Last week, before the horrific events in Connecticut, I wrote this blog to share a unique approach for reducing violence against children in our nation. Violent acts on innocent lives like the recent shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have unfortunately become far too common. Today, our nation may finally be ready to explore steps that can be taken to stop the violence. As we do so, I hope this blog contributes to the conversation that we need to have in order to build safer communities for our children to thrive and grow. This past month, Up2Us was awarded a $1 million grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). OJJDP is a federal agency that is part of the Department of Justice. The main objective of OJJDP is to prevent violence amongst youth.
The grant to Up2Us will support the hiring of dozens of young adults to serve as "coach-mentors” in neighborhoods with high rates of violence. This will be the first time that sports coaches will be employed at a national level to teach kids conflict resolution, mental health, social inclusion, leadership and positive youth development.
This effort is groundbreaking.
We know that as a nation, we need to address the social alienation and utter disregard for life that becomes assimilated into the mind-frames of the perpetrators of gun violence. Our schools primarily focus on academic success and often fail to address these other aspects of social development. In fact, many schools have been forced to cut sports and other programs that give young people a sense of belonging, teamwork and connection.
Up2Us is determined to reverse this trend. We believe the social skills learned through sports are as critical as the academic skills learned in the classroom. We believe the "coach-mentor" is as vital to a child's development as the "academic-mentor." We believe that we must ensure that all youth in this nation have access to the extra-curricular activities that give them a sense of belonging and teach them to empathize with others. It is this empathy that leads to long-term success in school, in the community and in the workplace. It is empathy that prevents a person from disregarding another's life. Sports provide a framework that teaches kids to be empathetic.
Despite the epidemic of youth violence, Americans must remain hopeful. This is the time to finally invest in new approaches to raising our kids that yield better results for this next generation. As the Founder of Up2Us, I believe one of these approaches is to build a national workforce of young adults who are trained to use the values of sports to teach kids the values of life. I look forward to making 2013 a banner year for the emerging field of sports-based youth development. We need it now more than ever.
Our thoughts and prayers are with every child who is not with us to celebrate this holiday season.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director