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Jefferson Awards: Williamson reaches youth through Team Lima

Mar. 22—LIMA — Back in 1993, Gregory Williamson recognized that Lima had a growing problem with drugs and gang violence.

He couldn't help but notice the profound effect those issues had on the young men and women of the community, so using sports as a vehicle, Williamson formed Team Lima at Bradfield Community Center in hopes of exposing young people to the importance of education, drug awareness, and gang awareness, among other subjects.

Thirty-one years later, the man known as "Radar" because of his skills on the basketball court, is a Jefferson Award winner for his dedication to public service and his time spent volunteering in the community.

Williamson said that finding out he was nominated and picked as a winner was something that caught him off-guard.

"I was shocked, honored, and humbled all at the same time because I'm not one that seeks public recognition," he said. "I just like to do my work behind the scenes."

Williamson got his start in public service at an early age. It was something that was passed down to him by family members, making the idea for Team Lima a no-brainer.

"My family has always been involved in helping throughout the community," Williamson said. "Ever since I was a kid I had my parents and uncles always involved. In 1993, this became an outreach program to get kids off the streets and get them into something positive.

"We start with basketball as the magnet to draw them in, then we mentor them based on whatever their needs are. We just try to fill in the gap, whatever that may be."

Team Lima originally targeted low-income youth from single-parent homes, but it has never turned away individuals who don't fall into those categories.

The goal is to help young men and women obtain college scholarships through athletics in order to further their education and return to Lima as adults to improve the city.

"We want all the kids to be positive role models and positive adults that choose to contribute to the community they live in," Williamson said. "Many have gone on to other communities and done positive things there, so that's the ripple effect we hope to have. We want them to be good mothers, good fathers, and good citizens."

For Williamson, the notion that kids in the program at Team Lima will "pay it forward" is the main thing he takes away from his hours of volunteering. It also motivates him to take on projects like restoring the gym at Bradfield Community Center, something that he hopes will bring people back to where it all started and attract more kids to the program.

"We know that what we have instilled in these kids will carry on," he said. "It will never end and it will carry on through them. All we ask them to do is take what they're given and pass it on to somebody else. It's that simple. If we do that, we can make the world a better place."

When asked what advice he'd give to someone who was thinking about getting involved in his community, Williamson had a simple and straightforward answer.

"Just do it."

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Reach Chris Howell at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter at @Lima_Howell