The Grassroot Project was originally founded in 2009 by Tyler Spencer and 39 other Georgetown University student-athletes. After learning that 1 in 20 DC residents was living with HIV—a statistic that rivaled some Sub-Saharan African countries—the founding athletes of The Grassroot Project wouldn’t be caught witnessing the epidemic from the sidelines…they wanted to fight back. Tyler had three years of experience working on HIV prevention with soccer players in South Africa. He knew that sports could be used as an effective tool to break the ice around HIV prevention, and he also believed that student athletes were a tremendous untapped resource for addressing DC’s public health crisis.
The Grassroot Project started small-with 40 athletes volunteering to run 8-week HIV prevention programs in four schools. Since 2009, however, our work has grown tremendously…we’ve now worked in more than 50 schools and community centers across DC, involved more than 900 student-athletes from four DC universities, and reached 5,000 DC teens 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%–we still have a lot of work to do.
Over the next few years, we are committed to continuing our HIV work, but we are also doing the research and raising the funds to launch additional health education curricula, particularly in physical health and mental health. To make this happen, we already have some great partners in the DC Public Schools, the Office of the State Superintendent, and a handful of other public and private partners.
Through the Years
September – December 2008
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
January 2009 – May 2009
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.
2009 – 2010
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 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.