What We Can Learn From Recycling


I had the opportunity to eat lunch at a high-end professional office building in NYC the other day.  The cafeteria was in the main lobby, and I arrived at the peak hour, so I settled on the last available table in a corner that also happened to be right near the garbage receptacles.   Oddly enough, as I devoured my subsidized gourmet platter of food, I couldn’t help but stare at the trashcans, one of which was blue, one green and the other a nondescript grey.  What I observed has stayed with me ever since. Up2Us_BeatStreet-7921

Every few moments, a different group of executives would arrive with their trays of emptied bottles, plates, napkins and other refuse.   In most cases, they were all conversing as they approached the bins and slowed almost routinely to discard the tray’s contents.   That’s when I observed a pattern that I never expected: when the person leading any given group paused long enough to separate glass and paper into the appropriate containers, the others that followed almost unthinkingly did the same.  But when the person leading the group dumped all their contents at once into the grey container, the persons that followed DID THE SAME.  Almost without exception, everyone followed the leader.

Now, let’s be clear.  These were presumably, well-educated lawyers, financial managers, business leaders, etc. If you stopped any of them, they most certainly would acknowledge that recycling is good for the environment. Some might even know that recycling is the law in New York City.  Yet, everyone just followed the leader whether that leader recycled or not.  It’s that easy to make a poor decision.  Even when you have all the education, all the resources and all the knowledge not to.

I remained at my table in that cafeteria but this time I was no longer watching the bins.  I was thinking of the millions of kids living in poverty who also follow the leaders. These leaders make it easy to join a gang, become a teen mom, be a bully or just drop out of school. It can be hard for professional adults to separate their garbage, can you imagine how difficult it must be for a child to resist these kind of negative role models when they are surrounded by them and when no one else is there to set a different example?

This is why Coach Across America is so important.  We have allowed too many youth in this nation’s communities to be leaderless.  The result is the failing schools, the crime, and the bullying that have become far too common imagery on our nightly news.

It’s time to get serious and invest in a workforce of coaches to lead youth to make the “right” decisions.  For all children, a coach is someone they can look up to and trust.  A coach is a role model who can guide their decision-making.  A trained coach helps them to see beyond the easy choices to make the right choices.

Every child deserves a coach.  And by investing in one, maybe one day, every child will grow up to be the professional in that office building who approaches those garbage cans and knows exactly what to do.

Paul Caccamo President & Founder



Dear Mrs. Obama, I would like to propose a new slogan for your second term.

You have done a lot through “Let’s Move” in raising awareness about the epidemic of childhood obesity and its dangers to the health of the next generation of Americans.  But, I think we need to focus even more on the root causes of the obesity epidemic.  The fact that kids don’t move is in fact the symptom of a larger problem.  That's why I am recommending you change the logo to “Let's Mind.”

In the last four years, I've been honored to be an AmeriCorps recipient and to be responsible for placing nearly 1000 young adults as AmeriCorps coach-mentors in underserved communities across this country. The purpose of our Coach Across America program is to get kids physically active, and we measure our impact based on how many kids we inspire to exercise regularly through sports.

But the one thing I've learned from these coaches is that before we can get to the physical health of our children, we really need to address their mental health. The obesity epidemic is far worse in communities where kids are experiencing tremendous amounts of duress because of poverty. Many of these children do not have positive relationships with other children or with caring adults who can inspire them to make the kind of life changes that would lead to their better health.  So while the purpose of our program is to promote physical health, we also spend much of our time training our coach-mentors on mental health and addressing the trauma that so many urban youth experience in their neighborhoods.  Yes, we focus on their mind.

Breaking through the mindset of children who are often stressed, socially isolated or distrusting of adults is the first step to inspiring change in their lives.  Once this trust is established, our coaches can then influence our kids to regularly exercise (and to regularly attend school too!).   In a nutshell, these coaches create an atmosphere where the mental changes happen---the physical changes then follow.

“Let’s Mind” means something else too.

Many children grow up in atmospheres where they do not think adults “mind” about them.  They may come from homes that are dysfunctional or lack parental authority, or attend overcrowded schools where they see their teachers and other authority figures as not caring.   Consequently, they internalize this and learn not to care about themselves or others.  This contributes to our obesity epidemic and it also leads to our youth violence epidemic in which children do not value life.

We train our coaches to show kids that they “mind” about them. This is a powerful lesson for working with all children, even those who at first seem the most hardened.  After all, our coaches can tell you better than me: with a little minding all children are capable of amazing things….like regular exercise, doing well in school, and contributing to their communities.

So I say let's capitalize on what you started in the first term by getting at the root issue that isolates children from the kinds of activities that get them moving.

Let's Mind.


Paul Caccamo Executive Director