Suns Nite Hoops, an Arizona charity, is offered free-of-charge to the Valley’s at-risk young men ages 18-25. Many of the participants come from challenging backgrounds. They have had to live around drugs, poverty (over 60% of participant households fall below the national poverty level) and what seems like a world with no opportunities.
Several turned to crime as a way of life and were referred to Suns Nite Hoops after they entered the criminal justice system, while others entered the program to avoid that lifestyle. Over 60% of participants are currently on probation.
Suns Nite Hoops aims to break the cycle of drug abuse, violence and poverty by helping participants learn skills to be more successful both in their personal lives and in a work environment. The workshops teach basic lifeskills the participants never had a chance to learn, such as managing anger, effective communication, conflict resolution technique, job interviewing skills and parenting skill development. Job interviewing skills, actual job skills and making money legally are addressed with a whole season devoted to obtaining and maintaining employment. Small successes are celebrated, such as when a participant develops a resume for the first time ever.
During the past few seasons, Suns Nite Hoops has enjoyed many successes, including:
- Criminal activity among participants on probation has been significantly reduced.
- Suns Nite Hoops participants fulfill their obligations to the court (i.e. attending assigned treatment/education programs, staying clean and sober, paying fines/restitutions) more successfully than other probationers.
- Probation Officers report their clients who participate in Suns Nite Hoops are more likely to further their education and find gainful employment than their clients who do not attend the program.
- Services have been provided to over 100 participants each season (three seasons per year).
- The National Association of Counties honored Suns Nite Hoops with their 1998 Achievement Award.
- Participants lead more successful personal lives and thrive in their work environments due to the development of anger management techniques, conflict resolution techniques, parenting skills, job interviewing skills and actual job skills.
The program has helped many young men turn their life around and become productive members of society.
Suns Nite Hoops Participants’ Success Stories:
- Jadrian – 24 years old – South Phoenix
- Tyrone – 21 years old – South Phoenix
- Jason “Sticc” – 23 years old – West Phoenix
- Joshua – 24 years old – Central Phoenix
Jadrian – 24 years old – South Phoenix
Jadrian moved from California, where he spent most of his youth in a group home, to South Phoenix at age 15. “That’s when I really hit a downward spiral in my life and started getting into trouble with the law,” Jadrian explains, “I was causing myself a lot of chaos. I had no guidance.” By his second year at Yavapai College, he says, “Things went really wild. I was staying in the college dorms and I was having a lot of problems with authority.” Eventually, he spent two years in prison, and by the time he got out he had become involved in drugs and was getting into more problems, including more jail time. “I was confused and I didn’t know where my life was headed.” Then a probation officer in Phoenix encouraged him to try Suns Nite Hoops. “I wanted someone I could be honest with. Almost like a mom,” says Jadrian. “I needed to talk with someone. Janet [from Suns Nite Hoops] is a straight-up P.O. – someone who tells me what I’m doing wrong. She introduced me to Nite Hoops. I love it. It gives me something to do and it teaches you the discipline you need and the basic keys to life. My goal is to go pro [Jadrian played basketball throughout high school and college]. Nite Hoops also taught me that I can’t let the past get in the way of the future. You can never change it, so I had to let it go. Basketball is everything to me.” Jadrian used the job interviewing skills and conflict resolution techniques he developed while in the Suns Nite Hoops program and is currently attending South Mountain Community College and works for Arizona Distribution Center.
Tyrone – 21 years old – South Phoenix
Tyrone grew up in South Phoenix. By his mid-teens he was – like most of his peers – involved in gang-banging and headed down a dead-end path. But Tyrone was able to look at his situation and made a choice that he wanted something better for his life – even before things got really bad. “I was definitely feeling at-risk. But it’s hard to quit, unless you have positive people around you,” Tyrone explained. The only time Tyrone actually spent on probation was at age 14, and that was enough for him to know he didn’t want to go back. But he knew he needed a game plan for how to build a better life for himself. “A couple friends at school told me about Nite Hoops when I was 16, and I tried to join – but I was too young. So I waited a year, and they let me start a little early [Suns Nite Hoops participants are ages 18-25].” Tyrone appreciates the social aspects of the program and the opportunity to do something productive and positive with his time. “It’s a good program for anybody who feels in trouble and wants to do something positive with their life,” he says. “You get a whole bunch of people watching you play and you can bring your friends and meet new people. Plus it keeps me in shape and from getting into trouble.” His main goal right now is to get back into school. “I would like to be a math teacher or a basketball coach,” he says. His favorite subjects are math and science. “The people here believe in me, and if they can believe in me, then I can believe in myself.”
Jason “Sticc” – 23 years old – West Phoenix
Jason joined Suns Nite Hoops when he changed Probation Officers, and was introduced to the program from his new Probation Officer. “I was having problems with my previous P.O. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. When I heard about Nite Hoops, I didn’t really play basketball. But the staff is cool and everybody here makes me feel welcome.” He notes that participating in the program has helped him develop a solid conflict resolution technique and manage his anger, which had often gotten in his way in the past. “Any place you go, you have to conduct yourself responsibly. I had a bad temper. But now I can keep myself in check. Now if I get mad, I know how to deal with it. I don’t have that rage anymore.” Jason credits playing ball, dealing with the referees and working together with people in the Nite Hoops workshops as helping to give him the tools to develop a conflict resolution technique that works for him. “People here were willing to help me. Suns Nite Hoops teaches leadership and strong character and basketball teaches you how to live life. Cooperate, communicate, use teamwork, and play your role. Somebody’s got to lead. Not everybody’s a star. Maybe your role is to make that pass. You do what you can to help the team.” Sticc, as he is known to friends and Suns Nite Hoops staff, is also a rapper and performs regularly at Sinbad’s, Boston’s and the Hard Rock Café. His goal is to continue his rap performances and also to give something back to the community. “I want to be rich. I want to blow up. And I also want to help with community programs like this. When I was a kid, we didn’t have anything like this. We were on our own.”
Joshua – 24 years old – Central Phoenix
Originally from New York, Joshua spent time in the U.S. Army before moving to Phoenix a few years ago. A mistrust of other people and low self-esteem kept him from being able to hold on to a job or a military assignment. A friend told him about Suns Nite Hoops, and he joined the program in 2000. He currently works as a loan officer for Mortgage Investors Corporation, and he credits job interviewing skills and conflict resolution techniques that he developed in Suns Nite Hoops workshops for helping him to get this job, keep it and better understand issues from an employer’s perspective. “The topics we touch on in the workshops have definitely helped me in dealing with my employer, especially in knowing how to handle any issues that come up, and getting their perspective on why they do things a certain way, and what they want from me.” He says the program has also given him a better appreciation for the perspective of other people, in general. “I’m more accepting of the good nature in people. There are more good people out there than you realize.” He finds the atmosphere at Suns Nite Hoops both challenging and welcoming. “People here understand. They really seem to care how you are. You know, they’re not just asking you to make conversation. It is more competitive here, but there’s also more camaraderie. You get to express your ideas and opinions in the workshops and you get to know the guys you are playing ball with.” Joshua would like to play basketball overseas, similar to U.S. players he saw while stationed in Korea. “I also have a dream to establish a place where homeless people can get on their feet – where they have everything they need.”