Crew Team Member Creates Grassroot Project
His nonprofit Grassroot Project uses the action and allure of sports to drive home messages about responsibility, leadership and healthy choices for D.C. students.
“Right after middle school is when the infection rate spikes for younger populations,” Spencer says, noting that Washington’s 3 percent rate of HIV infection outpaces some African nations. “Our goal is to equip them with knowledge — not just to protect themselves, but to live up to the Grassroot nature of the program so they can make positive changes in their communities.”
The liberal studies graduate student had traveled to South Africa in 2006 and saw firsthand the devastation wrought by HIV/AIDS in communities. But his idea to create a HIV/AIDS education program abroad changed when Spencer volunteered at Washington’s Metro TeenAIDS in 2008. There, he learned more about the city’s own struggle with the disease.
“Right then I knew that athletes wouldn’t have to travel halfway around the world to have an impact,” he recalls.
This past spring, about 40 Georgetown student-athletes held weekly educational sessions at Francis Stevens Middle School in Northwest D.C., Browne Education Campus in Northeast D.C. and a Boys and Girls Club in Southeast D.C.
The sessions are filled with games aimed at educating the schoolchildren and dispelling myths about HIV/AIDS. One game, “Down the Line,” requires students to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in two lines facing each other with their hands behind their backs. Each line passes a ball up and down the row, with the opposing side trying to guess who has the ball.
The difficulty of identifying who has the ball is compared to identifying who is HIV-positive.
“The games that we play with the kids are such an effective way for the kids to understand and learn the facts about HIV/AIDS,” says Ai Nishino (C’12), who plays defense for Hoyas field hockey. “I hope the kids have fun, but gain facts that they will carry with them back to their homes and share with the community.”
Spencer is working to build capacity in the GrassrootHoyas, the Georgetown arm of the Grassroot Project. He also is duplicating the project at other Washington universities. GrassrootColonials will launch at George Washington University this fall, and talks are underway with Howard University. Spencer hopes all five Division I schools in the metro area will eventually participate in the Grassroot Project.
(The article continues at http://explore.georgetown.edu/news/?ID=43469)