Robles Helps Kids get their Sport on

The project created by Okashi Robles when she took her Landmark SELP program brought a variety of sports to West Seattle middle schoolers through a unique after school program. The Seattle Times wrote a story about Robles’ project.

Middle-School students get their sport on at the southwest community center

Get Your Sport On is a first-of-its-kind, after-school program at the Southwest Community Center, adjacent to Denny Middle School in West Seattle. The volunteer-run program exposes kids to a different activity each week: golf, aerobics, weight training, yoga, basketball, even a “boot camp” that puts the students through a series of exercise courses.

by Nicole Brodeur

The kid’s a natural. Smooth stroke, eyes steady, nice follow-through.

No one would have known of Zach Cullers’ gift for golf, had it not been for Okashi Robles.

Robles, a fitness instructor and Nordstrom sales associate, is the force behind Get Your Sport On, a first-of-its-kind, after-school program at the Southwest Community Center, adjacent to Denny Middle School in West Seattle.

The program exposes kids to a different activity each week: golf, aerobics, weight training, yoga, basketball, even a “boot camp” that puts the students through a series of exercise courses.

Robles organized the class as a community project for a leadership program called Landmark Education. She recruited 25 co-workers to volunteer as coaches and promote the program, and she got donations from vendors.

The program was made possible by the city’s Families in Education Levy. Officials asked middle schools with the highest percentage of low-performing kids (Denny, Madison, Aki Kurose and Mercer) to write a plan for how to improve academic achievement.

Most opted to add a seventh period to the day for academic or other programs that would “improve their [students’] affiliation to their school,” said Holly Miller, head of the Department of Neighborhoods’ office of education.

Robles, 41, envisions bringing the Denny program to other schools. It is run by volunteers, costs parents nothing, keeps the kids fit and engaged, and gets them involved in sports they otherwise might not get to play.

“Middle school is the time when you experiment with stuff and you figure out what you’re good at,” Miller said, adding that Robles’ program is “a great concept because some kids are going to be dismal at soccer and great at rowing.”

Physical education in school usually means taking a 50-minute class for one half of the school year. Beyond that, students’ fitness depends on after-school team sports like coed ultimate Frisbee, girls volleyball, girls and boys basketball, and coed track.

“But some of these kids,” Robles said, “wouldn’t make the team.”

The variety is what students like, said Will King, Denny Middle’s after-school-program coordinator.

“Some of the sports, the kids didn’t think they would like it,” King said. “The boys weren’t too happy about yoga, but it wasn’t as bad as they thought.”

Every week, Robles, who is in shoe sales at Nordstrom, puts together gift bags for the kids with items donated by suppliers and other merchants she hits up for help.

“As soon as they hear the program is about kids, everybody wants to give,” she said.

For a recent session on golf, Robles brought a bunch of golf clubs she had bought for $3 each at Goodwill, and 100 red plastic balls. The kids stood on mats, facing a mishmash of targets like upturned gym mats and garbage cans.

Four volunteer coaches taught them where to put their feet, how to swing and set a bunch of balls in front of them. Before long, the room was raining red.

“You’re taking your life in your hands with some of these kids swinging for the ball,” said John Yumel, a volunteer coach who works with Robles in the shoe department at Nordstrom.

“G-man! You ever golfed before?” he asked Gianni Thomas, 11.

“No!” Thomas said. “Just pinball. Or mini-golf.”

Brianna Ford always thought golf was boring, so she never tried it before.

“But once you understand the concept and learn that you have to be in position and hit the ball … it’s fun today.”

Sixth-grader Pamela Sanchez, 13, thought she had found a new sport.

“Other sports are kinda crazy,” she said. “You rush around and get tired. But golf is relaxed.”

Classmate Kara Broxey, also 13, would sign up again for Get Your Sport On.

“The fact that it’s fun and not a lot of torture is really, really great,” she said. “Like the yoga. I never thought I would be that flexible.”

The kids carry their excitement home. Suzanne Cullers had no idea that her Zach could swing a club until he took the golf course.

But not long after the golf session at Get Your Sport On, Cullers spotted Zach hitting golf balls with a neighbor girl’s club. She wasn’t using them and decided to give him her whole set.

Zach the Natural has been swinging ever since — save for the snow.

“He may turn into a golfer after all,” Suzanne Cullers said. “Who knew?”

“At first, it was for the kids, and giving them the opportunity that adults have, plus two hours of extra attention,” Robles said. “But after the first class, all the instructors were on cloud nine.

“And for me, it is an amazing feeling. I come out and feel like they have given me everything.”

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