ALBANY, Ga. -- After 35 years of helping Albany's youth run faster, jump higher and work harder in school and on the sport's field, the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) will be celebrating its 35th anniversary with a homecoming celebration for all of the program's past participants.
On June 1, the opening day of the five-week program, NYSP alumni are invited to attend a celebration of the program's success since its inception in 1975 at 8 a.m. at Albany State University's HPER Gymnasium.
NYSP liaison officer, Jesse Massey the self-proclaimed "Mr. NYSP," said he hopes that many of the program's past participants will show up opening day and share their stories.
With an estimated 30,000 children who have been helped by the program -- the list of alumni and success stories should be long.
The free five-week program for low-income, disadvantaged children ages 10-16 offers instruction in swimming, basketball, volleyball, tennis, soccer and modern dance, as well as enrichment classes and academic help in math, English and science that are taught by certified teachers. The program also offers drug and alcohol prevention courses and begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. from June 1-July 2. Transportation is provided to those who participate in the program that usually boasts an average attendance of 500 kids and breakfast and lunch is provided by ASU's cafeteria.
During a recent interview with The Herald, Massey said the program has faced crippling budget cuts and the threat of elimination throughout the years, but has remained strong within the community -- proof, he said, of the program's success at enriching local youth.
"Not only is it a sports program, but it deals with the education aspect as well," Massey said. "(NYSP) is a tool that not only is useful when they are out of school, but carries on when school starts back. It helps keep kids off the streets during a time when they are likely to get in trouble and it is helpful to parents because they know where their children are and that they are being looked after."
The retired Dougherty County teacher and coach said he is living proof of the program's impact on disadvantaged youth.
Massey, who grew up in a single parent household in the Washington Homes projects which was destroyed in the flood of 1994, was drawn to the program at an early age and has remained involved ever since.
"I would probably not have been as successful if not for this program," he said. "It (the program) taught me how to teach school. I was a better teacher from the experience of working with kids in the program."
NYSP, which used to be offered throughout the state, is now available only at Albany State University. The program serves children in Dougherty, Lee, Worth, Terrell, Mitchell and Baker counties and continues to provide its services free of charge since it was brought to ASU in 1975.
"The cutbacks have been hard," Massey said. "We have considered charging a fee, but we keep fighting it off."
Chimere Chisolm-Alston, a staff attorney for the Dougherty County Judicial Circuit, said NYSP was instrumental in framing her path to success.
"It has been a stepping-stone in my life," she said during a telephone interview with The Herald. "The atmosphere was great and being on a college campus everyday exposed you to the possibility of higher education. The more I was on the campus, the more I thought, 'I could do this, I can go to college.'"
The attorney said she was involved in the program in the early '90s and worked as a student aide for NYSP when she was a senior in college.
"It even helped me get my first job," Chisolm-Alston said. "I taught high school in Atlanta and they thought that my experience working with NYSP was proof that I could work with children from diverse backgrounds."
Massey said he hears stories like Chisolm-Alston's almost daily after working for 35 years in NYSP.
"I meet a lot of people who tell me they were in the program, but now there are kids in the program that are telling me that they know me because their mother or father was in NYSP," he said.
"I know I've been here too long when they tell me that," Massey joked.