By KYW community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Working in corporate America left Garry Mills feeling empty and unfulfilled, so the West Oak Lane native found a way to tie his love for basketball with his desire to stop the killing in Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods.
“I needed a sense of purpose, I needed a sense of legacy,” says Mills, who is a self-described basketball fiend. “I lost thirteen friends to violence, and I felt like I had an obligation to do what needed to be done in the streets.”
So last year, this Lincoln High graduate and former all-public high school hoops star started the nonprofit group he called “Shoot Basketballs, Not People,” in Philadelphia.
He used his own money to start the organization, which provides six-week-long basketball clinics, year ’round, for boys and girls ages 6 to 16.
“We go into the darkest neighborhoods,” says Mills, “we teach them how to dribble, we teach them rebounding, we teach them sportsmanship.”
They meet on Sunday mornings for the clinics, which are held at the Lenfest Center, 3890 North Tenth Street, in Hunting Park. The coaches also take the kids to basketball games and on field trips.
Some of the biggest lessons, Mills says, come to the kids off the court.
“It’s just being a presence in their life,” says Mills. “A lot of our kids have lost fathers, a lot of our kids’ fathers are incarcerated, a lot of their fathers are just not in their lives at all.”
Mills says his own parents split when he was young, so he understands the issues the kids he serves are dealing with.
He and his volunteer coaches use their own vehicles to pick many of the kids up for the clinics. They even make themselves available for calls or texts in the event the attendees need help. The coaches also encourage the kids to work harder in school, follow the rules, and more.
So far, roughly 140 kids have gone through the program, which costs about $125 per child and includes a new uniform, lunch, and yoga classes. Mills hopes to reach more kids and expand to more inner cities across the country.
“It just feels like it’s something I’m meant to do,” he says.
Hear the extended interview with Garry Mills in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 15:23)…
Know someone in your community who cares enough to give back? Nominate them for KYW Newsradio news coverage at firstname.lastname@example.org!