The Hummel Report: Spotlight on Project Night Vision

Editor’s note: This is the latest Hummel Spotlight, a feature focusing on people and organizations making a difference in the community.

It is a Wednesday night just after dark.

And while the Madeline Rogers Recreation Center off Chalkstone Avenue in Providence looks quiet from the outside, it is anything but on the inside, as hundreds of teens gather to play pickup basketball, air hockey, foosball, or pool. It’s all part of a program called Project Night Vision, launched several years ago for at-risk teens.

Right in the middle of it all is the program’s founder, Kobi Dennis, who volunteers his time six nights a week in three different locations across the city.

“The first thing out of a young person’s mouth from kids in these impoverished neighborhoods is ‘You don’t know what I go through. You don’t know what it’s like.’ Time and time again I tell them, ‘But I do.’”

That’s because Dennis, now 40, married and a father of three, grew up in South Providence in a single-parent household. The program’s name was inspired by a stint Dennis did in the United States Navy before coming back to Rhode Island.

“We would look out for mines in the Persian Gulf. I would stand out at the tip of the ship with night vision goggles and I would see everything,” he said.

Dennis says steep reductions in State and City funding have left kids ages 12 to 18 without some of the services that used to be available. His goal is to get them off the streets and channel their energy in a positive direction.

“You know, Latchkey kids are just going in the house by themselves at 13. In our day, it probably would have been okay because it’s three channels – there’s not much to do; you’re staring at the fish tank and maybe you go out and throw a ball or something. But now, you have all the tablets, cable television… a 13-year-old can get into some big trouble.”

Project Night Vision – funded primarily through grants and donations – runs on staggered nights, Monday through Saturday at the Rogers Rec Center, the Joslin Center off Manton Avenue and at Sackett Street in South Providence.

Dennis, who works part-time at the Rhode Island Training School and for a social service agency during the day, runs a tight ship in the evening. Everyone who comes through the door has to register and he has kicked out kids who don’t follow the rules or respect the program.

Dennis has also has brought in programs you might not expect for an inner-city crowd like a yoga class on Tuesdays that has that has attracted some of the teens’ parents. Dennis has also recruited a lacrosse player from East Greenwich High to teach kids the fundamentals of a sport that most have only seen on television.

On many nights there are sandwiches and a snack for the kids as they arrive at the front door.

It is no accident that you see Dennis in a suit – even when he’s playing flag football in the gym. Like every other part of the program, the wardrobe sends a message.

“You can still be the same person,” he said. “You can be from this neighborhood, you can be a good person, you can care about them, be where they’re from and still dress well. They believe in their minds that people that dress like this are against them. They’re the other side, the teacher that doesn’t like me. I want them to associate the dressing with positivity.”

A couple of years ago, Dennis approached Providence Recreation Director Beth Charlebois about using some of the city’s recreation centers.

“I gave him the facility and he was self-sufficient from there, which was pretty amazing that he wasn’t depending on us and our resources in order to run,” said Charlebois. The good news is, as the economy improves, Project Night Vision is likely to get some help. Mayor Angel Taveras and Public Safety Commissioner Steve Pare are big supporters, along with Rhode Island State Police Supt. Steven O’Donnell.

“We’re in tight times now, but that’s cyclical,” said Charlebois. “We’re not always going to be in such tight times. I foresee us offering resources, more resources, and trying to help expand the programs.”

If you know of a person or organization that deserves “the spotlight” send an email to spotlight@hummelreport.org.

 

Leave a Reply

Prove that you are human *

Previous post:

Next post: