Program uses sports to reach underprivileged kidsPosted: April 22, 2010
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Well, sometimes when it does, it finds its way back.
Ben Farnsworth grew up all over. The son of a minister, his family moved from his birthplace in Greenville, SC to St. Louis, MO. He followed his father Hal’s ministry to college towns like Nashville, TN and Starkville, MS. Regardless of where he was growing up, he found himself in the church. But after graduating from Presbyterian College in 2003, Farnsworth didn’t immediately enter into the family business.
“I went off to build houses,” said Farnsworth. “I left a lot behind – including the church.” Farnsworth says he enjoyed that time, saying he didn’t need things like “money, possessions and girls.” But unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
“It was a long crazy journey,” said Farnsworth. “But I came back to the church.”
Farnsworth, now 30, is the Executive Director of Downtown Ministries in Athens. The ministry began as a sports program in 2003 as a part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, also in Athens. It separated from Redeemer to become its own non-profit entity nearly two and a half years ago.
“Everyone involved [in the ministry] decided that the need was so great, that it didn’t need to be just a Redeemer thing. It needed to be an Athens thing. We needed help from other churches and other people in the community,” said Farnsworth.
Beginning as a single team in 2003, the Downtown Falcons expanded to two teams the following year. Today the program boasts four footballs teams, four basketball teams, four cheerleading squads and even a drum line.
Located in the heart of downtown Athens, Redeemer has always served a diverse community. Ben’s father, Hal Farnsworth, is the Senior Minister at Redeemer. He was one of the original program workers who saw sports as a great way to reach children in lower-income areas.
“People in housing projects like Parkview [near downtown Athens] aren’t in our natural sphere of congregation members,” said Hal Farnsworth. “But sports bring all walks of life together. That’s how the football team started.”
Ben Farnsworth was not a founding member of the program. After returning to Athens, a friend asked if he would be interested in coaching a football team. Having played football is his high school days at Clarke Central, Farnsworth agreed.
“I had a job,” said Ben Farnsworth. “But everyday I woke up and asked God how this was a part of his plan. I didn’t have a hobby – just trying to figure life out. So I started coaching.”
Ben Farnsworth recalls his first few months of coaching. He was struck by the story of one of the children on his very first team. Wanting to make a difference in the young boy’s life, Ben asked him out to dinner. Farnsworth said that was all it took.
“This was when I really decided I was happy with [coaching],” said the younger Farnsworth. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about the kids!”
Farnsworth and others continued to expand the program. In the words of Ben Farnsworth, it continued to be “a great avenue to enter into [the kids’] whole living situation” and an opportunity to “speak truth into [childrens’] live through the realm of sports.” Yet, there is more to the program off the field.
Downtown Falcons, as the program is sometimes called, also offers tutoring opportunities for the children involved. At least once a week (oftentimes more), Redeemer offers its warehouse to Downtown Ministries as a site for the tutoring program. According to their website, the children play scrabble and other board games to improve verbal, math and social skills. The children are also encouraged to keep a journal to improve their writing skills. Sessions typically conclude with a meal.
Redeemer, still tied with Downtown ministries, is not the only organization that offers a helping hand to Ben Farnsworth and the rest of the program. Farnsworth says the local chapter of the Boys and Girls club has teamed with the Athens Housing Authority to provide buses for transportation to practices and games.
Farnsworth is happy that the community as a whole has seen the need to come together and provide for whoever needs it – not just those involved in their respective programs.
“They came to us,” said Ben Farnsworth, referring to the help offered to his program. “It’s not a competition thing. We’re all on the same team.”
Looking to the future, the younger Farnsworth hopes his ministry continues to grow and help the people of Athens. He is very appreciative toward those that have offered their time and services. Farnsworth is also proud of the service and assistance provided by the local government in Athens. However, Ben Farnsworth seems convinced that it is the smaller non-profit organizations that are able to provide the most personal and worthwhile support.
“If we really want to change the city of Athens, the government can’t do it all by itself,” said Ben Farnsworth. “It can help, but the government usually acts strictly as a band aid [for problems.] A band aid on the jugular won’t do much. The only way to really change Athens is by people entering the community and truly investing their lives for legitimate change.”
It may have taken a few years and a couple of career moves, but Ben Farnsworth seems to have found his true calling. Farnsworth seems primed to continue his work for Downtown Ministries, offering genuine and personal services to the people that need it most.