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Open gym

Aron Khurana, former basketball player at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, has created a free basketball camp for underprivileged Chicago youth in hopes of stemming street violence

Aron Khurana: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges (Claremont Mckenna Class of 2009)

Aron Khurana learned in a class at Claremont McKenna College about an organization that reduced violence on Boston streets by opening up gyms to youths.

It struck a chord with the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps basketball guard/forward.

After graduation, Khurana talked with his former high school coach, Darren Barndt, about ways of “giving back” through some project related to basketball, and serving his home town of Lake Forest, Illinois.

Khurana, who had accepted a fixed-income sales and trading position at Credit Suisse in Chicago, remembered that lesson he learned in college and began thinking of ways to address street violence in Chicago-area communities.

Knowing that a weeklong basketball camp typically costs hundreds of dollars to attend, Khurana and Barndt created 847 Hoops – referring to the area code in which the program now provides free camping for seventh- and eighth-grade boys.

Having previously participated in volunteer activities, Khurana knew he needed to focus on something drawing on his passion for sports.

“So, I thought, what could I do that I would be passionate about, good at, I would enjoy doing, and that my friends would enjoy doing with me?” he told Chris Watts, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps director of athletics communication.

Khurana recruited fellow student-athletes Jordan Nottke and Andy Doyle from the Stags football squad and basketball teammate Tejas Gala to help with the annual camp, which attracted 44 youngsters when it first opened in summer 2011 in Waukegan – a community that has struggled with gang-related violence.

A year later, the program expanded with help from yet another Claremont McKenna graduate, Carlos Rivas, to a second site in Humboldt Park -- a troubled area on Chicago’s west side. More than 100 boys participated in 2012 in 847 Hoops, which offered a third year of activities last summer. The organization is working to raise funds for further expansion.

The camps are about more than basketball, though they were founded primarily to provide quality coaching for talented youngsters who otherwise might lack access due to the cost of other Chicago-area camps.

“Chicago is really affected by youth gangs and youth violence,” Khurana said. “Sports summer camps and after-school activities are a great way to keep kids off the streets and out of gangs, and camps also help youth with their confidence and positive thinking. We wanted to promote positive values in young people and also bridge the income gap in terms of basketball skills and coaching that was provided to the youth in the area.”

In addition to providing campers with a meal at the end of each day, it exposes them to speakers ranging from local doctors and lawyers to athletes such as former Duke basketball all-American Jon Scheyer and 1990s Chicago-area high school all-American Ronnie Fields.

Ultimately, by opening up gyms around Chicago and possibly elsewhere, perhaps 847 Hoops will be the subject of a college professor’s future classroom lecture about changing communities – and perhaps inspire other student-athletes to service.

Nominated by Chris Watts, director of athletics communication at Claremont McKenna-Harvey Mudd-Scripps Colleges.