I've been inspired to write, to pursue music, sports and a plethora of other passions, as a child, and even now, as an adult. My inspirations, role models and mentors in life never allowed the light in my eyes to dim and, therefore, I was able to accomplish my goals. Their unconditional love and support fueled me with hope, and got me through the toughest of days. All it took sometimes was a pat in the back, or a simple smile, assuring me that I was worth it. That was how I survived; those small gestures were my gems.
Today, you will rarely find true role models that are passionate about our youth. The reason for this is that very few are willing to take a stand and be leaders in our society and continue the tradition of encouraging and supporting our youth to achieve success. It could have one wondering: Where are the good people? Are they in hiding? Are they in a secret society only a few know about? How can I join this secret society?
Read on, and find out.
Achievement Through Athletics: That “secret society” where the good people live
The founders of Achievement Through Athletics (ATA), a non-profit program, are stepping in as generators, igniting passion in the kids of Public School M050 (PS50), in Harlem, New York. They are supporting these youth by mentoring them and teaching them the value of education and sports, and instilling in them qualities, such as leadership, sportsmanship and commitment.
ATA, in partnership with Children's Aid Society, operates as a sports and mentorship program at PS50. It ensures that a student is completing assigments, attending school and behaving, otherwise, they don't get to play on the basketball team. The privilege to play basketball would have to be earned by maintaining good grades, going to study halls and following the rules. A weekly evaluation determines their eligibility. Having rules, and standards prepares the students to grow up disciplined, learning that there is reward that comes with hard work and dedication.
David Gelbard, the founder of ATA, envisioned just that: A program that would afford the students at PS50 the opportunity to flourish into exceptional and well-rounded young adults and, essentially, achieve through athletics.
From left to right: David Gelbard, Justine Karp, Jacqueline Talpalar and Drew Fabrikant, the four founders of ATA in their latest Fundraiser event
After ATA's initial start in 2010, there was dramatic and significant decrease in school fights. Students' grades improved and the school as a whole noticed a tremendous difference in students' behavior. Suffice to say, there were more completed assignments and the kids' enthusiasm for school had significantly risen, thanks to ATA.
Meet Coach Jeff Tillman
Coach Jeff kneeling, posing with his basketball team and the founders on one of their scrimmages
Coach Jeff is mentor and motivator that holds the kids of PS50 accountable in the classroom and on the basketball court. Working overnight, and spending the day with the kids, I would say that qualifies coach Jeff as dedicated.
Achievement Through Athletics is that "safe haven" for students who want more and want to achieve success with minimal obstacles and maximum support, coach Jeff says.
It is important to note what is taking place here: the molding of young minds. Kids that may not have that role model in life, have the opportunity to learn from positive influencers, such as coach Jeff and the founders.
The trend to influence young minds spreads, and is contagious. Principal of PS50, Ajjaya Barksdale, is a great supporter of the program, and contributes to the strategic planning of it, making sure that the kids are getting the resources and attention they need to succeed.
Inspiration, High profile athletes and tremendous support
Jacquelyn Talpalar, one of the founders, revealed to me that she “wanted to give back and be [a] support system for these kids”, as she was fortunate to have a strong support system herself, growing up, and knew the importance of having one. She was inspired when “David shared his story” with her “about his experience as a coach at PS50”. She recognized “the immediate impact he had on these students' lives” and that was “something that [she] wanted to be a part of.”
An ATA student, displaying the skills he was equipped with, by Coach Jeff Tillman
Drew Fabrikant, another founder, found his work validated when he joined ATA. He had “left [a law] firm” to start "a career in finance, working for an Investment Adviser”, which catered “to a number of professional athletes." Many of the athletes Drew worked with were “professionals at the highest level who came from the same backgrounds as [the] kids.” Having these high profile athletes be so supportive of the program and its mission speaks for itself, and without a doubt had a positive impact on the kids.
It was clear to me that the founders were genuinely seeking to mentor the kids at PS50, and had their best interest at heart. Seeing that they valued a trip they took to Dave & Busters, not only because it would be fun, but because it was an opportunity to bond with the kids “on a personal level and [see] how much they’ve grown (both physically and emotionally)” since the start of the program, Jacquelyn recalls.
Join the Cause
The founders of ATA are not allowing that spark, naturally radiating through a kids' eyes, to dim. Instead, they are affording these kids the opportunity to develop a strong work ethic, earn their right to be a part of a basketball team, and are demonstrating the positive effects of being an exceptional role model. Ultimately, the kids are set to become grounded young adults, resolute in their stance to do good in this world.
I am sure one would agree that ATA is the better alternative for a student, instead of succumbing and falling victim to the detrimental effects of “gang violence, bad neighborhoods, bad influences and poor leadership”, as David says. The secret to ATA's success: discipline, structure and a kind heart.
Do you want make a true difference and energize the future leaders, athletes, innovators and influencers of our nation? Well, click on this link to join ATA on its mission to fuel the young minds of PS50. Like their Facebook page, and help produce a brighter future we can all be proud of. Be the light this world so desperately needs.