by the Hurricane Katrina affair, we help them look and find scholarships. They get scholarship opportunities for sports and academics. We help them with their basketball recruiting and academic scholarships. All recruiting for our kids goes through us.”
The Elevate staff interacts and helps their students on a daily basis. They are extremely helpful and student-oriented. Sky describes how he and the staff interact with the students.
“I’m very much hands on here. Everything I have to do is entrenched with the kids. Our offices are there on site so kids can walk into my office at any time. I can jump on the court with them or come into the classroom and check up on them or answer questions. I am very much involved in what they do day to day.”
Sky is especially excited about the basketball program. “The basketball program has gone exceptionally well. One of our kids went to the Olympic trials for basketball and made it to the very last cut from 180 girls to 12 girls,” beams Sky. “This program gives the kids who have a dream to play basketball a chance and a place to call home and allows us to train them. Our program focuses on allowing their talents and skills to flourish. It builds their confidence and skills so they can compete on a high level. We have over 100 divisional teams interested in our kids. We are currently the #10 team in the country.”
Sky summed up the Elevate program in this way: “It is a tough program. We’re going to push you to your limits: as a person, on the court, in the classroom. We need you to push yourself as a person and on the court. We can’t do it for you, but we’re going to bend over backwards to push you to meet yours goals.”
Sky has a vision that he hopes to impart to all of the students. He is clear in his hope and desire for each of the students in the Elevate program. “I want them to know that anything is possible. With hard work dedication and stick-to-itiveness, you can do anything. Things are going to be hard. Life isn’t easy. Life hands you things that require hard work and may not seem possible. You have to put in the work. But if you stick to it and do your part good things will always happen.”
Elevate. The purpose is in the name. This unique organization confidently states that they “Make Winners For Life.” And they have succeeded even while the organization pushes forward for even more positive impact on the students in the program.
Elevate is supported by Emeka Okafor, Laureus US, Winn Dixie, Regions Bank, and many others. If you would like to support Elevate please go to www.Elevateusa.org and help if you can. Thank you. – Sky Hyacinthe
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