The Grassroot Project (TGP) is an organization equally dedicated to the development of its coaches as leaders in their community as it is to fight HIV/AIDS in the Washington DC area. In this light TGP selected six student-athletes from George Washington University, Howard University and Georgetown University to launch its inaugural Leadership Academy which will take place in South Africa from June 1-14, 2015.
Seamus Roddy (GW), Erin Boudreau (GW), Lauren t’Kint (GW), David Lincoln (GW), Rori Ann Nalls (Howard) and Ebony Mckeever (Georgetown) make up the group of student athletes that will be visiting South Africa. This is the second trip to South Africa organized by TGP, the first being the Team Up Exchange program in 2010 which facilitated a global learning opportunity for ten Washington DC middle School students and ten South African middle school students from Soweto. While the main objective of the Team Up exchange was to provide a parallel sports and AIDS education programs for youth. Members of this year’s Leadership Academy will be tasked to expand TGP’s local programming by integrating some of the lessons they learn over their two weeks in South Africa.
At the heart of this unique opportunity is a partnership between TGP and The Foundation for Sport Development and Peace whose mission is to contribute to the understanding and promotion/advancement of sport as a tool for development, social change and peace through advocacy, education/training, community engagement and research based on Universal, Development and Olympic values. The Foundation headquartered in the University of the Western Cape in South Africa will introduce members of the Leadership Academy to local partner organizations and provide the opportunity to interact with representatives of community based organizations, practitioners and coaches involved in the sport and development field as well as HIV/AIDS advocacy.
Among the organizations that TGP will be visiting is Grassroot Soccer, which holds a special place in the organizations’ history as it served as the inspiration and model which TGP’s Founder and President Tyler Spencer adapted and redesigned to meet the needs of Washington DC youth. According to Tyler “the development of The Grassroot Project has always focused on what’s needed most in DC, but also on lessons learned from working globally.” It is this sentiment which Tyler hopes members of the Leadership Academy internalize. “I couldn’t be more excited to help make global connections for our current student-athlete volunteers. I think the trip will benefit the athletes themselves, their effectiveness in DC, and, ultimately, our organization’s impact in continuing to fight for HIV prevention and social justice in DC.”
Ultimately, the Leadership Academy aims to invigorate its community of athlete role models and to improve the quality of TGP’s program instruction. By acknowledging that no problem happens in a vacuum TGP continues its tradition of looking internationally as a way to inspire and address local problems. For Ryan Pettengill Executive Director at TGP the trip is “not just a unique opportunity to provide students with a global perspective of HIV/AIDS, but an opportunity for them to grow as program facilitators and as future leaders in the field of sport for development.” Pettengill and the rest of TGP hope to find the financial support to make this an annual tradition, as the progress that will be made during these two weeks will dramatically impact TGP’s capacity to reach DC youth.
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