Grassroots Health was founded in 2009 by Tyler Spencer and 39 other Georgetown University student-athletes. After learning that one in twenty DC residents are living with HIV—a statistic that rivaled some Sub-Saharan African countries—the founding athletes of Grassroots Health wouldn’t be caught witnessing the epidemic from the sidelines. They committed to fighting back.
Tyler had years of experience working on HIV prevention with soccer players in South Africa. He saw how sports could be used as an effective tool to break the ice around HIV prevention, and believed that student-athletes were a tremendous untapped resource for addressing DC’s public health crisis.
Grassroots started small with an 8-week HIV prevention program in four schools, but has grown tremendously since then. We’ve now worked in more than 50 schools and community centers across DC, recruited more than 1,500 student-athletes from four DC universities, and reached over 10,000 DC youth with our programs. As we have grown, the rates of HIV have consistently declined, year after year. Unfortunately, DC teens still live in a city with an HIV prevalence of nearly 3%–so we still have work to do.
We are committed to continuing our HIV work, but since 2018, we have launched our additional health education curricula in nutritional health and mental health. Our three year pipeline enables our volunteers to work with the same youth for three consecutive years, build meaningful relationships, and discuss the health topics that impact their daily lives.
Tyler works with a team of high school students and local health educators to adapt the South African soccer-based HIV prevention curriculum for use in DC.
The first 40 Grassroot Coaches are recruited. They represent 9 sports teams at Georgetown University.
The first group of Grassroot Coaches is trained, and TGP programs start at four local schools.
MTV gives TGP the “Staying Alive Award” and $50,000 to support our growth. Months later, the DC Department of Health begins a 4-year grant partnership with TGP.
Athletes from George Washington University and Howard University join the TGP family.
TGP receives a four-year grant from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to launch programs in 24 public and charter school classrooms.
Bill Clinton interviews in an ABC News Exclusive, saying that TGP’s approach to HIV is “a great idea…better than anything I’ve come up with.”
TGP adds athletes from the University of Maryland and begins new programs in Prince George’s County, Maryland
TGP meets Barbara Bush at the Clinton Global Initiative and joins forces with Bush’s nonprofit (Global Health Corps) to bring on our first full-time staff members
TGP expands its footprint to more than 50 DC middle schools and begins launching community health fairs in partnership with the DC Department of Health and the DC Deputy Mayor’s Office for Planning and Economic Development.
TGP completes the first randomized controlled trial evaluation of a US-based sport-for-sexual health curriculum. The results show that our programs significantly improve students’ sexual health literacy.
TGP begins working directly with the DC Public Schools and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to improve the overall adolescent health landscape for DC students – including HIV but also addressing other health disparities facing DC teens.
TGP designs and launches Grassroots Fam and Grassroots Connect. Grassroots Fam is a three-session program aimed at helping to improve the frequency and effectiveness of conversations between caregivers/parents and their teens. Grassroots Connect is a linkage-to-care program that directly connects our students and their families to a range of clinical and social services related to our programs (e.g. health screenings, health insurance navigation, counseling services, etc). Both Grassroots Fam and Grassroots Connect complement our existing school-based programs, and they have helped us to be more holistic and comprehensive in our approach to adolescent health.
TGP pilots and launches the new pipeline approach to adolescent health education based on the National Health Standards and community-led focus groups. Now in addition to the 6th-grade comprehensive sexual health curriculum, 7th-grade students complete a nutrition and physical health curriculum. This new curriculum is an innovative and community-based approach to increasing adolescent’s self-efficacy to make small, manageable changes to their daily nutrition and physical activity.
TGP expands the pipeline to its final stage by researching and piloting a new mental health promotion program for 8th-grade students. This new curriculum includes sessions on mental health stigma reduction, emotional regulation, stress management, healthy & unhealthy coping mechanisms, interpersonal communication, problem-solving, bullying, mindfulness, and goal setting.
TGP transitioned programming to a virtual platform in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This allowed students to access full health education programs online both synchronously, facilitated by our student-athlete volunteers on ZOOM, and asynchronously as independent at-home work for students. TGP is now able to utilize these virtual lessons as a supplement to in person programming.
The pandemic that never ends! TGP started the year still in a virtual program setting, but transitioned back to in-person in the fall of 2021. This marked the first period of students receiving the full-pipeline approach to health education with all 3 curricula being implemented by TGP student-athletes.