'Squash Scholars' giving young students a chance at broader perspective

In the heart of Charleston at the intersection of George and Meeting streets, dozens of students step out of their comfort zone and into a whole new environment.

It's a partnership between Chucktown Squash Scholars and the College of Charleston.

"It's providing exposure and opportunity to engage children in things they wouldn't experience otherwise," said executive director Lauren Heterich.

Dr. Michael Hemphill says he can remember one student saying the Chucktown Squash Scholars program gave her an opportunity to see beyond George Street.

Four times a week, the kids meet with their mentors.

"I've went from a really bad attitude and now I'm getting there. My attitude isn't stepping in the way of my work," said Janiya Blunt, one of the students in the program.

Javier Gathers says he has also turned around his academic career with the help of the Chucktown Squash Scholars.

"At first I wasn't the smartest student with the best grades," he said. "When I came to squash and we had a mentor everyday in the classroom I can see my grades improving."

Lesson plans vary, but the life lessons are constant.

"The opportunity to learn, to connect with someone who is different than you, to empathize with someone whose situation is different than your own -- and the opportunity to understand diversity," Hemphill said.

"What we hope that develops is that they want to go to college, be great citizens, great community of Charleston," Heterich said.

Waleed Hardy started with Chucktown Squash five years ago.

"That is Richardson Hall where I have my Spanish public speaking and study hall," he said, pointing to places on the Porter Gaud campus.

The now 10th grader transitioned to Porter Gaud from a Title I school, and Chucktown Squash made it possible.

"It gives me more opportunity. It doesn't matter where you start but how you finish. It opens the door for new stuff," Hardy said.

The nonprofit's mission is to expand the horizons of the under-served child. Last week they brought in former NBA player Chris Herren who shared his struggles with alcohol and drugs.

"It all started with me a little hoop and a pole on the driveway," he told the group.

Real life experiences delivered on a daily basis -- but there is a twist. A little known game, the game of squash, is served up as part of their CofC experience.

"It taught me to be a leader for everyone around me, to respect my peers and to be a good person," said Burke High sophomore Terrence Broughton.

It's taken him to tournaments all over the country.

"I traveled to Atlanta, Baltimore, Philly, I went to Princeton twice," he said.

It's opened doors and taught them more about themselves than the game itself.

"I'm more respectful, more helpful, and I'm more active in school and out of school," said Ingrid Morales, a seventh grader at Sanders Clyde.

Naudia Porcher says excelling at school and home makes her family and friends happy -- and it puts a smile on her face.

Through education, community service and the game of squash, Chucktown Squash is providing a road map to success -- where opportunity turns into prosperity.

That's why Chucktown Squash is this month's Jefferson Awards nominee from ABC News 4. The Jefferson Awards Foundation honors public and community volunteerism, and spotlights the people going above and beyond in their efforts to serve others.

ABC News 4 has committed to profile people in the Lowcountry who go above and beyond by giving their time and talents to help the people around them. It's all part of our partnership with the Jefferson Awards, a national organization dedicated to recognizing and celebrating those who serve and lead.

To nominate someone in your community, click here.

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