BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Carelle Hill has been playing football for Bassick High School for four years, but he said he’s never seen the quality of safety equipment displayed in Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim’s conference room Tuesday.
The helmet, bats, T-shirts and baseballs were a small part of a $21,000 gift of sports equipment the city donated to local youth and sports coaches, thanks to a grant from the Youth Violence Prevention Fund.
“We appreciate everything you all did for us,” Hill said, shaking hands with the mayor and Police Chief AJ Perez at a press conference announcing the gift.
Ganim said the donation is part of a multi-pronged effort to keep the city’s children and teens involved in positive activities this summer and beyond.
About two weeks ago U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal joined the mayor in reopening the Trumbull Gardens Community Center to youth in that North End housing complex and the city will announce more youth programming across Bridgeport on Wednesday.
“This is a first step at looking to do more for young people, for the youth,” Ganim told the group of coaches, players and police officers gathered.
He noted new helmets for high school football teams were especially important, given the danger of concussions for young athletes.
“Safety is paramount in my business and in your business,” Perez told the students. “You’ve got to be protected.”
Finding funding for new equipment is always a challenge, said city Athletic Director Chris Johnson.
“We’re in a tough spot trying to make ends meet,” he said, thanking Ganim and the police department’s Department of Youth Services.
Eddie Santiago, head coach for Harding High School’s football team, said keeping teens engaged is key to keeping them out of trouble during the summer months.
“We’re excited for having this equipment,” he said.
The donation also includes bats and balls for softball and soccer.
On Wednesday, Ganim and local businesses are expected to announce Youth Champions and Summer Youth Initiative to serve young adults between the ages of 14 and 21 this summer with quality programs, activities and services.
Youth Champions will offer young people employment opportunities to learn a skill and gain experience. The Summer Youth Initiative gives local organizations and individuals access to funding to create organized youth activities, according to a city announcement.
At the end of Tuesday’s event, Ganim invited the football players to consider applying to work in his office this summer.
“It’s a pretty good thing to put on your resumé,” he said. “Life is a series of building blocks. This is one of them.”
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