Dozens of children from the Benson area were in summertime spirits June 24 inside the gym on Lee Street.
BENSON — Dozens of children from the Benson area were in summertime spirits, June 24, inside the gym on Lee Street.
For more than a decade, “Friday Night Hoops” has served as a staple for community kids looking to stay active and get a free meal once school is out.
Greg Percy, chief of Benson Police, has been around the program since its early days and enjoys the positive interaction with law enforcement both in and out of the gym.
“For me, it’s neat because they get to see us (Benson PD) in a different way,” Percy said.
“Out here, we’re in shorts and a T-shirt as opposed to being behind the wheel of a (police) car where we might be locking up somebody... They see us as a person, and not an enemy.”
Hosted by the town’s parks and recreation department, Percy added that “Friday Night Hoops” averages 30-35 kids from ages 6 to 16 each year. The bi-weekly event offers instruction from coaches at the rec, middle and high school levels while also providing dinner.
Nikki Losada, coordinator for Benson’s Community Oriented Policing Services (C.O.P.S.), feels the yearly donations from a host of local businesses that serve as sponsors create the foundation for such a popular showcase.
“I mean, it gives them a safe place to go. What better place could you have to play basketball than with cops?,” she said.
In her second year overseeing C.O.P.S., Losada added that her favorite part of Fridays during the summer is “watching them (kids) being at the door a half hour before it’s time to open because they’re so excited to come in.”
Meanwhile, the parks and rec staff are just as thrilled to provide support and an additional resource for youngsters to develop key social skills.
Recent South Johnston graduate Madison Bailey has worked each session of the program this summer and spoke to what impact law enforcement officials provide.
“It’s amazing to see a group of cops that want to help ... I really believe (the combination) of cops and is the right way to teach kids,” Baily said.
Bailey, who also instructs cheerleading at the nearby middle school and recently started a Benson Parks and Rec cheer program, feels it’s important for the children to see familiar faces in different settings. In line with Losada and Percy, she too thinks the program will continue to benefit both the students and volunteers.
“It’s their home away from home, that’s why they enjoy coming back,” Bailey said. “The kids truly make my day, they make my week — they make my year.”
Each three-hour session typically lasts from 7 to 10 p.m. There are still four Fridays left to attend — July 8, 15 and 29 with the last opportunity being Aug. 12.
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2040.