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Ride This Way: an Up2Us Film

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Greatness often manifests in the face of adversity. Israel Frank, Up2Us Coach Across America (CAA) coach at Brotherhood Crusade Soccer for Success Program, is a true testament to this statement.

Initially, Israel's goals were to obtain his GED, secure employment, and change his life trajectory. With the assistance of his case manager, Israel attended work readiness classes at the YouthSource Center. After demonstrating significant mastery of vocational skills, Israel secured a seasonal job at Vans. Combined with a sincere desire to improve the quality of life for young people, this experience prepared Israel for his CAA appointment.

Check out our video to hear Israel's story and to learn just what makes him Up2Us' Coach Across America Coach of the Year.

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Operation Coach Sponsored By the Miami HEAT

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Up2Us is proud to announce a partnership with the Miami HEAT and the Miami HEAT Charitable Fund to launch Operation Coach, a workforce assistance and coaching initiative for post 9/11 returning military veterans, preparing them for a career in sports and youth development through our Coach Across America program. During half time of Tuesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Miami HEAT Charitable Fund presented Up2Us with a $100,000 donation as the result of the team’s annual fundraising efforts.   This contribution will provide veterans with the opportunity to gain employment as coach-mentors and continue to serve as every day heroes to thousands of youth in Miami.

“Veterans often cite ‘physical activity’ and ‘becoming a coach’ as key motivators to their reentry to the workforce,” said Paul Caccamo, founder and president of Up2Us.

The Miami HEAT has a tradition of honoring the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces and we are extremely excited to continue this partnership.

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What We Can Learn From Recycling

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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

Coming Soon: Up2Us Gala 2014!

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Up2Us is having its second annual gala on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at Mercedes-Benz Manhattan. This promises to be an inspiring evening, as we bring together our friends and supporters, as well as celebrities and athletes, to celebrate our achievements and the profound impact our coach-mentors have made on the lives of children across the country. Sienna Miller with Up2Us Board Member, Dr. David Colbert & Mark Colbert.

At this year’s event, we are proud to honor two committed supporters of Up2Us, Paul Tagliabue, former Commissioner of the National Football League, and Stephen Cannon, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.  With Paul’s help, Up2Us became a registered 501(c)(3) in 2010 and through Covington & Burling LLP, he continues to support Up2Us by providing pro-bono legal services.  Stephen, in his role as board chair for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA, financially supports our groundbreaking Coach Across America program, which impacts more than 50,000 youth across the country.  Up2Us is excited and pleased to be honoring them both at our second annual gala.

Up2Us hopes that you will join us for this very special evening.  We encourage you to join us by purchasing a table or tickets to see for yourself the great work we do.  If you have any questions, please call the Up2Us Benefit Office at 212.763.8599 or email up2us@cmevents.net.

We look forward to seeing you on May 14th.  Together, we can change the lives of youth across the country through the power of sports!

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Naomi Watts and Up2Us Board Member, Dr. David Colbert. Photo Credit: Patrick McMullan

Victoria's Secret Angel, Erin Heatherton. Photo Credit: Patrick McMullan

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Left to Right: Dr. David Colbert, Philip Seymour Hoffman & Paul Caccamo

Wynton Marsalis & Up2Us Honoree, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Photo Credit: Patrick McMullan

Sticks and Stones…

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What if “someone” wanted to hate you? You did nothing wrong to this “someone.”  In fact, you don’t even know why this “someone” doesn’t like you.  It might be someone from work—someone from your community—someone you met at a social gathering—someone you hardly know.

Now, what if you get an odd feeling that this “someone” really is destroying you.   They are spreading rumors that are ugly and untrue.  The rumors are about your personal life.  They are not only untrue but they are embarrassing.  And now you suddenly have this sense that these rumors have gotten to your family, your neighbors, and your co-workers.  In fact, people are now talking about you behind your back.  Stories you don’t even know about.  And there’s no way to defend yourself because you don’t even know how this is happening.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Now you hear something vicious about you on the Internet, on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, and even on Instagram.

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This can’t be happening.  You did nothing wrong.  You don’t even know what caused this person to hate you.  But it keeps coming.  In fact, other people are doing it too.  You’re life really is getting destroyed.

What would you do?

Now, what if you’re only 14 years old?

Welcome to “Bullying 2013.”

This month across the country, several children have taken their lives because they couldn’t take the bullying.  And yet, we have made little progress on educating those responsible for our youth—our school leaders, our teachers, our coaches—on what to do about it.  In part, because many adults confuse “Bullying 2013” with “Bullying When They Grew Up.”  It’s not the same—it’s more vicious because there are more means to communicate it.

Starting this fall, Up2Us will partner with Ben Cohen’s StandUp Foundation to create a toolkit to help coaches use the power of sports as a solution to bullying.  While many youth may associate sports as an arena that fosters bullying, it in fact can be a powerful platform for preventing it.  Coaches naturally receive the respect of their athletes.  They are in a unique position to address diversity and inclusion among their teams and steer would-be bullies into pro-social behavior.  They can also be intentional about engaging those youth who are bullied into participating in sports and facing athletic challenges that can provide them a new sense of dignity and self-worth.  And, yes, all of this can take place in the context of “positive peer pressure.”  After all, that’s what a trained coach fosters, and that’s what sports are all about.

“Stick and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”  That was once true before those names ended up all over the Internet.  It’s no longer true today.  Up2Us is proud to lead a national effort to end bullying through the power of youth sports in America.  Let’s get our community leaders and schools to do the same.

Paul Caccamo Executive Director

I would like to acknowledge Diana Cutaia for her work in this area and her support of this Up2Us effort.

