Kids’ day at the rec

Tim McCutchen recalls that when he moved to South Philly in 1985, few programs existed for at-risk youths. Last summer, the 36-year-old finally did something about it, with the help of community activist Kimyetta Lewis.

The highlight of the resulting program — the South Philadelphia Neighborhood Athletic League — is an eight-week basketball camp at Vare Recreation Center, 26th and Moore streets.

The camp’s most important mission, besides the obvious sports participation, is simply to provide a safe environment for neighborhood kids.

"At-risk kids who don’t have anything to do get into things they shouldn’t be getting into," noted McCutchen, a resident of the 2000 block of South 23rd Street.

The summer program, which charges participants a $10 donation, keeps youths busy in four two-hour sessions a week. Games are played Monday and Thursday nights; Tuesday and Wednesday evenings are dedicated to an educational component in which guest speakers and mentors visit Vare.

On Saturday, the program’s 60 participants, ages 9-14, will be awarded for their summer-long efforts at a ceremony and activities at Smith Playground, 25th Street and Snyder Avenue, from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. The event will feature an all-star basketball game against players from other city programs and trophy presentations to the winning teams and individual standouts.

In addition, the league will host the second annual South Philadelphia Community Rally at Vare from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This year’s theme is "There is Strength in Unity: United We Stand Refusing to Fall." The festivities will include guest speakers, resource information, food and games.

Among this summer’s visitors to the program was a Temple University women’s basketball coach. The participants came prepared with pencils and notebooks as the coach talked about how to work with other students and as a team.

Last summer, 48 youths took part in the program.

"Some kids still come out who weren’t playing in the basketball league," said McCutchen, who grew up playing football and basketball at city recreation centers.

His mentoring days are far from seasonal. This winter, he plans to run an in-house basketball league at Vare and help high-school dropouts get their GED. More activities for neighborhood kids could follow.

"I would like to teach them home economics, arts and crafts and help them with their school work during the year," McCutchen said.