Jonathan Oliver takes basketball seriously. It’s clear from his authentic Michael Jordan jersey, and from the way he rattles off the names of his favorite players.
"Michael Jordan. Allen Iverson. Anthony Carmelo. Those three," he said between games at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. "Oh, and Julius Erving!"
Thanks to a grant from the New York City Housing Authority, the 24-year-old Lincoln Square resident can now come here to shoot hoops on summer evenings Ð a time when there aren’t many activities available for low-income youths in his neighborhood.
"Young people in the area really have a strong desire to connect in a safe place," said Susan Matloff-Nieves, Executive Director at Lincoln Square. "Our attendance has been increasing exponentially."
Lincoln Square and Goddard Riverside embarked on a strategic partnership earlier this year. The NYCHA grant, which awarded $90,000 to each institution to provide evening programming throughout the summer for teens and young adults, is one of the first steps the partners have taken together.
In addition to basketball, the programs offer activities such as art, chess, photography, and computer lab.
"We have kids who took photographs for the first time in their life. They’re developing new interests and skills," Matloff-Nieves said.
"We’ve provided a safe space," added Richard Rivera, who oversees youth programming at Goddard Riverside. He said audio recording Ð where aspiring rappers get to lay down tracks Ð and basketball were popular offerings.
Jaleesa Wiley, 24, is a big fan of Lincoln Square’s evening activities. In fact, she’s come so regularly that the program recently hired her as an assistant.
"This is good for kids in the neighborhood," she said as attendees took a break to snack on pizza one night. "You see kids that used to get in trouble and now they’re here."
While the NYCHA funding runs out at the end of this month, both institutions are looking into ways to continue serving these teens and young adults in the future.