On a cold, rainy weekday evening, four teenagers came to hoop.
The weather meant Amaree Corbitt and Michael Hope, both 17, couldn’t work their part-time job washing cars. So the Hillside New Tech High School students drove over to the I.R. Holmes Sr. Recreation Center on South Alston Avenue after school.
Corbitt said he’d played basketball in the gym before when he played rec league ball.
Hope knows some of the people who work there. “I come just to hang out with my boys,” he said.
The open gym time for teenagers is part of a new drop-in program started this past fall at four Durham Parks and Recreation centers. When the current city budget rolled out last summer, youth programs were touted as a priority. The total cost of drop-in, after-school and free pool and recreation center admissions for teens is less than $200,000 of the $429.4 million budget. The drop-in programs are called My Durham.
A ‘safe space to talk’
Nathan Batchler said 45 to 50 teenagers a week have started coming to the I.R. Holmes Sr. Recreation Center, which also has a pool. The center is at Campus Hills Park, about a mile from N.C. Central University. Batchler, the supervisor, has worked there for three years. He said the increase was a surprise and thinks it is outstanding. He credits the variety of things to do.
“Most kids who come here are from Hillside [High School] and Shepard [Middle School]. A lot of teens don’t drive,” said Ellis Monroe, a master program specialist for the city who runs the drop-in program at Holmes.
Monroe, 26, is from northern Durham. He said the program gives young people tools he didn’t have when he was their age.
“I encourage them to be friends, say ‘hi’ when they see each other at school. I think with the programs at different sites, we tap into different issues,” Monroe said. Teens will talk about things they may not at home or school, like losing a friend to jail or violence, he said.
“When they come here, it’s a safe space to talk, and I can try to help them out, give them guidance,” he said. Monroe said guys who come to play basketball know that it’s safe to approach a pick-up game, that the other guys will be cool.
He has also talked to teens about budgeting, and they’ve made healthy smoothies and even slime.
“That’s really been clutch for me, to build relationships,” Monroe said. The basketball draws them in, but there’s more.
“It works like a culture for the kids: ‘I can go up to the rec center,’” he said.
Shannon Teamer, the teen coordinator for Durham Parks and Recreation, said they’re breaking the stigma of teens only coming to rec centers to play basketball.
“It’s more than just a gym now,” Teamer said.
Malik Carrington, 17, said he came to the rec center to get out of the house.
“I come every day, just to play basketball, and [because of] the people here,” said Tajiri Minor, 14.
“It’s just something to do,” he said.
My Durham programming changes month to month, depending on what the youth want. Teamer said each site gets about 40 to 50 youth coming each week, but it fluctuates. Parks and Recreation used teen focus groups for programs and even marketing. Teens told them program names are too long, hence My Durham.
The program at each changes to get the most teen involvement. Aside from Holmes center, other My Durham locations are W.D. Hill Recreation Center and Walltown Park Recreation Center. A fourth location just started at Weaver Street, moving from Edison Johnson to get more youth to come.