Mark D. French is a life-long resident of Ghent, NY, whose ongoing community service over the past seven years has produced long term solutions to the problem of too few safe and structured activities for youth to learn and grow during non-school hours within Columbia County.
In 1994, Mr. French started the CYO Youth Basketball League in his community, based out of St. James Church in Chatham, NY. This league is non-denominational, serves 125 youth in the Chatham School District and emphasizes positive youth development over winning.
Participating coaches are required to complete an annual certification workshop to increase their knowledge of the social, physical and emotional development of children. As this concept has gained popularity, other local youth leagues have requested Mr. French's assistance in developing similar workshops in their areas.
Another program initiated by Mr. French is The Challenger Little League Baseball Program. The program, developed in 1995, is a county-wide program for youth with physical and developmental disabilities. Although he is not the parent of a child with a physical or developmental disability, he wanted to ensure that the game of baseball was made available to all youth. The Challenger program includes community service opportunities for non-disabled youth to serve as one-on-one "buddies" with their disabled peers during the games. The parents of Challenger players now operate the thriving league, serving over 50 youth.
Mr. French also chairs an annual community-wide effort to raise thousands of dollars to support the Morris Memorial – Chatham’s youth center. This facility provides structured recreational, sports and leisure time activities after school and on weekends for youth in grades 3-12. Mr. French was instrumental in convincing over 400 volunteers, businesses, community organizations and private donors to financially support his volunteer efforts through a 5K-road race that he founded and directs. The first race was in September 1997and took two years of preparation.
As a Morris Memorial volunteer, Mr. French has run and put together several sports oriented programs for youth. He spearheaded a volunteer group to redesign the Morris Memorial Soccer program, and he commenced Chatham Gold – the first all-youth track and field program, and cross-country program in upstate New York.
All of the programs that Mr. French runs are funded through business sponsorships, community based organizations, small user fees for those that can afford them, and personal donations.