PHMC's Community Health Data Base's 2008 Southern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey found that in Philadelphia almost 20% of boys ages 6 to 16 are overweight and 33% are obese. These statistics suggest that regular exercise may not be the first thing on some teens' minds. However, for members of the newly formed E3 Power Center's boys basketball team, based in West Philadelphia, a weekly workout is simply a part of the summer season. "It's been a great experience to see the boys develop their sportsmanship during the spring season," says David Johnson, E3 program director, "and we're continuing the program though June, July, August and September."

Just being part of a team, the students’ interest in themselves changes dramatically; they feel better about who they are.

The E3 Power Center, managed by PHMC affiliate The Bridge, focuses on helping out-of-school youth and young offenders with GED and literacy instruction and credit recovery. A contractor with the Philadelphia Youth Network, this year the West Philadelphia E3 branch organized a boys' basketball league in collaboration with the four other E3 Power Centers in Philadelphia. More than 70 youth participated on teams composed of 12 to 15 boys from the centers. "We stress that academics come first," says Johnson, "but I see many of them are working harder in the classroom as a result of the discipline they learn playing on the basketball team."

Federally funded through the Department of Labor's Youth Opportunity Grant to promote education, empowerment and employment (hence the name E3), this year the E3 Center provided services to nearly 250 students. Of those, 50 students participated in a subsidized eight-week work exposure program, 20 earned their GEDs and 15 attained permanent part-time or full-time employment. In addition to academic services, the E3 Power Center provides students with case management and offers a variety of life-skills seminars, men's groups and women's groups that focus on health issues and parenting classes for students with children. "Part of the E3 culture is to provide a safe, enriching environment for the students," says Johnson. "Here at the E3 center, we take a holistic approach."

While budget issues remain an issue for many nonprofits, Johnson emphasizes the importance of community collaborations. "It's all about partnering with other organizations that come in and provide free services to our children," he says.

The Bridge's E3 Power Center hopes to continue the basketball league in the coming years and later form a girls' league. "Just being part of a team, the students' interest in themselves changes dramatically; they feel better about who they are," says Johnson. "One student this year transformed from a shy, introverted young man to an outgoing individual who actively engages himself at E3. I credit that to his involvement with the basketball team."

Click here for more information about the E3 Power Center in West Philadelphia.