Athletics for Education and Success is seeking a slam dunk - both on and off the basketball court.
For the past nine years, AFES has worked to fulfill the mission of "providing safe and affordable recreational and extracurricular activities while focusing on the importance of character, education, and living a positive lifestyle."
In September 2011, the program moved into a permanent home: the former Hillcrest Elementary School at 712 Third St. N.W. The nonprofit youth organization purchased the closed school building in July 2011 from Fort Dodge Community School District for $1,000.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Detavia Gully, 11, left, and Dionshay Altman, 11, stop to check on their schoolwork assignments with youth counselor Priest Wilson during a recent afternoon at Athletes For Education and Success.
The move has been a positive one for the agency, said Charles Clayton, executive director for AFES.
"It's been beneficial to be able to split up the kids by age," said Clayton. "And having the green space in the warm-weather months is golden."
Though the facility meets most of the needs of the organization, there is one glaring deficiency: gymnasium space.
According to Clayton, the AFES basketball league has about 100 players from grades one through eight.
The existing gym, while adequate for an elementary school, is not conducive to competitive basketball, Clayton said.
"We're renting gym space at a few locations," he said.
The solution, said Clayton, is to construct a new building on the AFES property.
In addition to a larger gymnasium, the new structure would feature space for a technical training program for older students, Clayton said.
The "Skill to Work" program would be developed in conjunction with Iowa Central Community College, which, according to Clayton, would provide a curriculum.
"We want to teach (students) more of the skills that we read about Fort Dodge not having enough of ... skills that would lead to good jobs in the community," said Clayton, citing plumbing, electrical work and other industrial applications.
"We want to expose the students to these at a younger age," Clayton said.
The goal there is, by giving students a leg up, not only may they realize they enjoy a particular job, but will also be further along should they pursue the relevant training required after graduation, he said.
The price tag for a new facility is estimated to be around $500,000, according to Clayton.
To raise the necessary money, AFES has launched Project Slam.
Directed by Ann Halbur of Fort Dodge, Project Slam will feature various community activities throughout the year, Clayton said.
"I'm excited for the opportunity to work with an organization like AFES in helping them achieve their vision," Halbur said.
On Jan. 19, AFES hosted the Inauguration Bash, which featured live music and a buffet meal and allowed community residents a first-hand look at the program.
Clayton said he hopes to continue to build positive relations with the community.
Indeed, he said he anticipates a portion of the funding necessary for the new building to come from in-kind donations of materials and labor.
Clayton said that there are local firms that have already expressed interest in making such donations - which will prove invaluable as AFES applies for grant funding from various sources.
"We want to show that the community is behind this project," he said.
At this point, plans remain tentative.
"We'd like to break ground by late fall of this year," Clayton said.
AFES was established in 2004 with small sports camps and clinics, providing positive messages about school, drug awareness and domestic violence education.
AFES' commitment is to providing life skills and character building.
AFES is home to the BLING after-school program, in which students from grades kindergarten through eight get help with homework, participate in daily skills groups, and get an after-school snack.
The program, which now operates seven days a week, serves between 65 and 85 children daily, Clayton said.
The program also extends into the summer. Kids get breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. They work daily on academics, with an emphasis on reading.
They also get trips to local parks for recreation and out-of-town field trips.
AFES is also the Fort Dodge site of the Iowa Department of Education's Summer Food Service Program.
On the musical scene, AFES operates a drumline and choir that perform at area events periodically, Clayton said.