Participants in the Petersburg YMCA midnight basketball program pose with program staffer, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club's Master Sgt. LaMakius Gardner and MSG Tamari Lewis as well as Logistics Noncommissioned Officer Academy students April 1 at the Petersburg YMCA. Roughly 15 SAMC members have volunteered time to the Saturday night program since its inception in October of last year. The program endeavors to provide a recreational alternative to negative activity for area youth. MSG LEWIS, TAMARI (SAMC

FORT LEE, Va. (April 7, 2017) -- A group of Fort Lee Soldiers have been spending Saturday nights keeping kids off the streets.

Members of the local Sergeant Audie Murphy Club chapter have since late last year volunteered time to the Petersburg YMCA in support of a nighttime basketball program.

Roughly 15 SAMC members have lent more than 20 hours to the program that has run the first Saturday of each month since October. Their participation has been positive, according to the SAMC president.

“The members love it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Angel Alston. “They get excited about it. It takes them back to when they were growing up because a lot of our members grew up in similar neighborhoods and situations.”

The program, which runs from 7:45 p.m. – midnight, has attracted about 50-60 12-to-17 year-olds for each session, said Alston.

SAMC members have refereed games and acted as coaches and mentors. Alston said SAMC’s participation in the program bolsters efforts to provide Tri-Cities youth with a healthy, recreational alternative to negative activity.

“It’s an opportunity to reach out to those teens who may not have strong male and female role models and give them insights about life,” she said.

Aside from increasing participation numbers, the next goal of the program is to offer military family members the opportunity to learn about another community demographic, said Alston.

“I think it’s good to have a diverse mix of kids – those who have resources and those who don’t – so they can share experiences, learn about one another and reach out to each other,” she said.

The nighttime basketball program is collaboration between Shaping Our Future, a local youth advocacy group, and the YMCA.

It concludes next month, and Alston said the SAMC is looking forward to continuing its participation in the fall.