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Helping Hoops is much bigger than a game of basketball
For the kids that attend Helping Hoops sessions week in, week out, it is all about having fun and a chance to experience opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be available to them. There's no doubt about it; Helping Hoops is much bigger than just basketball - it is changing kids' lives.
I was lucky enough to take in a session from the sidelines at Fitzroy recently and the effect this program has on the kids is evident before they even step on the court.
From every angle of the surrounding Atherton Gardens public housing estate, kids come running as the clock ticks closer to the beginning of another session. They all know the consequences if they're late; run 3 laps of the court - and no one wants that!
Everyone genuinely wants to be there. There is no pressure on the kids to show up every week, but they do and they do so with a smile on their face and plenty of laughs.
There's no flashy lights or pristine courts - in fact a majority of the court lighting isn't working - but the kids don't care.
For the youth in Fitzroy, the lure of going down the wrong path is strong, but Helping Hoops is dedicated to having a positive impact on as many kids as they can reach.
Founder and Executive Director, Adam McKay has seen the program grow from one session a week seven years ago, to now over 350 sessions a year - and that number continues to rise on the back of Helping Hoops Prahran launching last week.
"We could be at our locations seven days a week and always be busy." McKay said.
A majority of the kids that attend Helping Hoops Fitzroy are of migrant background, many of whom are South Sudanese Australians. McKay has seen the South Sudanese Australian community thrive when given the opportunity to do so, and he hopes more opportunities are avilable in the future.
"I think, particularly in the South Sudanese Australian communities, the kids are really starting to make an impact in basketball at the highest level and I think more could be done at the top level to help these kids access opportunities." McKay said.
"In three or four years time, half of the Australian Boomers team could be from a South Sudanese Australian background. To me that's pretty cool, if that scares you, then wake up - it's happening." McKay said.
McKay highlights how important it is for South Sudanese Australians to have role models to look up to.
"Hell yeah, absolutely [it's important]! Every kid that goes through and does something positive and then comes back is a role model for these kids - they can relate to them." McKay Said.
The sessions, which run at many locations throughout Melbourne and the outer suburbs, preach enjoying the game of basketball whilst instilling values in the kids that will help them contribute positively to the community.
"I'm really proud of our team - we're here every week. We're playing the long game, we're not looking for short-term goals, it's looking at how we can impact the kids over a long period of time."
One session at a time, Helping Hoops is unlocking potential and providing an opportunity for kids to grow - both on and off the court.