Spotlight: Coach Andrew

One seemingly typical afternoon, Andrew Reardon was walking back to campus from coaching basketball practice at the nearby East End House when it dawned on him, “I can’t leave this kind of work.” He had recently completed an internship with Dell and was considering whether or not to accept a job with the company. Ultimately, he chose not to, and he largely attributes this profound and meaningful shift to his work as a Coaching Corps coach and mentor. Soon, Andrew will be a Master’s candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. While he has done well in school thus far he feels that, “the most good I’ve really done as an undergraduate has come through my coaching.”

Upon attending Harvard University, Andrew became involved with Coaching Corps right away. As a freshman, he was the only coach volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in Cambridge. Over the course of that year, Andrew learned not only how to coach youth in underserved communities, but also how to make a meaningful contribution to a young person’s life. The summer between his freshman and sophomore year, Andrew worked with the director of the Cambridge Boys and Girls Club to design a curriculum that complemented the Coaching Corps program. The curriculum included lessons like fractions, taught in the context of free throw percentages, and served to enrich the learning and development experience for the youth served.

As a sophomore, Andrew stepped into a leadership role as a Coaching Corps Team Captain. In addition to leading the work at the Boys and Girls Club in Cambridge (until it, unfortunately, closed its doors), he recruited three new Coaching Corps locations. This was an incredibly valuable contribution as Coaching Corps’ success is built on meaningful collaborations with colleges, universities, and afterschool programs that can support and offer athletic opportunities to young people.

Not only does being a Coaching Corps leader and coach resonate with Andrew personally, he is also deeply committed to the far-reaching, social implications of the work. “It’s [Coaching Corps’ mission] important for social justice and social equality work,” he said. “In Cambridge specifically, it’s very wealthy, but the geographic areas between the two universities are incredibly underserved, which means there are different opportunities and outcomes for a number of kids. It’s a striking juxtaposition.” Andrew sees sports and the work of Coaching Corps as a social justice bridge between those two communities, and others like them.

It has been shown that by being personally supportive and allowing youth to get to know their coaches, a precedent is established. Not only do the kids become more engaged in the Coaching Corps experience, “they see, coach Andy goes to college, coach Andy is pretty cool, I could go to college,” Andrew said. “It’s about developing a rapport that’s practical.” This rapport then quickly leads to conversations like, “what do you want to do for college? Not if. These are the most important conversations I’ve had with the kids,” Andrew stated. Furthermore, “taking student athletes to campuses and showing them that this is attainable, and more than that, we expect this of you,” Andrew said, draws a clear line between their interests and passions, and the importance and possibility of college. “Ultimately what we’re trying to do is show kids the importance of education through sports,” Andrew said; and because of this deliberate, concerted interest in a child’s life, there is a clear ripple effect that occurs.

Since Coaching Corps began its work in Boston in 2013, 214 coaches have been recruited and trained and 2,340 kids participated in afterschool athletic programs with a Coaching Corps coach. And the work is growing. Over the course of the next several years, Coaching Corps plans to substantially expand and develop its programming presence in Boston. The goal is to recruit, train, and place more than 500 coaches so that there will be as many kids in underserved communities participating in afterschool sports as there are in more resourced neighborhoods.

“Generally speaking, it has been a coming of age experience for me,” Andrew said of his time working with Coaching Corps. “Whether it’s coaching or other social justice ventures [and] volunteer experiences, it’s a really important thing to be doing, especially in today’s political climate.” Andrew sees teaching in underserved cities as the next logical step toward using sports as a social justice bridge that is, “all part of a larger movement,” he stated.

This commitment to change on a national scale is what drives the Coaching Corps model, and what resonated with Andrew so deeply from day one. “We’re doing good work for these kids,” he said, “and hopefully, generationally, it’ll start to snowball and we’ll start to solve some big issues.”

Click here to become a coach like Andrew!

