By Myaira Arnold
They have done it! The students have completed the Grassroots curriculum and now have the health knowledge to begin sharing information and make healthy personal decisions. It’s time for Grassroots Connect! This is a special event where the Grassroots family celebrates students for putting their all into the 8-week health education programs, and the event also gives them health resources for the future.
Evan Garry, a Men’s Cross Country/Track and Field runner at The George Washington University and a Coach here at Grassroots, has played a big role in Grassroots Connect as well as Lucia Rose who ran Cross Country/Track and Field at American University and was a Head Coach here at Grassroots.* Both Evan and Lucia were recommended by their teammates to join Grassroots. As newcomers, they did not know a lot about Grassroots, but after completing the Athletes2Coaches training, they both realized this is an organization they wanted to stay involved with. For more than a year, they have been some of the most dedicated student-athlete coaches. Grassroots Connect is a special event that both Evan and Lucia look forward to after completing their programs because it provides a celebration and culmination of the efforts put forth by their students.
After an 8-week program, Grassroots holds this Grassroots Connect event to congratulate the students for working hard and putting their all into the program. As part of Connect, Grassroots invites different organizations to come and teach the students more about their health expertise, what they do, and the services they provide in students’ communities.
Grassroots holds Connect events in order to give the students a “celebration of all that [they have] learned throughout the semester, getting to hang out with your coaches” and then there is “an educational part, connecting them with health providers in the area,” says Lucia. At Connect, students ask questions they might still have and receive resources and information that they can tap into as they progress through middle and high school.
Here’s a look at what students do at Connect:
Step 1: They receive a “passport,” which is a booklet that has every service provider and basic information about the health services they provide.
Step 2: Students walk around to different booths set up by providers.
Step 3: At each providers table/booth they must receive a stamp that proves they went to the table, learned about the provider, and answered some relevant questions.
Step 4: After students collect all stamps, they head to “passport control,” aka TGP Staff, to have their passport checked so they can enter the celebration component of the event.
As part of the celebration, students have the opportunity to eat and play with their classmates and students from other schools before the graduation ceremony, in which each student is given their Grassroots diploma.
“During the play time, it’s a time for kids to have fun,” Evan says. “I played soccer with 2 kids for an hour and a half and it was great,” adds Evan to emphasize the amount of fun that he has during Connect.
According to Evan, it is important for the students to have Connect because “[the students] get to meet other [students] from different schools.” In addition to meeting others, Connect makes “what [Grassroots Coaches] teach throughout the semester really real for the kids” Lucia says, and the graduation “makes [the students] super proud of what they have accomplished.” Grassroot Connect is the moment of accomplishment and a time where the students can meet and get familiarized with organizations that provide health services in their communities. This experience equips the students with information that they can share with their peers and use in their time of need.
TGP recognizes that to really create behavior change they must push youth outside their comfort zones. That means student-athlete coaches must be pushed to feel uncomfortable facilitating sometimes, and that our middle school students have to be stretched to learn as much as possible about these tricky health topics. Grassroots Connect helps to create an additional safe space to continue these conversations and connect students to new safe spaces within other service-providing organizations that will be able to access in the future.
*Lucia Rose has since graduated from American University and will be beginning Law School at the University of San Diego this fall. She has played a monumental role in creating stronger more sustainable programs, and assisting to run events like Grassroots Connect.