On a recent Tuesday night, a group of about 25 young men took turns playing basketball in a Harlem community center – but the game was as much about keeping out of trouble as about winning.

One players, who goes by “Blue,” used to be in a gang, like most of the youths on the court. But now the 19-year-old is off to Jamestown College, thanks to Operation SNUG, a program that employs streetwise mentors to help gang members escape the violent life.