Far Rock Strong is determined to lift Rockaway’s kids to levels they may not have dreamed of.
On Tuesday, September 24, a group of girls met at the Hammels Community Center gym as they do every Tuesday for ladies’ night basketball with Team Crate. In between shooting hoops and participating in drills led by coach Sean “Sports” Scott, the girls discussed things like their uniforms at school. While they may wear the same Team Crate uniform on the basketball court, their school uniforms vary because they come from different schools across the peninsula. While their basketball jersey may be one color, their skin colors vary. On Tuesday night, girls of all nationalities and backgrounds performed synchronized sit ups during their workout. It’s a beautiful image that perfectly reflects the idea of “one peninsula.”—the mantra of Team Crate/ Far Rock Strong, an organization aiming to reach and elevate local youth, while uniting the peninsula.
The folks behind Team Crate have been working with local youth, inspiring them through the game of basketball for about a decade, but formally developed Team Crate in 2016. Through the program, a group of volunteers has helped to keep local youth engaged in positive outlets such as basketball, rather than going down harmful paths in life that involve drugs, crime and violence.
“Where I came from, a lot of people got distracted and led astray. They got bamboozled into thinking that getting arrested by age 21 was normal and the only way to successfully get out of the neighborhood was through narcotics. We’re trying to change that and bring a new normal to these kids,” Rashaun Banjo, one of Team Crate/ Far Rock Strong’s organizers said.
Executive Director Lugarry Vernon says he and Banjo aim to be the mentors that they wish they had when they were younger. “You can go left, or you can go right in a heartbeat. Athletics is a way to have kids go straight. Kids can get involved in drugs or get into the wrong crowds because there isn’t much for kids to do, so we try to fill that need. We have many issues in this community, so we’re trying to be what kids are missing. It’s being that person they can count on when needed, being a father figure, being a teacher, a coach. It’s trying to take care of every need as possible,” Vernon said.
To do that, the organizations is providing local youth with more positive outlets. What may have started as a basketball program, is now expanding into much more for boys and girls from elementary school through high school. In addition to the basketball team, which takes the kids to tournaments across the city, and even to other states, they offer opportunities for the kids to work out to help them stay in shape. The organization has also introduced literacy programs and even has a monthly book club for the kids. They also give kids opportunities to dress up, helping them buy suits and ties, and take them on a night on the town. A recent trip involved taking some of the program’s boys on the ferry to Wall Street, followed by a dinner where they learned a few lessons about etiquette. “They felt like rock stars,” Vernon said. “You really get to see them become the men we want them to be.” The organization is also becoming more involved in community events, promoting civic engagement and mentoring their kids to become leaders. They also partner with other organizations, so the kids have access to things like tutors to help them with school.
One parent that has seen the benefits firsthand is Tina Smith, whose 12-year-old daughter, Tierra Hendricks, has been active with Team Crate since May 2017. “Two years ago, my daughter was 40 pounds heavier,” she said, pointing out her healthy daughter dribbling a basketball down the court. “Healthwise, it’s helped her a lot. Scholastically, she had always been an average student, but now, she has high honors. On her state math test, she used to score a two. Now she’s a level four,” she said about the Waterside student. “She’s always been a shy kid, but now she’s more of a leader. Her leadership skills have really come out because of this. If it wasn’t for Team Crate, none of this would be remotely possible.”
Team Crate/ Far Rock Strong has reached kids mostly by word of mouth and through volunteering at various locations, but their impact has been big so far. Banjo estimates that there are more than 150 kids currently in the program, but says they’ve probably reached about 350 so far. However, they’re now making more of an effort to reach even more kids on the peninsula. Banjo and Vernon came out to the last Community Board 14 meeting to let the community know about their programs and goals and this week, they connected with CB14’s Youth Services Committee to go into more detail about how they’d like to work even deeper with the community and advocate for what local youth really need.
Team Crate/ Far Rock Strong’s programs have come at no cost to the kids, as the volunteers have covered many costs out of pocket, along with the help of parents that have contributed and some discretionary funding from Councilman Donovan Richards’ office. However, the organizers say they’ll be expanding their fundraising efforts in the future so they can do even more for the kids.
At the end of the day, it’s just about doing what’s right. “Our peninsula has been divided for a very long time, from uptown and downtown. Our goal is for one peninsula. We’re really trying to bring communities around the peninsula together,” Banjo said. “We want to continue to grow and serve as a much-needed resource for Rockaway and continue to serve our residents through sports, leadership, mentorship, community development, civic engagement and beyond.”