Lowell’s Youth Leadership Program Provides Enrichment Opportunities and Life Lessons for Area Children

TYNGSBORO — Malakai Ream’s smile said it all.

Towards the end of another day at camp, having finished eating lunch and joking with friends, some he had just met, Ream was beaming.

“Activities are fun. My favorite is athletics. It’s more active,” said Ream, who will be a freshman at Lowell High School in the fall. “I’ve never done it before, but I’ll probably do it in high school.”

Ream is one of 130 Lowell residents, ages 10 to 16, taking advantage of Lowell’s first youth leadership program.

The free program, run by Greater Lowell Technical High School, exposes campers to sports ranging from golf, track and field, volleyball and basketball to other aspects of life including robotics, banking skills, rock climbing, contemporary dance and swimming.

Transportation to and from Greater Lowell Tech is provided. Breakfast and lunch are also included, free of charge, through private donations. T-shirts and bags are also part of the program, which runs from June 30 to July 15.

“I’m glad I signed up for this,” said Ream, 14, who recently completed eighth grade at Stoklosa Middle School. “I met a lot of new people.”

On Tuesday, Ream learned how to compete in the shot put, discus and javelin throw during the athletics portion of his morning.

The Lowell Youth Leadership Program was created by a handful of people involved with the National Youth Sports Program, which was run by UMass Lowell over the summer of 1992-2007 until federal funding be discontinued, ending the popular program.

National Youth Sports Program Director Ed Scollan is a strong supporter of the Lowell Youth Leadership Program and a member of the organization’s Board of Directors. He was among those present on Tuesday to make sure everything was going well.

“Board members Lisa Ansara and Jim McCusker are such an asset to LYLP,” Scollan said.

The guiding principles of the program are respect, focus, safety, confidence, self-discipline, mental health, physical health and leadership.

Among those leading the Lowell Youth Leadership Program are Larry Wilson and Sam Hor, chairman and secretary of the board, respectively.

Wilson and Hor met as campers at the national youth sports program. The two were from the Lowell Housing Projects and were looking for direction when they met. The national youth sports program opened their minds and created a lifelong friendship.

Now adults, they wanted to give back and provide the kind of experience they were blessed with decades ago.

“It means a lot,” Hor said. “It gave me something to do in the summer. And it gave me new experiences, things that I couldn’t have done with my past, like golf and tennis. I met a lot of people. I see myself in a lot of campers. It’s great to see them smile. It makes us feel really good.

Wilson and Hor started as campers with the National Youth Sports Program before becoming junior coaches, counselors and, finally, instructors.

Wilson said 210 children have enrolled in the program. The Lowell Youth Leadership Program was able to accept 130. In the future, if private donations increase – or if they receive federal or state funding – the organizers of the Lowell Youth Leadership Program would like to offer it to 300 to 350 young people. Instead of running the program for 15 days, the goal is to offer it for four to six weeks.

Many young people are already asking if the program will take place next year, Wilson said.

He said it is rewarding to be able to offer such a diverse program to young people, many of whom are inner city kids. He said the leadership skills he learned at the National Youth Sports Program are ones he still uses.

“It’s not your everyday summer program,” said Wilson, who said Greater Lowell Technical Superintendent Jill Davis and her staff “were awesome” and welcoming, a sentiment that Scollan echoed.

“Being at Greater Lowell Tech gives us a complete campus that makes us feel at home,” Wilson said. “It’s something we want to continue doing every summer. We want to get bigger and bigger. I see myself in every child.

Coaches include Phil Maia (athletics) and Ken Hughes (golf), two of the region’s most respected coaches.

“You get high quality at no cost,” said Andy Lopez, operations director. “That doesn’t happen. It’s really about children.

A special guest visited on Tuesday during lunch. Lowell Mayor Sokhary Chau, the first Cambodian American mayor elected in the United States, received repeated applause during his address to the children.

“Meeting the kids one-on-one really tells me that this type of program is really important in the town of Lowell,” he said after acknowledging the group. “They love it. If they didn’t have that, they wouldn’t have much to do.

Kevin E. Boling