At-risk children gain life lessons via their link to Future for Kids

Team-building is among activities offered by Future for Kids program. (Wrangler News photo by Joyce Coronel)
Team-building is among activities offered by Future for Kids program. (Wrangler News photo by Joyce Coronel)

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By Joyce Coronel

When Tempe residents Marcus Johnson and Edward Lee were growing up, athletics was central to their lives. Today, both men are pouring their passion for sports into the lives of young people through Future for Kids.

The local non-profit, founded by retired National Football League player Rodney Smith, has touched the lives of more than 130,000 at-risk youth and their families.

Through a blend of athletics, academics and ethics, mentors like Johnson and Lee are helping young people who might not have the level of support they did growing up.

“Both my parents were always real involved,” Johnson said. “My mother was the team mom and my dad coached me all the way up to high school.”

A Marcos de Niza grad, Johnson played five sports in high school, then went on to play football and baseball in college.

Through the years, the physical therapy tech and personal trainer has run sports camps and coached numerous teams, so when he heard about Future for Kids, it seemed like a natural fit.

“I enjoy working with the kids,” Johnson said. “The second-graders are just happy to talk to you. The older kids wonder, ‘Is this person going to be here?’”

After a while, though, a rapport begins to build, he said. “I had a lot of boys in my groups. A few of them played on an organized soccer team and a lot of them would talk to me about wrestling.”

Lee, an ASU graduate student, played basketball, football and tennis growing up. 

“I had a pretty steady family. They instilled good values in me and that it was a moral obligation to give back to my community,” Lee said. The main focus at Future for Kids, Lee said, is to provide consistency for the kids, week in and week out, and for the mentors to become role models. Last year, Lee volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club in Guadalupe. “Kids are my passion,” he said.

Students receive a nutritious snack when they arrive, and while they’re eating, mentors discuss the ethics theme of the day.

That could be anything from compassion to responsibility to integrity, Lee said. Those lessons spread out into the rest of the program, too.

“I try to lead by example. Sportsmanship especially is a big part of it. If we lose a game, we always shake the opponents’ hands and say ‘Good game.’”

He said he especially enjoys when they have football or basketball games, but the kids also get to experience Zumba, relay races and parachute games.

Johnson worked with fifth- and sixth-graders last year. “We start out by talking about things like self-esteem and confidence, being responsible and why those things are important.”

Next, the kids have time to do their homework.

“It gives them a chance to get help. They might not have that at home,” Johnson said. “Then we do the athletics. That seems to be their favorite part.”

Future for Kids is about more than the afterschool programs though.

They also provide summer youth sports and fitness camps, a week long summer program, basketball camp and winter games sports camp. Some 94 percent of the kids say they hope to return to the program.

With one mentor for every four children, participants get the individualized attention they need and the positive role models who inspire them to succeed at school, at sports and in the community.

Of course, it costs money to run all these programs, and so Future for Kids relies on fundraisers, like the upcoming Football 101 event Oct. 10 at Majerles Sports Grill in Chandler.

Tickets for the ladies night out are $40. It’s an evening of fun, food, prizes and entertainment where attendees will receive a Football 101 manual with the basic NFL rules and strategies as well as a personal playbook.

Information: futureforkids.org/donate

Joyce Coronel
Joyce Coronel has been interviewing and writing stories since she was 12, and she’s got the scrapbooks to prove it. The mother of five grown sons and native of Arizona is passionate about local news and has been involved in media since 2002, coming aboard at Wrangler News in 2015. Joyce believes strongly that newspapers are a lifeline to an informed public and a means by which neighbors can build a sense of community—vitally important in today’s complex world.

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