A steady beat of basketballs fills the air in the small town of Bridgeton, New Jersey, where a summer camp aims to teach kids that there are options other than violence.
The camp is part of the nonprofit Life Worth Living, created by John Fuqua after his 18-year-old nephew was murdered in 2008.
“The goal was to teach our kids that there’s opportunities,” Fuqua said. “Your life is worth living.”
Over the past 15 years, Fuqua has worked with about 10,000 kids, teaching them life skills to survive in an area plagued by crime. About 17% of children in Bridgeton live below the poverty line.
“Every kid is given an opportunity to write their story, and what we want to be is an aid in that,” Fuqua said. “So, we provide support for everything from school to mentoring, to anything recreational.”
The camp is a refuge for 14-year-old Zaire Bryant.
“I see people with guns and stuff,” Bryant said. “I don’t like that. That’s why I just get away from there.”
Nationwide, firearm injuries are the leading cause of death among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 880 teenagers have died so far this year from firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Jahzeer Thompson, 13, started participating in the program two years ago. He said coming to the program is the most exciting thing for him in life right now.
“John’s really just like a role model,” Thompson said. “He keeps me out of trouble.”
The nonprofit puts on year-round activities from sports and music, to the arts, giving the children a purpose, and helping them set goals for the future.
“I live in a city where we don’t have a recreation center,” Fuqua said. “But we have a county jail, a state prison, a federal prison and a halfway house.”
It’s helped kids like Bryant dream big.
“I want them to know that I’m going to make them proud,” Bryant said.