Laces for Literacy a beacon for digital group service
For decades, the Rising Stars Youth Foundation has been known for successfully providing a platform for elite travel basketball, educational programs and, in some cases, private school scholarships to students across Long Island.
Earlier this month, the nonprofit, which began as a series of basketball camps in 1980, unveiled its latest fundraiser, the Laces for Literacy program – an educational challenge that encourages students to read from a list of culturally diverse books while making donations to collect to deliver similar books to several local school districts.
Executive Director Dan Gimpel, who also came across the Uniondale-based Foundation during his youth basketball days before eventually advancing to an elite point guard for Adelphi in 1993-97, said Laces for Literacy was a virtual alternative to the program’s traditional community service Efforts during the holiday season, such as food or clothing trips, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He highlighted the importance of the fundraiser, which should run through June.
A pair of shoelaces that Rising Stars attendees use in their fundraiser. Photo credit: Emma O’Connor / Rising Stars
“With all that negativity, it’s even more important this year,” said Gimpel, who was inducted into the Adelphi Hall of Fame in 2006. “It’s just something very positive. We try very hard to always be part of something that is bigger than you.
Emily Ades, Education Director at Rising Stars, discussed the concept behind Laces for Literacy, which debuted on December 1st. “This was originally an initiative to encourage children to read,” Ades said. “And to combine reading and basketball. So when you team up, you get a pair of branded laces to match your Rising Stars uniform and some kind of motivation for the teams.”
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Rising Stars then realized that the program could serve as both an educational tool and a public relations medium. Students are sponsored for every book they read, and receive monetary donations for buying books for schools that want to reach a greater number of books with diversity.
The list of book options includes popular sports books such as “When the Game Was Ours” by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, “The Mamba Mentality” by Kobe Bryant, and “On My Own Two Feet” by Amy Purdy.
Chaminade junior Greg Cantwell, who also plays for the boys’ basketball team, said he began the program by reading some motivational literature offered in John Lewis and Andrew Aydin’s “March” trilogy on civil rights.
“I enjoyed it because with the pandemic you never know what will happen next, so you have to make the most of what you have,” Cantwell said. “It’s also exciting to know that we’re going to be putting these books in classrooms because they’ll teach our youngsters what’s really going on in the world … Laces for Literacy has been quite successful and helpful in these times of uncertainty and change in America . ”
Stanford men’s basketball freshman Michael O’Connell, a Newsday 2019 All-Long Island first-team player, also from Chaminade, credited Rising Stars for how this affected his development on and off the pitch, after attending elementary school and high school.
“Everyone at Rising Stars has not only helped me become a better basketball player, but also a better person,” said O’Connell. “It was an interesting program because it wasn’t like a lot of the others. They had ACT and SAT prep classes for us, which was very beneficial because it’s not easy to get or cheap to get. That really helped me and me helped get good enough points to get to Stanford. ”
Gimpel also praised Rising Stars for the role it played in its life at a young age.
“Rising Stars have opened a lot of doors for me personally,” said Gimpel. “Not only in terms of sport, but also socially, educationally and I saw the world from a different perspective at a very young age. And it made some lifelong friends along the way.”
Ades noted that Laces for Literacy can be both encouraging and an eye opener for young readers.
“I think it’s very important that children read books whose characters are representative of the communities we live in,” Ades said. “Especially with the diversity around them. It is important that children read about characters who look like them, or in some cases even characters who don’t look like them, and through them learn to better appreciate multiple cultures.”
Gimpel believes Laces for Literacy will be another powerful tool in Rising Stars’ mission to “influence and transform the lives of children”.
“As part of the Rising Stars program and team, it’s about others. And if students do something, especially during this vacation, to help others or even something that will help our society as a whole. And the future of Our society is made up of children, so teaching them these values at such a young age is extremely effective. “