Last month, through its NBA Foundation, the National Basketball Association awarded a grant-in-aid to New Heights Youth, Inc. as part of $3 million in funding to nine organizations around the country to help advance educational and career opportunities, and elevate economic empowerment in Black communities.

New Heights, an independent non-profit founded in 2005, is a college-bound, sports-based youth-development and educational organization located in East Harlem serving over 250 youth annually. Its primary components include academic support, basketball and leadership development, academic support, guidance for youth as they navigate the critical transition from middle school to high school, and comprehensive college preparation.

“We’ve worked closely with the NBA for many years now,” said New Heights Executive Director Ted Smith. “This grant helps us tremendously.” From 2001 to 2004, New Heights was under the umbrella of the Children’s Aid Society, “and we have been serving the entire New York City Community ever since,” stated Smith.

The foundation for New Heights was established in 2001 by Nick Blatchford, who at that time was a public-school teacher and basketball coach. Blatchford, who went on to own and operate the famed Five-Star basketball organization, provided students the opportunity to play basketball in the school gymnasium at the conclusion of their daily classes and on weekends with the agreement they first completed their schoolwork.

Blatchford quickly realized that basketball was a vehicle to engage students who were struggling academically. “Using basketball as a hook became a key piece which allows us to accentuate the mission,” maintained Smith, “which is to educate and empower promising underserved youths, particularly in the Black community to become leaders, champions and student-athletes by developing not just basketball skills, but the social emotional learning skills necessary for success in high school, college and in life.

“In that way,” he concluded, “New Heights is a holistic program focused on the entire well-being of the youth.”

New Heights prides itself on sustaining a 100% high school graduation rate for its participants, a 98% college matriculation rate and 75% college completion rate within six years. The program currently has 78 alums playing college basketball and 20 playing professionally.

“The players are aware of the magnitude of what they’re doing in stages,” said New Heights Community Basketball Director Khalid Green. “They start in the 5th grade…and from the 8th grade on, they realize the competition will become tougher and that they have to raise their skill level and competitiveness to get recognized by colleges.”

New Heights, which has worked directly with the Brooklyn Nets, will be expanding its operations later this year to Brooklyn’s Crown Heights’ section. “This move will allow us to grow exponentially in the way of classroom space,” said Smith.

“We are building a science lab, office space, which will allow us to grow our staff, and of course basketball courts, which has always been a challenge in the past. The move will help us make an even bigger impact on the children we serve and will serve.”