A special report by The Tremonster
Merrick House is partnering with I CAN Schools to provide students in their NEO Prep Academy high school athletics Program a home court in Tremont.
According to Rocky Melendez, Merrick House Assistant Director and Coordinator of Youth Services, “What Merrick House is doing is going out into the community and partnering with neighborhood schools, neighborhood churches, and other organizations within our own community so that they can utilize the gymnasium. We’re actually going to play a volleyball game today with I CAN Schools, which is our partner – our new partner. We just felt it’s very important for I CAN students to be able to have a home gym within their neighborhood. Today, the volleyball girls from I CAN are playing against Whitney Young – so this is actually the Whitney Young students’ first time ever coming in to Merrick House. That actually helps us to develop these new partnerships and helps young kids come together and grow, and come to Tremont, and visit with Merrick House and see what it is, understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Justin Shullick, Athletic Director for I CAN Schools, said he feels a gymnasium atmosphere is important for his charter school students: “It builds morale. That’s the important part. The high school is only four years old – last year was our first year for athletics – but this gives them the opportunity to get involved. Basically, they can feel like they’re at a regular public school and get all the opportunities that the public schools get.”
“We recently started a partnership with Merrick House. I approached Rocky Melendez, the [Assistant] Director here, and basically, there are going to be 27 home games – our volleyball and boys’ and girls’ basketball are going to be playing here, right around the corner, and it gives the atmosphere to our high school students and student body that is an actual athletic event that they can attend.”
The partnership between Merrick House and I CAN Schools was given an enthusiastic vote of support from the Merrick House Youth Leadership Council. Melendez explained, “Merrick House has a youth council – 12 to 15 kids ages 12 to 18. They are responsible for fundraising; working together; leadership; understanding what it is to become young, productive people who want to go to school, who want to go to college. We do all kinds of different activities. We do college tours together and, most importantly, we support each other within our own community.”
Melendez beamed with pride and said, “I CAN Schools – in our community – our Youth Council has partnered with them to develop this sports program for girls and boys basketball, for girls and boys volleyball. It’s a great partnership. It gives I CAN an opportunity to have a home court, which is what our Youth Council had talked about – basically saying, ‘Rock, let’s go out into the community, let’s start really partnering and bringing people who don’t know about Merrick House…let them come in here and let them know that we are the youth leaders of Merrick House and we welcome them.”
Melendez sees the new relationship with I CAN Schools as a natural outgrowth of the work Merrick House does every day, in general, but with the Merrick House Youth Council in specific. He said, “The connection between the I CAN student sports program and Merrick House Youth Leadership Council comes together because these are kids from four or five different schools; they’re all coming together to participate in athletics, help each other understand what we’re trying to do, grow, and become friends. That’s what Merrick House is all about.”