Mario Grant rings out a mop after cleaning up from a day running the Play Program with Kingston Hunter, 4, at Greater New Mt. Olive Church on July 11, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info

Summer sanctuary in Statesville for Mr. Mario's kids


By Kaytie Boomer


Young voices calling “Mr. Mario!” bounce through the two-story church.


Even though other volunteers are scattered about, most kids gravitate to the always-smiling Marquis “Mario” Grant.


Coining himself “Daddy Daycare,” the 27-year-old started the Play Program summer camp two years ago. Forty-two children, ages 3 to 13, spend five days a week with him at Greater New Mt. Olive Church in eastern Statesville, learning, playing and even teaching the adults a thing or two.


“I had a lot of support, but I know everybody (doesn’t),” Grant says. “So if they can’t rely on anybody else, I want them to rely on us.”


Grant’s father was absent during his childhood, and Grant says he wants to be there for as many children as he can. He wants to show kids that they don’t have to go down a bad path because of another person’s choices.


That’s where the Play Program came in. It teaches kids core values like respect and manners, along with life skills, while also providing an educational foundation. Grant says he wants the kids to be able to adapt to a changing world.


They need to know how to be there for someone else, not just themselves, he says.


Kendell Turner, 11, soaks in quite a bit at the camp.


“The kids are crazy sometimes but it’s fun,” Turner says. “(Grant) taught me don’t cuss and don’t bully people. I don’t let anybody get bullied. It ain’t right.”


It took Grant about a year-and-a-half to secure funding and find a crew he trusted. All camp workers are unpaid volunteers, so Grant made sure to hand-pick seven people who were passionate about helping kids.


One of the volunteers, Jalea Byers, spends about four days a week at the camp. Her daughter is one of the participants.


“He’s really great with kids. You can tell he puts his whole heart into it,” Byers says. “He actually wants to make a difference in the kids’ lives, and the fact that he tries so hard to is great.”


The Play Program cares for kids from June through August, providing daycare to families whose parents can’t afford to take time off during summer. It charges $150 per child for the entire summer.


Grant had to buy a few meals for the kids out of pocket, but now breakfast and lunch are provided by Mooresville Community Outreach, for which Grant says he is extremely grateful.


“They have been a great help; we would have been completely broke,” Grant says.


Grant pulls in money from other jobs to pay his bills throughout the summer, but he always finds time to surround himself with the children. One day, Grant hopes to buy a building and dedicated transportation for the camp.


“Everything I do every day is around kids, for real,” Grant says. “But I’m excited. I’m tired, but I really love it. They’re unpredictable. Every day there’s something new and it’s exciting.”


When he’s not teaching the kids, they are teaching him. He says the program helps him think about how he’d like to raise his own children someday.


“It’s a lot of time devoted to it, but the outcome is always greater,” Grant adds. “No matter what anybody has to say or what they have to go through, at the end of the day, I want them to believe they can do whatever they want to do.”


Link to story: https://bit.ly/2o97LX2

Mario Grant smiles and claps after everyone gathered together to pray before the day begins at Greater New Mt. Olive Church on July 13, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
Mario Grant (right) takes a seat to have a talk with Devontae Imes, 4, and Ahmire Dukes, 8, during a field trip to the Fitness and Activity Center on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
D.J. Miller (left) smiles as he floats down the lazy river with Amaad Sharpe, 9, (right) and Ayden Soto, 9, (back) on a field trip to the Fitness and Activity Center on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
Mario Grant cringes and smiles as a soaked Play Program kid hugs him on a field trip to the Fitness and Activity Center on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
From left, London Gillon, 8, Aliyah Mayberry, 10, Azyria Harrington, 9, and Nazaire Imes, 11, chat and get ready to take a field trip to the Fitness and Activity Center to go swimming on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
From left, Makennley Mayberry, 5, and Remi Rucker, 5, smile as Mayberry gets ready to drop a piece of her cereal into her cup of milk during breakfast at Greater New Mt. Olive Church on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
Jalyndah Borders, 8, (left) and Malaiya Hunter, 8, chase down Mario Grant with squirt guns at Greater New Mt. Olive Church on July 13, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
LaChaston Smith gives the older kids of the camp a math problem to solve at the Greater New Mt. Olive Church on July 9, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
Camille Lyons, 11, (left) helps Mario Grant serve lunch provided by Mooresville Community Outreach for the Play Program at New Greater Mt. Olive Church on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
From left, Nazaire Imes, 11, and Azyria Harrington, 9, smile as they chat with Alexis (Keisha) Summers before she gets out of the car to greet all the children at Greater New Mt. Olive Church on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
LaChaston Smith swings Kingston Hunter, 4, around on his back on a field trip to the Fitness and Activity Center on July 10, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
Mario Grant (left) and D.J. Miller clean up the cafeteria after all the kids left at Greater New Mt. Olive Church on July 11, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
Mario Grant locks up Greater New Mt. Olive Church after a day of the Play Program on July 11, 2018 in Statesville, NC. info
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