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New York City Baseball Program Improves Children's Lives


A baseball program in New York City continues to help East Harlem children escape poverty.

The program is named Harlem RBI. The program was founded in 1991. The community is now celebrating the 25th anniversary of Harlem RBI. Close to 2,000 boys and girls have become a part of Harlem RBI’s success.

In 1991, East Harlem was filled with public housing and parks covered with asphalt. East Harlem was a neighborhood filled with minorities. The community had a high poverty rate. Students had trouble reading and understanding mathematics in school.

Marilyn Morales is a former resident of East Harlem. She said East Harlem “was very scary” in 1991. The neighborhood was filled with homeless people, drug addicts, and buildings destroyed by fire.

Morales now lives in Westchester County, New York. Westchester County is close to 40 kilometers from East Harlem. She is now a mother who drives to New York City every day. Her son plays in Harlem RBI's summer league.

The children are now part of a success rate instead of a poverty rate.

Harlem RBI added a charter-school program of its own, called DREAM in 2008. DREAM students perform better than students in the state, city and school districts. DREAM teaches a high number of special-needs students and English-language learners.

Almost all Harlem RBI students graduate from high school. Nearly all Harlem RBI players have been able to enter college over the past 11 years.

Richard Berlin is the executive director of Harlem RBI. He started with Harlem RBI as a volunteer coach in 1994. He said the charter school fills "every one of our seats ... with a deserving child who wants to be here."

Berlin said lessons on a baseball field can lead to a life of success.

"Baseball is a game of failure,” he said. “If you fail seven out of 10 times [in baseball], you are wildly successful in this game."

Morales said the program and ball games help her son stay focused in life.

"It keeps him off drugs, hopefully, and it just helps keep him you know motivated and focus in life."

Taina Figueroa is an eighth grader and a shortstop and pitcher in the league. She has been with Harlem RBI for six years. Figueroa said the program is built on the life skills that baseball teaches: confidence, perseverance and sportsmanship.

"When people are on your side and they are rooting for you, it gives me motivation to hit the ball harder or pitch harder or run faster," Figueroa said.

The program just received $85 million to improve the school building. And many former East Harlem residents would like to move back home. But the neighborhood is not the same.

Morales says she wishes she could move back today. But it's not that simple. "It's too expensive, I can't live here!" she said, laughing.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Ramon Taylor wrote this story for VOA News. Jim Dresbach adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

baseballn. a game played on a large field by two teams of nine players who try to score runs by hitting a small ball with a bat and then running to each of the four bases without being put out

asphaltn. a black substance that is used for making roads

scaryadj. causing fear

drug addictn. a person who cannot stop taking an illegal drug

charter schooln. a school that is established by a charter, is run by teachers and parents and uses tax money but does not have to be run according to the rules of a city or state

special-needs studentn. students suffering from any of a wide range of physical or mental disabilities or medical conditions

shortstopn. a baseball player who defends the area between second and third base

pitchern. the player who throws the ball to the batter in baseball

perseverancen. the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult

sportsmanshipn. fair play, respect for opponents and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition

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