SCHENECTADY The main attraction for over 1,000 young men and women at Central Park this weekend was basketball. But upon arriving, they had the opportunity to do much more than play.
“When you live in the community, you understand what attracts the community and what’s important for the community,” said William Revas, one of the organizers of the weekend’s “Back to School Community Days” event.
The inaugural edition of the event took place Saturday and Sunday in the park on the basketball courts. The main draw was a basketball tournament, but attendees also received free backpacks, free food, and were offered health, wellness and financial literacy tips, among other things. Organizers said community-based events can be important in addressing broader issues.
The event was organized by Save Our Streets, a group that aims to address social issues in Schenectady’s neighborhoods.
Organizers discussed the significance of bringing the community together to try to solve issues facing Schenectady and other cities in the region, such as violence and poverty. Revas said growing up in Schenectady helps provide prospective on what it takes to solve neighborhood issues.
For example, Revas said, the basketball tournament was a big attraction for many attendees. However, by packaging the tournament with other offerings — a health and wellness booth, financial literacy advice, the chance to register to vote and more — the event became more productive.
Each court had organized games going on. In the background, speakers thumped with music and kids enjoyed SnoCones and other treats on the sidelines. One woman wandered through the crowd Sunday afternoon asking individuals if they’d registered to vote.
Revas said it took about three weeks to fully plan everything out. On Saturday alone, he said, about 1,000 people attended and 300 backpacks were distributed. The event was scheduled for 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Daniel Smalls, another organizer, said offering free backpacks was a way to alleviate a small cost to low-income families who might not be able to afford it for their child before school starts.
Smalls, who said he grew up just down the hill from Central Park, added that one goal of the event is to link together other cities in the region, such as Albany and Troy, because most neighborhoods are facing similar issues.
The weekend’s activities served as a good “last hurrah” for students before most of them return to school in less than two weeks, Smalls said.
Former NBA player and former Schenectady High School basketball standout James Thomas was in attendance for the weekend as well. Thomas said he was happy to see how positive everyone – including parents, young children, and teenagers- at the weekend-long event was.
Thomas, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Portland Trailblazers and the Chicago Bulls, said he wants to help build the community and give back to the neighborhood where he grew up.
“There’s strength in numbers,” he said of the high turnout over the weekend. “I’m just scratching the surface of what I want to do to help the community.”