Andrea Boneparte signed up her 7-year-old son William Chaplin IV for karate lessons Saturday after he saw a class at the Charles Lind Brown Community Center and begged his mother to let him join.
"He saw them perform... and he went up to sensei and said he wanted to sign up."
The "sensei" -- or teacher -- is Al Yisrael, a former Marine and teacher of different forms of martial arts. Yisrael has been holding Saturday classes since July, when Beaufort County Council agreed to let the Circle of Hope Coalition open the center's doors for two hours on weeknights and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. His weekend class currently has about 38 students, he said.
Yisrael said those students range in age from 4 to about 16, and many can take the class for free on the condition they keep their grades up and keep a positive attitude at home, in school and in his class.
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"It's making them accountable for their actions," he said, "and showing them their job is to be the best they can be."
Kids are also free to use the center, located on Green and Hamar streets, to play sports or do arts and crafts. Coalition secretary Carol Smalls-Jenkins said the group hopes to start a GED program.
The center, also called the Green Street Gym, can be a good alternative if PALS programs are too expensive or parents can't work with the practice schedules, volunteer Denise Littlejohn said.
A basketball tournament, for example, is held about once a month, Littlejohn said.
"It makes them feel apart of something," Littlejohn said. "We're here to have fun and bring positive energy."
Children younger than 13 must have an adult with them, Littlejohn said, but that requirement can provide an opportunity for parents and children to bond.
Boneparte said she's taken advantage of that opportunity -- before the extended hours began, she spent her Saturdays doing laundry while her kids played outside.
"It brings a balance where parents and kids can both connect," she said.
The center is run by coalition volunteers during the extended hours. Littlejohn, who is there most days, said there are at least 25 kids at the facility during the week, and more than 50 on a typical weekend.
Seventy-one children and adults had come to play by 4:30 p.m. Saturday, she said.
The coalition was formed about a year ago after a teenager fired several shots at a group playing basketball across the street. No one was hurt but coalition members said it was a "wake up call" for them to be more involved and active in the community.
The coalition also has activities from 6 to 8 p.m. weekdays.
Those interested in volunteering or in the coalition's programs can contact program coordinator Anita Singleton-Prather at 843-263-5229 or Smalls-Jenkins at 843-379-1002.
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