Not Just Any Coach….A Trained Coach

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Today, nearly every parent must leave their child in the custody and care of another adult during a good part of the workday.  During after school hours, this adult is often a coach. Yet, coaches across the country receive very little training, if any at all, on how to work with children. They may know their sport, but do they know how to address teaching sports in the context of a teenager struggling in school, or a girl coping with self-image issues, or a child who's being bullied?  Coaches should be equipped with basic tools to use sports to teach teamwork and leadership to every child during their practices.  Without this kind of training, many of the life lessons that a coach can impart are lost.  And, in some cases, this lack of training can result in coaches who are modeling the wrong behavior.  The result: an increasing number of American children drop out of sports because they feel more encouraged by the flashing victory lights of their carefully designed video games than the yelling of their untrained coaches.  And that needs to change.

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I say we reverse this trend by requiring a minimum training in youth development for every coach in this country.   All coaches should undergo basic coursework on child development--emotional, physical and social---and how to maximize the sports experience to impart life skills.   This week, Up2Us completed its second National Coach Training Institute this year in New Orleans where coaches became certified in sports-based youth development.   The Up2Us Center is conducting four national coach training institutes this year, including upcoming trainings in Boston and Los Angeles.  Now just imagine if every one of the estimated 2-3 million coaches in this country, paid and volunteer, were required to attend such an institute or take courses online before taking the field?

Let’s stop imagining and start requiring.  Up2Us is leading the nation in developing professional standards around sports-based youth development.   We believe the future of youth sports is at stake.  Only when we prove the potential of our coaches to contribute to the success of the next generation of Americans will we ensure that schools and communities stop slashing their sports budgets.   And most importantly, by requiring this training in youth development, we send a reassuring message to all parents who drop their kids off at practice:  the coach who will oversee your child for these next few hours has been trained to help your child succeed in life.

Paul Caccamo

Executive Director

MOVE OVER “LET’S MOVE!”

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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.

Sincerely,

Paul Caccamo Executive Director

Up2Us Coach of the Year…

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Make that Connector of the Year! Up2Us is a national movement that is based on one very powerful word:  connections.

Far too many children drop out of school because they do not feel connected to their teachers or to other classmates. Far too many boys join gangs because they do not feel connected to society. Far too many girls find themselves as teenage mothers because they do not feel connected to adult role models.

Up2Us uses the unique power of sports to create connections.  Life affirming connections between kids and their coaches, kids and their teammates, and kids and the wider community.

Key to making these connections possible are our coaches who work everyday to give our youth this sense of belonging.   Properly trained coaches provide children the unique opportunity to develop their life skills in a nontraditional setting. For many kids in urban America who are isolated because of poverty, broken families and underserved communities, this coach may be the most critical connection of them all.

Tonight is the first ever Up2Us gala. It will be attended by celebrities, athletes, coaches and other stakeholders from across the country who believe in the Up2Us mission.  Every guest in attendance has one thing in common:  they achieved their success in life because of some connection that meant something to them and inspired them to be great. That's why the focus of this gala is to celebrate three special connectors, the Up2Us Coaches of the Year.

These Coach Across America coaches were chosen by kids and colleagues from their communities because of their impact on health, violence and academics.  Coach Ebonee from Los Angeles uses sports to connect at-risk kids to a lifelong love of exercise and physical activity.  Coach Michel from Chicago uses sports to connect gang members to positive peer groups who help them say to no violence.  Coach Payne from Boston uses sports to connect at-risk students in failing public schools to a renewed commitment to their education.

I have often written that Up2Us is the solution to the challenges of juvenile violence, school dropout rates, and childhood obesity. Up2Us is the solution because it is about the kinds of connections demonstrated by these amazing coaches. They deserve to be celebrated at a gala in New York with legendary figures like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wynton Marsalis, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in attendance.

They are the Connectors of the Year.

Paul Caccamo Executive Director

If I Had 1 Cent of Every NRA Dollar…

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I'm not writing this blog to debate gun control and whether or not you have the right to bear arms. I'm writing this blog to discuss the dollars that go into this debate versus solving the real problem at the community level of raising a generation of Americans who value and respect life.

Let's start with the facts.  Every year in this country about 3000 children lose their lives to gun violence.  Another 17,500 youth are injured from guns.  A large number of the victims of this violence go unnoticed because they live in poorer, mostly minority communities where gun violence is commonplace and barely makes the nightly news.

However, this is all starting to change.  Gun violence involving children has now gone prime time.   This is partly due to the random nature of some of the most recent incidents, the fact that these crimes are occurring in wealthier communities and the sudden attention given to this problem at the national level by politicians.   And with prime time coverage, comes the debate and money being spent to fuel it.

If I had one cent of every dollar the NRA spent this past year, I would have $2,300,000.  That's right, more than 2 million dollars!

I would use this money to engage 32,500 kids in safe, structured after-school programs in the communities in this nation with the highest rates of gun violence.  I would ensure these kids have sports teams to belong to that reinforce life skills development and not gangs that condition them towards violence.  I would do this by hiring 200 adults to be "coach-mentors" for these kids everyday of the year.   I would train these coaches to use the power of sports to address conflict resolution, trauma and other mental health issues that these young people confront on a regular basis.   I would help these coaches maximize their time with these kids so that these vulnerable youth experience positive relationships with other youth, their coaches and community volunteers.   I would measure the success of these programs through the reduction of violent acts that take place among the youth participants and within our communities.

If I had one penny of every NRA dollar…I'd put it to less talk and more action.

Paul Caccamo Executive Director