Chicago, Illinois,
08:46 AM

A Neighborhood of All Stars

Basketball Program Reduces Crime, Renews Community Spirit

When gang members shattered his windows and tried to set his house on fire – Rob Castaneda’s hope faded. He and his wife recently moved to Little Village - eager to start a new life chapter. But the Chicago crime in their southwest side neighborhood overshadowed their dreams for the future.

With a damaged home and broken hopes, the Castanedas were ready to say goodbye - but their neighbors weren’t. They rallied behind the family, encouraging them to stay on the block. That determination inspired the Castanedas. They realized moving wouldn’t solve the neighborhood problems. But something else could help the area bounce back.A red and blue basketball sits idle on the sidewalk as the sun sets.Castaneda started Beyond the Ball – a basketball program designed to get youth off the streets and on the court. Kids began playing at the school gym, a spot free from violence. News of the safe place to play spread quickly, and program participation skyrocketed. The momentum didn’t stop there. Shortly after creating Beyond the Ball, the Hoops in the Hood program emerged. Founded by LISC Chicago, this summer league gives hundreds of Chicago students an opportunity to play basketball, compete in tournaments and show their team spirit. Today, Beyond the Ball is part of the Hoops in the Hood network.

“LISC Chicago saw a program that was working for one of our community partners, and with leadership and support from State Farm, scaled it to a citywide level,” said LISC Chicago Executive Director Meghan Harte. “LISC ensures Hoops in the Hood is community run and flexible to each neighborhood’s needs. That’s a big part of what makes it so successful.”Rob Castaneda and Andrell Bryant talk basketball.

Changing the Neighborhood One Kid at a Time

Andrell Bryant never expected basketball to change his life. But it did – 10 years ago. The high school freshman had no plans for summer break. So Castaneda encouraged him to join the Hoops in the Hood program. Bryant hit the ground running, participating every summer until his graduation four years later. “I had aged out of Hoops in the Hood, but wanted to stay involved,” he said.

Bryant decided to coach Hoops in the Hood athletes. He also officiates summer games and became a program coordinator. “I love it,” he said. “Every time the season ends, I want to start again – even though I know I’ll have to wait another seven months. It’s about building relationships with the kids and helping them build for the future.”Andrell Bryant takes time out from the basketball game to talk with volunteers sitting at a table in the gym.Today, Bryant is a full-time security guard and works as a part-time basketball coach through the Chicago Park District. “My passion is to work with students,” he said. “To open my own gym in the future, and to show kids this is what hard work is like if you want to be an athlete. Too many students don’t have the ability to go to a gym in their own neighborhoods.”

Bryant credits his outlook and success from his Hoops in the Hood experience. “Being a coach, mentor and role model in the program taught me a lot. And each child that’s gone through it has elevated my value of the game. It’s made me a better person. I want to continue that positivity.”

“Hoops in the Hood would not be possible without the support of State Farm, the Chicago Police Department-Community Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), the Chicago Park District, Chicago Aldermen, and the City of Chicago. The partnership and commitment to community organizations addressing youth engagement and violence prevention is invaluable. We are proud of the impact Hoops in the Hood has made over the last decade.”
Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago Executive Director

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