Students use basketball to mentor community kids

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By Evan Silvera
For the Mitzpeh
@esilvera23

Like many underclassmen at this university, Benji Mitrani was looking for a way to get involved on campus. He thought about the wide array of available extracurricular opportunities, and considered activities ranging from tutoring to playing sports.

Two years later, Mitrani is an active member of Dedicated Undergraduates Nurturing Kids (DUNK), a volunteer after-school basketball program that goes to six different elementary and middle schools in Prince George’s County, said Avi Denicoff, the organization’s president.

“I was looking for an extracurricular that serves the community surrounding the university and allows me to give back,” said Mitrani, a senior environmental science and policy major.

Denicoff said the program consists of about 30 volunteers who coach kids in basketball and encourage physical, healthy lifestyles. “About half of those volunteers have participated in previous semesters,” Denicoff said.

The program was created four years ago by a student as his project for the Maryland Hillel Tzedek Fellowship, said Denicoff. Participating schools include Paint Branch Elementary School, Bladensburg Elementary School and Forest Heights Elementary School.

Denicoff, who has volunteered for DUNK for three years, said becoming involved in the program is one of the best decisions he’s made during his college career.

“DUNK has been one of the highlights of my week every semester of college,” he said.

The kids involved in the program “are pretty representative of Prince George’s County demography,” Mitrani said. He said the students are mostly boys who come from African American and Hispanic families.

Mitrani has volunteered at both Paint Branch Elementary School and Bladensburg Elementary School.

“A lot of these students unfortunately come from homes where they might not have two parents there or nutrition and a healthy diet, especially in the African American community and poorer areas,” said Mitrani.

Mitrani said the experience has been rewarding because he can see how much the kids appreciate his efforts.

“The program really just opened my eyes to everything surrounding the college bubble in College Park and Prince George’s County,” said Mitrani. “I’m more open to helping the community, and I now know what I can do to help others.”

Sophomore kinesiology major Danny Gross said his favorite part of the program is building relationships with the kids.

“They’re all really great people,” said Gross. “At the beginning of the year they don’t really know you very well, but by the end you can tell they look forward to really having us there.”

Mitrani shares a similar perspective on his relationships with the kids.

“Beyond basketball, we are positive role models and mentors for the kids,” said Mitrani. “We teach them about sportsmanship, leadership and healthy practices to help them develop into productive members of society.”

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