ANCHORAGE, AK – Dozens of Alaska youth participated in a Saturday basketball clinic to learn more than just basic ball handling skills. International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) hosted the one-day event on June 18 with youth basketball and mentoring clinics in Anchorage and the village of Napaskiak providing a fun, sports-focused environment and emphasizing healthy lifestyles and substance abuse prevention. Teaching at-risk youth the value of adopting positive practices in their lives is known to lessen risk-taking behaviors. The game of basketball and positive role models introduced during the clinic will undoubtedly help the youth stay on the right path.
Retired professional and college players Andrew Cladis, Andrew Snelgrove, and Patrick Johnson volunteered as mentors. Former Duke University player and now head coach of Men’s Basketball at Citrus College in Glendora, CA, Johnson said, “The reason I got into coaching was to impact young people, and the opportunity to connect with at-risk kids and hopefully give them some positive messages to take forward in their lives was a no-brainer for me.” Cladis, a former professional player in Europe, added, “basketball teaches qualities of character like working hard and handling adversity, and seeing the young people in Anchorage and Napaskiak demonstrate these traits, even in small ways during the clinics made this a success.”
Double the national average among Alaska Native youth, substance abuse is a serious issue for the community. The majority of Orthodox Christian priests in Alaska are Alaska Natives, so the IOCC has been working with the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) Diocese of Sitka and Alaska and St. Herman Orthodox Seminary in Kodiak, AK, to implement a substance abuse prevention training program for seminarians and clergy. In this way, they will be able to reach some of the most remote villages and communicate with the people of the Alaska Native community to help combat the problem of substance abuse.
His Grace Bishop David of the OCA Diocese of Alaska spoke about the efforts, ”We are grateful for IOCC’s continuing support of our seminarians and clergy to learn the most effective methods in preventing substance abuse and are particularly pleased that these basketball and healthy lifestyles clinics allowed our youth in Alaska to concentrate on building positive habits in their lives that will protect them from so many contemporary negative influences. Battling the effects left from years of negative influences is an ongoing struggle for us, and thanks to the efforts of IOCC, we are now making important steps in the right direction for our clergy and youth.”
As Alaska Native families struggle with substance abuse, Alaska Native youth are eager to participate in the basketball clinic since in the smallest villages it can be difficult to find enough children even in the schools to form teams. Engaging the youth in a positive way through basketball, the clinic provided an ideal environment to learn about topics that are critical to leading healthy lives.
The clinic offered life lessons that apply outside the game as well. A discussion led by Dan Christopulos, IOCC US Country Representative, allowed the young people to interact with the players and learn about the tools for dealing with day to day challenges. Christopulos observed, ”Playing basketball is so much more than sports. This program aims to provide youth with healthier lifestyle choices and the rewards that come with making those choices.”
IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. Since its inception in 1992, IOCC has delivered $580 million in relief and development programs to families and communities in more than 50 countries. IOCC is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy.