The third- and fourth-graders at Akron's I Promise School got a special sendoff to winter break this year.

The LeBron James Family Foundation and the 2K Foundation on Friday revealed renovations to the Balch Street Community Center gymnasium, less than a mile from the school on West Market Street. Students will be able to use the site for basketball, recreational activities, school assemblies, after-school activities and other events.

"I Promise students, welcome to your new home away from home," Monique Ransome of the LeBron James Family Foundation told the more than 200 students sitting on the floor of the new gym. "This is your place to shoot hoops, to run around and to be kids and to always dream big."

Renovations during the six-week project included new basketball hoops, wall padding, a scoreboard, fresh paint, refinished floors and new LED lighting.

Logos for both foundations are placed throughout the gym, including a black circular logo at center court that read "The LeBron James Family Foundation" in white lettering with a crown. Other messages adorning the gym included "Nothing is given, everything is earned," "I Promise," "We Are Family" and "Strive for Greatness."

With green and yellow lights and fog machines going, students wearing "We Are Family" T-shirts ran into the gym a classroom at a time, dancing and cheering as music from DJ Snake and Lil Jon's "Turn Down For What" to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" played. Then, students gathered in a circle on the floor to hear more about the gym.

Ransome said James spent a lot of time playing basketball at community centers growing up, and he wanted to offer that same space for the I Promise students.

"It was his safe place. He wants this to be that for all of you," she said. "We want the Balch Street gym to be a vibrant place full of life and activity. We want to engage and empower this community."

Nicole Hassan, the foundation's Akron Public Schools liaison, said the I Promise School — a partnership between the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools that opened in July to third- and fourth-graders who are falling behind their peers academically — lacks a basketball court.

"He [LeBron] had a big problem to solve because he found you the best school in Akron, the I Promise School. It's a perfect location, it's an absolutely beautiful space and the only thing it's missing is [a] basketball court," Hassan said. "He found another good partner — the city of Akron and Balch Street Community Center — to come together and redo this space."

John Valle, the city's director of neighborhood assistance, welcomed the students to the space.

"We could've never got this done without the LeBron James Family Foundation," he said. "This is gonna be a great gymnasium for you to take gym class, play basketball or do all kinds of events."

Gloria James, LeBron's mother, led the students in the "Hokey Pokey" before she spoke to the crowd.

"We definitely could not have imagined that this gym would one day look as good as it does," she said. "We all feel like you all deserve to have a gym this nice. You're very deserving of it."

After the ceremony, she helped hand out bags of yellow and black basketballs and plastic candy canes full of Christmas treats to each classroom. She wished the students a wonderful holiday break with their families, but told them to be ready to come back to school in January.

"It's important to us that you know we all are here for you, every step of the way," she said. "Be ready to come back to school and continue to work very hard and continue to make us, your parents, your teachers very proud of you."

 

Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.