Amid challenges, the Athletic Factory continues to support student-athletes on and off the courtThe Nonprofit Journal Project

Eighteen months into the pandemic and we, at The Athletic Factory, are still doing well considering how disruptive the Covid-19 pandemic has been to many businesses and organizations. We’ve had our challenges to programs and funding, but we’ve also experienced a lot of good things this year. 

Our nonprofit continues to work at providing opportunities and support for student athletes in the classroom and on the basketball court. We offer after-school tutoring, SAT/ACT courses and FAFSA/TIP workshops, while also focusing on basketball skills, NCAA/NAIA Eligibility Center certification, travel and biddy ball leagues, recreational basketball and volleyball leagues, a golf simulator program and VertiMax training. 

During the pandemic, we’ve been able to reach more people to share about our organization and our goals. We've gotten lots of support from teachers, administrators, and key decision makers in the Port Huron area who we hope can impact our organization in a positive manner.

One collaboration we’ve had this year that’s been great is with the Port Huron Recreation Department on our Biddy Ball program. We recently launched the program to teach first and second-graders the fundamentals of basketball. The Recreation Department helped us spread the word by putting advertisements in their brochure, and funneling people to us who were interested. They also donated basketballs they received from the Detroit Pistons.

Our travel basketball program suffered last year due to the lockdowns of sports-related assemblies. But since restrictions have lessened, and vaccines have been accessible to 12 and up, our teams have been able to play. Our seventh and eighth-grade boys and ninth-grade girls are getting to travel and again enjoy the sport they love.

This summer, we also brought back our youth recreational program, which we held at the James R. Lenard Center. From late June to mid-August, we had open gym runs with middle school and high school students, sometimes 40-50 kids in a day.  This type of outlet has always been necessary, but I see it now more than ever with our community coming out of strict lockdown. Our youth have had nothing to do outside of video games, and indoor activities, which has hurt their social skills and social circles. These are both paramount for school-age children. 

Running the program at this location definitely provided a much needed community center for the south end of town, where kids can go free of charge. Our intentions as an organization is to keep that going every year, and start to expand it. It’s these types of programs we feel are needed in the community to give our youth an outlet and a safe haven. 

Responding to the lack of a community center in the south end of Port Huron was part of the diversity procedures we’ve put in place at our organization. Along with our board members, we’re taking steps to specifically address our minority communities. In order to be more inclusive when it comes to funding, we work to have board members who reflect our community and its diversity of races, genders and beliefs. I myself, am part of the Minority Philanthropy Initiative (MPI) in St. Clair County, which promotes diversity in funding so no group ever feels left out or underrepresented. 

Our organization is doing average when it comes to funding, but we’ve also been faced with some challenges. Coming off of the pandemic, some of our donors made a shift in their funding focuses. But, I’m hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to acquire those funds needed for essential programs like our SAT/ACT prep, the youth recreational program and our after-school tutoring, which helped two of our student-athletes graduate on time this year.

We're hopeful that more people will begin to see how the Athletic Factory is positively impacting youth in our community, and, that as that support continues to grow, it will allow us to strengthen our impact, and continue making a difference in the lives of our youth.

Cliff Thomason is the founder of The Athletic Factory in Port Huron, which works to support student-athletes. This story is part of the Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Southeast Michigan to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, vaccinations, a heightened sense of racial justice and equity, issues of climate change and more are impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.