Springfield native opens recreation center to help at-risk youth

James Cooper stands inside a 12,000 square foot space at the Southern Village shopping center that will offer sports lessons as well as tutoring sessions, counseling and discussions centered around mental health. Hasan Karim/ Staff
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James Cooper stands inside a 12,000 square foot space at the Southern Village shopping center that will offer sports lessons as well as tutoring sessions, counseling and discussions centered around mental health. Hasan Karim/ Staff

An ex-Springfield basketball star is paying tribute to his slain brother while also giving back to his hometown in a form of a recreation center with a mission of helping at-risk youth and tackling trauma and mental health.

The George Walker Jr. Recreation Center, which is scheduled to open today, will also offer after school programs to include sports and tutoring, said owner James Cooper. Counseling services, small group discussions about ways young people can deal with anger and aggression will also be available, he said.

Cooper named the center after his younger brother, who died from a gunshot wound in 2014. The facility is located in the Southern Village shopping center, next to the Ohio License Bureau Southside.

Cooper wanted to provide a space that can bring more positive energy to the city as well as give young people a place to go, he said. He wants it to be an alternative to the streets, where some may be exposed to drugs, peer pressure and violence.

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“A lot of kids don’t have a father figure to teach them the basic things of how to handle problems or how to spend their time in a constructive way,” Cooper said. “Our goal is not to be their fathers but provide that positive reinforcement to show them that there is more to life than fighting or using drugs. You can get your grades up, play a sport, do something constructive.”

The center will initially offer boxing lessons and help with homework that will be facilitated by parents and local college students.

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The recreational center in the southside of Springfield that will be lead by James Cooper will start off with boxing lessons, tutoring services and discussions centered on mental health. Hasan Karim/ Staff

The recreational center in the southside of Springfield that will be lead by James Cooper will start off with boxing lessons, tutoring services and discussions centered on mental health. Hasan Karim/ Staff
caption arrowCaption
The recreational center in the southside of Springfield that will be lead by James Cooper will start off with boxing lessons, tutoring services and discussions centered on mental health. Hasan Karim/ Staff

The goal is to eventually expand offerings as well as better utilize the 12,000 square foot open space that the center is located in. That includes adding a basketball court, a lounge area as well as adding food services in the future.

But the focus now is launching the boxing program and sessions that focus on the lived experiences of those young people as well as aiding them in their academics.

The center will be funded through fundraising, private donations, sponsorships, fees as well as applying for grants provided by local organizations and the city.

The goal would be to raise or generate $85,000 to $100,000 a year. T

That money will be used for future renovations to the center as well as adding new programs. Cooper said that he has been using his own money as well as donations to launch the center.

There will be a staff of seven to eight volunteers helping out on any given day, Cooper said. The center will be opened one day a week for its opening week, and then that will go to two days a week and hours will gradually be expanded from there.

The inspiration behind the recreation center in the southside comes from Cooper’s past.

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Cooper starred at South High School in the early 2000s as a basketball player, earning a scholarship to the College of Wooster, where he became one of the school’s all-time leading scorers and hall of fame inductee.

He used that experience recently to help connect with local young men through the creation of the nonprofit Brake the Cycle in January. The idea was to use his basketball and life skills as building blocks to help facilitate discussions and workshops around many issues young men may face in the city.

The recreation center will be a continuation of that work as he noted that he experienced the hardships of growing up in a low income part of the city with limited resources and an absentee father.

He said having a physical space will allow them to do more and the center is an extension of the work being done by Brake the Cycle, which aims to help and mentor youth.

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