College students are busy, trying to fit academics, athletics, and any volunteer service into limited hours. Ohio’s John Carroll University students found a way to do two at once – the Carroll Ballers.
Launched in 2012, Carroll Ballers combines basketball and mentoring, bringing together University students and more than 20 Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center residents between ages 12 and 14. Initially, the program focused on male residents, but it expanded recently to include females. Students visit the detention center weekly, said program founder Michael Gong, and selecting basketball as an activity was easy.
“It’s a common denominator,” he said. “Everyone enjoys it, and it makes it easier to get to know residents.”
The program’s original intent, according to junior volunteer, Becky Bursa, was to help residents get back on track and reduce repeat crimes, but it turned into a life coaching experience where students discuss life and job skills, what to wear to interviews, how to apply to college, healthy eating, and time management with the residents.
“We tell our students that consistency is key,” Bursa said. “We refuse to cancel on them, and we really do get to build relationships every week.”
The University’s Center for Service and Social Action transports students to-and-from the detention center, and the five students in charge share responsibilities for fundraising, such as holding raffles and selling T-shirts, and meeting planning.
University students meet with residents to talk about a topic for an hour, eat pizza, and play basketball, said Justin Bland, a Carroll Ballers leader who manages the relationship between the University and the detention center. During his three years with the program, he’s seen time spent talking with resident changes lives.
“These residents realize one mistake doesn’t define their lives,” he said. “In many cases, when residents leave the center, they seek us out to be friends.”