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Chicago to Expand Hoops Program for At-Risk Youths

Can more basketball lead to less gang violence for at-risk youths? Chicago is attempting to find out.

Joined by Basketball Hall of Famer (and Chicago native) Isiah Thomas, along with the Chicago Parks Foundation, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the expansion of the city's "Windy City Hoops" program for at-risk youths on Tuesday.

The city is seeking $480,000 in donations by April 20 to help support the expansion of the youth-basketball program. The goal is to create new basketball leagues for teenagers at 10 parks across eight areas in the city, selected based on crime levels, median income, and regional influence of the park facility. (The Englewood area, where Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose hails from, features two of the 10 chosen parks.)

If the city reaches its $480,000 goal, it's estimated that the donations will result in an additional 3,200 registration slots for 13- to 17-year-old at-risk youths. The leagues would operate from 7 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and 5 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, helping keep at-risk youths safe, busy, and protected from gang-related activity.

"Keeping our streets safe is about more than just police work—it requires that we provide our kids with productive opportunities to learn team work and leadership skills," Emanuel said in a statement. "This partnership will allow all Chicagoans to play a part in reducing the violence that is plaguing our communities by investing in programs that work."

The website for the donations clearly spells out what the money will help support. The donation levels range from $5(the "fan" level), which pays for one trophy for one youth player, all the way to $10,000 (the "Hall of Famer" level), which covers all expenses (including equipment, staff, trophies, and uniforms) for one 12-week season at one location.

"For me, as a child in Chicago, basketball was a way that I could enjoy myself, make friends, stay safe and obtain the education I needed to succeed in life," said Thomas in a statement. "I am happy to be involved with a program that will allow many others the same valuable opportunities that I had."

As of Feb. 23, the city had already raised over $30,000 toward its $480,000 goal. The year-round league is slated to begin in March, according to a press release from the mayor's website.

Emanuel has been busy in recent weeks announcing initiatives aimed at helping keep at-risk youths safe.

Earlier this month, he announced a $4.5 million increase in funding for two programs already helping roughly 3,500 at-risk youths in the city. The additional funding should provide opportunities to an extra 2,000 at-risk Chicago youths, either through the Greencorps Chicago or Becoming A Man programs.

The day after revealing the Windy City Hoops expansion, the mayor announced the establishment of a coalition that aims to raise $50 million over the next five years to support the city's at-risk youths through community-based programs.

"There are proven and successful programs in our city that are creating a brighter future for some of our most vulnerable children," said Emanuel in a statement. "It is time for our city to come together and invest in them."

To kick things off, Allstate announced a $5 million donation over the next five years to help reduce violent crime in the city through a community-wide effort. The private sector (both businesses and philanthropies) will be approached for the remainder of the coalition's fundraising efforts.

The mayor told ABC7 that troubled neighborhoods could start noticing the impact of the coalition as early as this year.

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