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Athletics + education: Nonprofit launches free after school program for Sumter South Side youth

Team Perseverance Athletics began as a way to get kids off the streets by playing basketball. Now, the nonprofit is offering an after school program.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Children living in Sumter’s south side will soon have access to free after school care thanks to a local nonprofit. 

"It’s been an exciting overwhelming feeling if you will," Junko Allen smiled. "Like I feel so giddy right now."

Allen is getting ready to expand her Team Perseverance Athletics, which got started in Sumter in 2006.

"It’s just evolved slowly but we’re here today to this big explosion of a vision that I’ve had for many many years," Allen remembers. "I just wanted to get at-risk youth off the streets playing basketball. And then as I’ve gotten older and grown older and retired from the air force, I had more time to think about what else can I do for the community, right?"

Now, that means securing a permanent physical location in Sumter’s south side for youth to play in. Residents like former pro boxer Kanicia White will be providing free athletic classes.

"We have kids running around all day, they just be running around wild. We’re gonna take that same energy, give 'em some techniques, some skills," White shared. "We’ve got basketball, we got boxing, we got jiu jitsu, we got football coaches coming in."

This is a need Allen recognized years ago after working as a teacher's assistant.

"Knowing how they sit in a classroom for seven hours a day and to come to an afterschool I still want to focus on the education but I want them to be able to expel some energy and just have fun and be kids," Allen told me.

In addition to athletics, the nonprofit’s growth also means starting an afterschool program that’s free to kids from five to twelve years old in the south side. On Wednesday, the community came out to celebrate the opening with refreshments, speeches and a live K-9 demonstration from Shaw Air Force Base.

"Everything that I'm doing, I’m doing because I didn’t get it as a kid. And I want to see these other kids get that," Allen explained. "And so I need volunteers for after school, I need volunteers to mentor, I need volunteers to coach, I need volunteers."

Allen tells me the goal is to start with athletics and education, eventually expanding into other programs like piano or singing lessons. Whatever the kids want, that’s what the nonprofit hopes to provide.

"When they realize they can do anything, it is the best feeling in the world," White added. "You can’t stop the little superheroes from being superheroes at that point."

The afterschool program will start up on Jan. 30. 

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