FORT MYERS, Fla. — Deciding to scale back on his career as an architect, Ted Sottong says there was one question that lingered on his mind.
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“What are people going to think?,” Sottong recalls.
But, he did it anyway.
Nearly ten years later, the move to mentor young men is evolving into a completely new effort.
Sottong says Pickup the Ball, Inc. started with simple conversations on basketball courts in Fort Myers.
“They started telling me the kinds of things they needed. I was like ‘I think I can help with some of this stuff’”, he tells FOX 4.
That “stuff”, Sottong says, often included guidance on life skills like how to create a resume, how to get an apartment and how to buy a car.
Ted says most of the boys he’s worked with want to excel in life.
“They’re willing to put the work in. They just don’t know necessarily how to do that.”
That’s why he started Pickup the Ball, Inc. in 2012.
The non-profit uses a passion for basketball to create connection and support for life outside of the court.
The group meets once a week.
Sometimes, they tour local companies and organizations.
Other times, the meetings are casual - filled with a good meal and a laid-back conversation about life.
Alexander Michel, 16, is a sophomore at Lehigh Senior High School.
Within the last few months, he started to attend weekly sessions at Pickup the Ball, Inc.
“We talk about stress, we talk about our weaknesses and strengths. It makes you want to keep going forward and to think of things in a positive way,” Michel says.
Creating this space for local boys is partially rooted in Sottong’s upbringing.
Originally from Maryland, he says his father played a key role in ensuring that their family had a lifetime of memories, quality time and support.
An impact that Sottong says still affects him today.
“My dad is still a major factor in my life when it comes to my direction and what I need to do.”
That’s the kind of support Sottong says he hopes to bring to the participants of Pickup the Ball, Inc.
Nearly ten years after its inception, the non-profit’s mission is expanding to transitional housing in Fort Myers.
“It’s a recognition of a problem we’ve been seeing over time,” Sottong says.
That problem varies but includes young men who are 18 years or older who long for independence - only to realize it’s sometimes harder than first anticipated.
Sottong explains that often they realize they’re not financially prepared.
He says sometimes they’re employed, but part or all of their money goes towards their household.
For some of the young men, they’re surrounded by what Sottong calls “negative influences”.
Sometimes, he says, they’re left homeless with nowhere to go.
That’s why he’s working to get ahead of these challenges.
Sottong’s renovating a former doctor’s office on Broadway Avenue in Fort Myers into a 12-room boarding house.
The goal is to help younger men transition into independence, while still receiving support.
In addition to the boarding house, participants will attend classes provided within the home.
As he lays the groundwork for moving the organization forward, Sottong says it’s simply about providing help to young men as they transition from one stage in their life to another.
He doesn’t hesitate to emphasize that it’s transitional housing either.
“That way we can give them the boot to get them out there, and get them doing it.”