June 2, 2010
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PITTSBURGH--The first year of the Jamie Dixon Timeout community service program concluded last Friday as a dozen University Prep eighth grade students met with Pitt basketball players at the Petersen Events Center to celebrate a successful year. The final session of programming contained an awards ceremony, luncheon and a seminar on presenting a positive self-image.
Created during the fall of 2009, the Jamie Dixon Timeout Program's objective is to educate area youth about the value of leadership and life skills through a series of monthly workshops. In collaboration with Pittsburgh Public Schools and University Prep, the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, Hill House Association, Centre YMCA and the Pitt Basketball team, Dixon's vision is to create a program that focuses on continual contact between his players and local youth. This program achieves continual connections between the players and students.
"We've gone to other schools and done a lot of other things in the community, but I thought somewhere down the road we'd like to organize something on a regular basis," said Dixon, whose long-term goal for the program includes involving the Oakland Zoo.
Dixon first got the idea about starting a community service program when he drove through the Hill District in his recruitment of former Pitt All-American and current San Antonio Spurs player DeJuan Blair.
"We wanted to create a program where our players would become mentors, meet kids and spend time with them on a consistent basis," Dixon said. "Our players have been able to interact with the kids and can relate to them. I think it's benefited the kids at University Prep as well as our players. If you teach something to young children, you are also reinforcing it yourself."
Pitt junior Ashton Gibbs said he and many of his teammates can relate to the students because their backgrounds are so similar. Many come from inner cities and grew up playing basketball in hopes of making it to the next level.
"It's easy to connect with the kids because a lot of them are in the same situation that we were in while growing up," Gibbs said. "These kids are in the inner-city and they love basketball. The inner city is where my whole family is from. I can relate."
Some of the issues stressed and discussed by the Pitt players and staff during the school year include leadership skills, life skills, personal branding, etiquette, goal setting, public speaking, emphasis on education, the avoidance of bad influences and choosing the right friends.
Former Pitt basketball player and current University of Pittsburgh academic counselor Charles Small directs the program, teaches monthly workshops and devises curriculum for the children. Dixon credits Small--who played under Dixon as a walk-on from 2002-06--for the success of the program. Others playing a key role in the program include Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson, Pitt executive associate athletic director Donna Sanft, Pitt Director of Life Skills Penny Semaia, YMCA Centre's Chay Tyler, University of Pittsburgh School of Education representatives Dr. Jere Gallagher and Dr. Louis Gomez, University PREP at Milliones School Principal Derek Harding and UPREP's Andre McDonald.
"This is a great opportunity for the students at UPREP," Small said. "It is an example of how the Pitt athletic department is committed to partnering with community members to help build community capacity within the Hill District."