Lansdowne facility offers a place to play and learn leadership skills

Officials with the Leadership Through Athletics program on Hammonds Ferry Road don't need to go far to find examples of how well the program has worked.

Brothers Josh and Trevor Rice are both on the staff at the facility on Hammonds Ferry Road.

The two, who grew up in Lansdowne, were both part of an after-school program offered five days a week to children of all ages.

There they learned from adults like Andre Beatty, 35, of Lansdowne, the fundamentals of basketball. They also received encouragement and support to help with their homework after school.

The children bring their homework and when they've completed their work, they're rewarded with the opportunity to play basketball, soccer, baseball or volleyball, said Beatty, a basketball coach at the facility.

"Facilities like this are the reason why kids stay out of trouble," said Beatty, who works with kids between the ages of 11 and 14. "I feel like I'm doing my part."

The three-floor facility has two basketball courts and an education center on the main floor, a small gym upstairs and an indoor baseball training area in the basement. There is enough space to offer sports lessons, facility rentals and programs for seniors.

A computer room next to the gym offers kids a quiet space to concentrate and do homework, Beatty said.

In 2002, Leadership Through Athletics was created to develop young athletes and teach them leadership skills, according to a release from the organization.

The organization opened its 16,000 square-foot athletic facility and community center in December 2004 on Hammonds Ferry Road.

F. Michael Grace, an attorney who lives in Catonsville, said he started the program with his siblings Denise Franz, who died in 2005, George Thomas Grace and Patrick Grace.

Growing up in Lansdowne, Michael Grace said there were very few recreation facilities available in the area and his family wanted to offer one to children in the community.

The program was created to help kids like the Rice brothers become successful in their adult life.

"There are so many at-risk youth in the community," Grace said.

Josh Rice, 22, who was raised in a low-income, single-parent household, joined the program at age 13. After the first day, he was "hooked."

"It was an opportunity to play basketball, a sport that I had never played before, and learn from people in the area who were very successful businessmen, and took time out of their day to help us," Josh Rice said.

"It was a place for my friends to go, where they didn't have to deal with the outside influences from the Baltimore area with the drugs and sex. It was definitely a deterrent for a lot of the guys I went there with," he said.

Now in his senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he studies kinesiology, Rice said he learned the importance of a healthy lifestyle that includes academics and athletics. He plans to attend graduate school and hopes to coach professional basketball someday.

His brother is a teacher's aide at nearby Riverview Elementary School.

Beatty, who was raised in West Baltimore, said he also participated in a similar program growing up that helped him stay focused and out of trouble.

Although he has another job as a bulk driver for Under Armour, Beatty said working for the organization is his true passion.

He said he aims to teach kids leadership skills by encouraging them to set a good example and act responsibly.

"As long as we teach them to help out, they're following suit," Beatty said. "It's a way to keep them off the street — and that's all that matters."

Grace said he appreciates the hard work his seven employees do at the facility.

"Without guys like [Beatty] this organization wouldn't run," Grace said.

The program had a part-time teacher, who came in three days a week after school to tutor the kids. However, due to financial constraints, the program has been unable to hire a teacher for the past year, said Kirk Krikstan, general manager of the facility.

"The goal is to be able to offer someone a position here to come in after school at a decent rate to provide kids with some kind of education supervision," said Krikstan, a retired government worker and former Georgetown Prep baseball coach.

The program was on hiatus from mid-January to mid-March, because they have to rent out the facility to pay the bills and keep the center running, Grace said.

It has recently resumed, but without the money to pay for a certified teacher to tutor the children, Grace said.

"We would like to be able to provide the program to the people of Lansdowne, but we are [limited]," Grace said.

During the summer months, a camp is offered at a reasonable cost to families at $85 per session, per child. The nonprofit adjusts the fee for families who can't afford the amount, Krikstan said.

"This facility is such a good place to be," Krikstan said. "It provides kids with a place to come and enjoy sports."

Krikstan said having the facility in their community, teaches the kids respect.

"They end up knowing this is their facility for them to use," Krikstan said. "We're giving them something to take care of."

Josh Rice attributes his personal success to the program.

"It was definitely a stepping stone in my life, " he said. "Talking to them and seeing the different ways you could be successful, really helped me to figure out what I wanted to do myself."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad