That was the lure that Mathew Millar, RN, BSN, MBE, MPH, a nurse manager in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, used to encourage youth 13 to 17 living in West Philadelphia homeless shelters to participate in All- In Basketball, a program that combined academic enrichment, character development and basketball skills building.

All-In Basketball group photo Kids come to All-In Basketball to shoot some hoops, but learned math and coping skills, too. Each of the five Saturday morning sessions started with the NBA Math Hoops, a nationwide program that uses player statistics in math calculations to help youth learn and practice math skills. It’s a way to make math fun for kids while showing how different operations, like figuring percentages, are applicable to real life. Both boys and girls were invited and participated.

Through outside speakers and discussions, each session addressed a topic of interest to the teens, such as socio-behavioral issues, shelter policy and staff, curfews, relationships of all kinds, depression, family issues, punishments, boredom and bullying.

Then the kids played basketball, sharpening their skills and getting exercise. There were also healthy snacks provided by Whole Foods. All-In was a partnership between CHOP's Homeless Health Initiative; Families Forward Philadelphia, a shelter in West Philadelphia; and Philadelphia Youth Basketball. It was partially funded by a CHOP Cares Community Grant.

“Often, these kids are not able to leave the shelter environment when they want. They can’t just go to a park and play basketball,” Millar says. “These sessions gave them a sense of freedom, an outlet. They learned about things they might not have had the opportunity to explore before. All of the feedback we received was really positive.”

One session involved a field trip to the Allen Iverson Roundball Classic, which features a game between former National Basketball Association players and NBA hopefuls.

At the final session, the teens received awards and gifts for participating.

“The kids told me that in the shelter, the only thing they can really do is watch TV and play video games,” Millar says. “It was nice to be able to give them something to look forward to.”

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