Posts Tagged ‘children’

Harnessing the Olympic Spirit

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Right to Play in GhanaI am an Olympics junkie.

For a couple of weeks every four years, I live and breathe the thrill of events as diverse as swimming, diving, snowboarding and ski jumping. This year is no exception. I am on the edge of my seat in front of the television every spare minute I have.

The Olympics never cease to give me a sense of warm fuzzies, patriotism and awe that a group of such incredibly diverse people and nations can co-exist for two weeks and celebrate the goodness in human nature. It would solve a lot of the world’s ills if we were able to bottle up the goodwill and save it for times when poverty, ideological and political differences create conflict.

Interestingly enough, there is an organization out there who does just that. Right to Play is an organization, born of efforts in the early 90s by the Norwegian Olympic officials to show support for people in war-torn nations and areas of distress. Today, the organization seeks to improve the lives of children “in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.”

Leading this incredible organization is a former Olympic athlete – 4-time gold medalist Johann Olav Koss of Norway. The organization has expanded beyond the Olympics, but it continues to embrace Olympic ideals of sport and global citizenship as it works to improve the lives of children in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

Last August, Rick had the opportunity to represent Operation Kids Foundation in Ghana as he toured first-hand some of the projects and programs Right to Play has established there. He commented:

Trained Right To Play coaches have the trust and confidence of the children they coach. Based on that relationship and the innocent distraction of “play,” a soccer ball can be used to represent a virus – say HIV – and a simple game can show a child for the first time how the virus spreads. The games address other critical issues such as peaceful conflict resolution which can, in regions where children are forced into military duty sometimes as young as 11 or 12, be the difference in whether some of these children experience a childhood in any sense, or go on to a normal adulthood. The simplicity of the Right To Play model is the genius of it, and to see it first-hand is inspiring to say the least.

It is hard to imagine, by American standards, how critical these simple concepts and programs are to a generation of children who bear the hope of their collective nations for a brighter future. We may look to sports as a way to obtain personal success, fitness, economic prosperity, recreation or geographic bragging rights, but to those Right to Play serves, sports can be lifesaving – the difference between dying young and going on to help their nations rise above status quo. Through these programs, individuals with a passion for sport are helping create a healthier, safer world for children – translating the Olympic spirit into everyday action items.

The Olympics certainly are an inspiring time – when the world feels good and right, and it comes together to celebrate the accomplishments of young adults who have dreamed of this fleeting moment all of their lives. It is hard not to sit back in the easy chair and bask in the warm glow of the Olympic spirit.

I challenge during the remaining days of Olympic competition to individually bottle that “warm fuzzy” feeling and put it to good use. We may not be able to capture it to use as a global panacea, but if each of us paid a little bit forward, we could make an enormous collective impact on the world.

As you cheer for your favorite curling team, hold your collective breath as Lindsay Vonn hits the slopes or gasp at each gravity-defying snowboard trick, remember that feeling of goodwill and resolve to share it with others. Spend a little extra time teaching a child something new. Give a little more to your favorite charity. Be a little more generous with your time. Take a few minutes to chat with your neighbor – the one who might be just a little different than you. Revel in the diversity of the human race. Celebrate goodness and hard work in your community.

Harness the Olympic spirit to make the life of one other person a little better.

-Sara Brueck Nichols

A True Saint

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Drew  Brittany Brees, Operation Kids: Rebuilding New Orleans CampaignNo Super Bowl-bound player has energized a city like quarterback Drew Brees has energized New Orleans. Much ado has been made about Drew’s on-field success and his charity work. However, few articles have detailed the extent of his philanthropic endeavors. It is more than just a donation or an athletic field. It is an investment in a whole city’s children.

It is not unusual for high-profile athletes to form their own foundations and participate in philanthropic work. It is unusual to dedicate the personal time and resources Brees and his wife, Brittany, commit to their foundation and community. They have become a model of philanthropy “done right.” I have worked with some of the sports world’s most committed philanthropists. Brees joins these as a shining example of how an athlete’s prominence can be translated into a lasting legacy of social impact and lives changed.

Brees has an intuitive sense regarding the opportunity and responsibility surrounding his life as a just-arrived, high-profile athlete in a city still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. He viewed his move to New Orleans as being about more than just football. He saw an opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

Brees was introduced to us in the summer of 2006, and we worked hand-in-hand to help his philanthropic vision become a reality. Each project he worked on through his Operation Kids: Rebuilding Dreams in New Orleans campaign was a “catalyst project” that would continue to generate additional recovery. Employing the same discipline he exhibits on the field, Brees thought in terms of impact and measurable results in his philanthropy.

Brees’ hands-on participation and a disciplined methodology made this campaign different. The funding and management of the catalyst projects immediately benefited the community, and then triggered the flow of funding for other adjoining, critical projects by relieving the “tug-of-war” that held funds captive.  Brees created an environment where giving and results were multiplied and expected. Each project was completed on time and on budget.

He also insisted on another step. Each of the projects was required to work under a strict method of project “coaching” prior to funds being dispersed. A local project coordinator was available at any time, and unannounced site visits occurred to ensure required progress. Drew also introduced “Expect More,” a results-driven motto to the community that echoed throughout the process.

Brees also demonstrated primary fiscal commitment by contributing more than $250,000 of the $2 million raised. He also exercised his professional influence and secured used weight-room equipment for a school’s football program. Large companies, who had grown dissatisfied with the impact of their prior giving in New Orleans, were energized and reached out unsolicited to join the collaborative effort.

The results, a mere 2 years later, mean:

  • More than 2,000 children ages 5-18 have increased access to after-school programming.
  • 110 children of low- and moderate-income families attend the first fully accredited childcare facility rebuilt post-Katrina.
  • Thousands of students and community residents utilize brand-new athletic facilities at a major park and several schools.
  • 25 high school students participated in summer science internships previously not available to them.
  • Hands-on nutrition, health and education resources are available to more than 550 school students and their families as part of the funding and development of the innovative Edible Schoolyard-New Orleans.
  • More than 2,000 intellectually disabled youth in New Orleans have mentors as part of reestablishing the local Best Buddies chapters.

While we celebrate the Saints’ march to the Super Bowl, I hope equal attention is given to the Brees family for their inspiring philanthropic leadership on behalf of a beleaguered city’s children.

-Don Stirling

Note: Drew Brees i s part of the Pepsi Refresh Super Bowl Grant Project. We encourage everyone to click here and vote for Drew between now and Friday, February 5. The winner gets $100k grant to go toward their charitable project. Drew would use his grant money to rebuild the F. Taylor Hope Lodge for children fighting cancer.