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Shooting To Win

Shooting To WinDiscipline. Respect. Dignity. For Tufts graduate Aaron Dworkin, these are essential values for today's youth-as well as good names for a basketball team.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.26.02] In a city of both flourishing young professionals and struggling teenagers, Aaron Dworkin decided to bridge the gap. Realizing that both adolescent boys and young professionals played basketball in their spare time-businessmen in rented gyms and young people in playgrounds-the Tufts graduate wanted to bring them together. With help from a mentor, Dworkin says, teenagers can learn many of life's important lessons on the basketball court.

"The lessons that come across in games, come across in real life," Dworkin told New York's Newsday.

With this in mind two years ago, Dworkin founded the Hoops and Leaders Basketball Camp -- a mentoring program that teaches leadership skills to teens through the game of basketball.

"By employing basketball drills, tournament games, off-court activities and celebrity guest speakers, the camp ... strives to give campers a better understanding of leadership qualities such as discipline, respect, leadership, selflessness, vision and resilience," reported Newsday. "These values are also names for the teams."

Inspiration for the program came from Sen. Bill Bradley's book "Values of the Game," Dworkin said in an interview with the Oxygen Network's "Pure Oxygen" program. Bradley -- who appeared with Dworkin -- praised the Tufts graduate's work.

"Leaders like Aaron are using [my book] to make the points that they want to make about values," said the former U.S. Senator. "It's great!"

But Dworkin doesn't do it alone. At the heart of the program are volunteer mentors, many of whom recently graduated from Tufts.

Their love of basketball - as well as their interest in volunteering - attracted them to Dworkin's program.

"There are over 80 mentoring groups around New York City and all of them suffer from a severe shortage of willing male volunteers. Literally tens of thousands of boys are looking for a mentor," Dworkin told Education Update, an online education news site. "So, since I play basketball in all these different leagues, it occurred to me why not talk to the people I play with to see if they're interested?"

Many of them were. Now they're helping create an experience for some of New York's young people that Dworkin hopes will last a lifetime.

"Whenever successful people look back, they cite those older adults who influenced their development even if they knew them for just a short time," Dworkin told Education Update. "We hope that the mentoring relationships developed here will extend long after this camp is over. We hope to give these young men the support, skills, and confidence they'll need to be leaders in their schools, homes, and communities."

Because basketball can be played with just two people, Dworkin told the Oxygen network, the mentors and young people have a chance to establish close one-on-one relationships.

"Those relationships are so important to making any dream come true," Dworkin said.

It appears to be working.

"This is not like the park because everyone gets along," one ninth grader playing hoops at the camp told Newsday. "At the park, everyone is out for themselves, but here people try to help you."

It all falls into Dworkin's strategy of providing lifetime leadership skills to teens.

"During the game, you'll be making decisions constantly," the Tufts graduate told his camp participants before they began to play. "It's just like that in life," he said. "Practically everything in your life involves decision-making. So try to make the right decisions. Each choice you make might impact your life."


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