Justin Anthony remembers the precise moment he decided he wanted to help kids raise expectations for their own future.
Anthony is the co-founder of EPIC Youth, a new Christian-based program in Elgin that combines basketball with leadership development and college preparation.
The 24-year-old Elginite, who’s coached basketball since high school, was shocked by what he heard a few years ago, when he was taking a group of kids to basketball practice and driving through an affluent neighborhood in St. Charles.
“I made a comment about (the kids) having a house like that one day, and the first thing they said was, ‘The house costs too much.’ That shook me,” Anthony said.
“It just seemed like their goals were so low, that they weren’t thinking big enough. That bothered me for a couple of years,” he said. “It was like, ‘Man oh man, they have such a poverty mindset.’ We have to do something to remedy that.”
EPIC Youth — Empowering People in Christ — is open to anyone interested in basketball, not just underprivileged youth.
It will offer an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball program for boys in fourth through 10th grades. The first season kicks off in March.
Anthony works as a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual and for the last three years has run the Junior Hilltoppers, a feeder team for Elgin Academy.
He also played basketball at Elgin Academy and Illinois Wesleyan University.
The other co-founder of EPIC Youth is Josie Wallace of Elgin, a childhood friend of Anthony’s. She who works a special-education teacher and is a volunteer assistant coach at St. Charles North High School.
Both believe that basketball is a way to inspire kids to work hard and aim high, not just in sports but also — and more importantly — academically.
“We’re doing this so these kids can start to think bigger and understand there’s more to life than what they see in their daily life in Elgin,” Anthony said. “We’re bringing them in through basketball, but we really want to reach them on a much, much deeper level.”
Wallace agreed. “The whole goal of this program is for is these kids to raise their expectations, to realize that college is everyone — and it is attainable.”
Beth Belich of St. Charles plans to sign up her son Grant, who met Anthony and Wallace through the Hoopz U. basketball program the pair ran last summer.
“Justin is such a wonderful role model for young men,” Belich said. “You see in him the kind of behavior you want your son to model. He’s someone closer to their age, someone they look up to as still being cool.”
Another plus is the diversity of boys in the program, she said.
“For my son, the exposure to a different group of people was wonderful. He made friends, they still keep in touch with Facebook, texting and messaging,” she said.
“I love that Justin took boys from a lot of different kinds of backgrounds and through sport, they’re learning that their differences are not so different.”
EPIC Youth will hold basketball practice at Elgin Academy and Harvest Christian Academy. It will include leadership programs run by Jerome Shelton, a speaker and coach who owns Kamylin Worldwide. The college preparation program will include a variety of speakers.
“Justin is a guy who has an intense desire to help people. He understands the value of education, he knows how much he benefited from education and continues to. He speaks very eloquently about that, and he has a passion for helping people understand that,” said Seth Hanford, head of school at Elgin Academy.
“He’s a fantastic guy who is going to do a lot of good for a lot of people,” he added.
Although Epic Youth is only open to boys right now, girls hopefully will be able to join in the future, Wallace and Anthony said.
A $40 basketball camp — open to boys and girls — is scheduled for Presidents Day on Feb. 18. Free tryouts for the boys-only program are scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 24 and Sunday, March 3.
Families who can’t afford the $425 program fee, which includes uniforms, can be placed on a payment plan or apply for financial assistance.
For more information, visit epicyouthmovement.org or call (847) 250-7564. Epic Youth, which is waiting for approval for nonprofit 501(c) 3 status, is also looking for sponsorships and donations.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.