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Cleaning up the community


Christopher Blakeney cleans up after you at night.

From 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. five days a week, he maintains toilets, takes out the Student Services building’s trash and cleans its floors, struggling to retain full-time employment.

Unlike many of his co-workers, Blakeney is not concerned as much with securing medical benefits or keeping a steady income as he is interested in the two free classes offered by the University to full-time staff members each semester.

With three years of classes at Joplin, Missouri’s Messenger College, behind him, Blakeney wants to be a psychologist so that he can pursue his passions: helping people who suffer from emotional problems and disabilities and working with disenfranchised youths.

Blakeney left Messenger College 10 months ago to escape some of the pressures of being a student. Moving into a halfway house for foster children and troubled youths associated with the New Life Church, Blakeney assumed multiple roles. He became an in-house counselor, mentor, tutor and the coach of a high school-aged basketball team sponsored by the church.

Housed in what Blakeney calls a “rough area,” the church offers basketball as a means of avoiding some of the pitfalls urban living can pose.

“One kid was shot just over there,” Blakeney said, pointing to a house across the street from the church. “So we decided to start a basketball team to benefit the community. It gives them freedom from their moms and dads, a place to hang out with friends. This is called the hang-out place, a cool place to be, a friendly environment.”

Many of the youths on the basketball team and in the halfway house are former foster children. Cut off from state funding at the age of 18, many of these youths feel they have nowhere to go, so they turn to crime for income and drugs to get escape from reality, he said.

No stranger to the trauma a loss of a parent can cause at a young age – Blakeney lost his father when he was a toddler – it’s youths like these Blakeney hopes to help.

Leading by example, Blakeney serves as a role model to many of the youths with whom he comes into contact, according to New Life Pastor Tom Atchison.

“Chris has been able to show them that by planting a seed there is more to life than just drugs and gunk,” Atchison said.

Though Blakeney works nights at USF, he finds time before catching the bus to work to coach the church’s team, Legacy, which he led to a surprise victory in the recent Bay Area Christian School Tournament.

The team, comprised of dropouts, foster children and disenfranchised neighborhood kids, took on Division II high school teams and won. In their run, they even beat a Division I team to secure a towering first place trophy.

However, it is not trophies that Blakeney focuses on. He points to the effect the team has on its players lives as the true test of success.

“There’s a lot of violence and narcotics and stuff (in the neighborhood),” Blakeney said. “Some of them could be selling or using, but they play basketball instead. They have to have something to hold them down like an anchor on a ship. Basketball is the type of positive influence that can do that.”