This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Vassar Security Guard Helps Local Youth Succeed On and Off the Court

Having worked as a youth and crisis counselor in New York State juvenile detention facilities, Vassar security guard and Poughkeepsie native Michael Wood has encountered a lot of local youth who just seem “lost.” Wood grew up with basketball as a hobby and was lucky enough to have good role models at home, but realized that this support was lacking for many youth. “There are not a lot of resources available in Poughkeepsie now that the YMCA is closed,” he says. “There’s basically nowhere for the kids to go.”

His solution: Create a community-wide basketball club, the Poughkeepsie Royals, to provide a safe and productive environment for the city’s youth. His goal is to bolster both their athletic and academic success. The Royals Basketball Club accepts boys and girls 10-18 years old who practice and compete in a safe space at the Family Partnership Center in downtown Poughkeepsie.

Whenever possible, Wood arranges for the teams to compete in other cities. “Many of the kids have never been outside of Poughkeepsie,” he notes, “so just taking them out of their normal environment gives them a spurt of excitement and a sense that there are options outside of ‘the box.’”

But it’s not all about sport, Wood says. “The first thing I emphasize is education. A lot of the teens want to go on to play professional sports, and I tell them, ‘If you don’t do well in the classroom, there’s no way you can be a part of that.’” Wood has even brought in former New York Giants football player cum educational consultant Roman Oben to talk to the participants about the importance of their studies.

Vassar’s Good Neighbors and Community Works funding programs have lent their financial support to “Coach Mike's” project, and that has helped to propel the club forward, but Wood says that having two sons—Maxwell, 15, and Zachary, 11— also has inspired him to keep his eyes on the prize. “Despite the stereotypes, there are good kids out there, kids who work hard and have good heads on their shoulders. They want to do something with their lives, but they’re basically looking for someone like myself who can help guide them.”

December 2010

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