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Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Benita Vargas-Brown, Volleyball Coach at Hampstead Hill Academy

Benita Vargas-Brown grew up in one of the poorest parts of Baltimore. She always wanted to make a difference in the city, which is why she became a social worker. That same passion eventually led her to coach and mentor kids in sports. Learn more about Benita’s journey in her own words.
How did you become a Coaching Corps coach?
I didn’t go looking for coaching, it found me. I was really stressed with my job and my final semester in undergrad, so my husband said, “You’re really not helping yourself. Why don’t you leave your job, take the semester off, and figure out what you want to do next?” So, I went to a volunteering fair, and that’s when I got to know Coaching Corps. It was destiny: They were looking for a volleyball coach, and I am qualified to coach volleyball. They said they needed a coach for Hampstead Hill Academy, which is literally just a walk away from our home. So, it was really perfect.
Can you tell us more about the challenges that the kids you coach face at school and at home?
When people hear Baltimore, crime and violence are among the usual challenges that come to mind, so it was extra important to keep the kids off the streets. I’ve had to drive some of the girls home so they don’t have to take the bus when it’s dark.
There have also been some differences among the girls. The school is located at Patterson Park, where on one side you have the million-dollar houses, and on the other you have boarded-up houses. So you wind up having kids coming from privileged and underprivileged situations. This created some interesting dynamics within the team that led to some difficult conversations, but we got through it eventually. That’s one of the benefits of team sports. We got this whole learning experience that wound up really positive at the end.
You mentioned something about “interesting team dynamics.” Can you share more about that?
This is actually one of the things I’m proudest [of] about my team. The girls take it upon themselves to address differences within the group. At one point, it became very clear during our practice that something wasn’t right. We were on this championship drive but there was obvious tension within the team. The girls came to me and gathered as a group to talk things through. The fact that they came up with that strategy on their own is really amazing. For me, it meant that we’re doing something right. After that talk, we got back together as a team. I’m so glad we did it because I know for a fact we wouldn’t have won the championship without sorting things out. Everybody makes mistakes. At the end of the day, what’s important is to be there and have each other’s backs.
What changes or improvements did you see in the girls as a result of being on the team?
The most obvious one would be the sense of maturity. To be in a position where you have a responsibility over something, to be able to practice and play, there are expectations. If you didn’t come to practice on Wednesday, you’re not going to play on Thursday: that’s the consequence for skipping practice.  Eventually it wasn’t the consequence that really drove them. It was their commitment.
All my [Coaching Corps] girls who tried out for high school sports made their teams. There are two highly-rated schools in Baltimore, Baltimore Polytechnic institute and Baltimore City College. To get into those schools is every parent’s and kid’s dream. They have great education and high graduation rates, and they don’t tolerate gang-related violence, which creates a safer environment for the kids. Fifteen of the girls from the team got in and played for Poly while 13 went to City. That makes me really happy.
Wow! If there’s one way to describe success and promoting equity, that would be it. With all these experiences, what advice would you give aspiring coaches and mentors for kids?
Show up. You have to be there. You have to be consistent. You can’t cancel on these kids. Over the course of my time, if I know something’s going to come up in my schedule, I plan for an assistant coach to take over. Kids know if you care. You can figure out everything else, there are Youtube videos for that. You just have to show up because these kids expect you to be there for them.
Afterschool Partners

Orlando

Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida

City of Orlando Athletics

Afterschool Program Partners

Other

JT Dorsey Foundation

Afterschool Program Partners

San Diego

Gompers Preparatory Academy

High Tech High

La Maestra Foundation – Center for Youth Advancement at Generations

The Monarch School

Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego

Soccer Kids America

YMCA of San Diego County

Afterschool Program Partners

Los Angeles

A Place Called Home

AFFIRMATIVE ATHLETICS

After School All Stars: Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Club of Venice

Boys & Girls Clubs of Carson

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica

Boys and Girls Clubs of the LA Harbor

Brotherhood Crusade

City of Huntington Park Department of Parks

East Los Angeles Rising Youth Club

Equitas Academy

Girls on the Run of Los Angeles

Girls Play Los Angeles

ICES Education

IMPACTO

L.A.C.E.R. Afterschool Programs

Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine

Los Angeles Rec and Parks

Major League Baseball Youth Academy

Norwalk La Mirada Unified

P.F. Bresee Foundation

Sloane Stephens Foundation

Street Soccer USA: Los Angeles

Team Prime Time

Variety Boys & Girls Club

Watts Rams

YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles

Afterschool Program Partners

ATLANTA

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta: Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club
Afterschool Program Partners

Boston

All Dorchester Sports and Leadership

Boston Centers for Youth & Families

Boston SCORES

Cambridge Community Center

East End House

Oak Square YMCA

Sole Train: Boston Runs Together