Athletics News

Grassroot Colonials Tackle HIV/AIDS Education

April 29, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC - At least 30 GW student-athletes representing 11 sports are tackling a tough issue in the classroom. On any given day, you'll find GW rowers, and tennis and soccer players talking about HIV and AIDS prevention not in the university classrooms but in elementary, middle and high school classrooms in the District of Columbia.

The GW athletes, along with other student-athletes from Georgetown and Howard universities, are part of The Grassroot Project, a program that educates children ages 10 to 14 about the dangers of HIV and AIDS. This year, researchers at GW's School of Public Health and Health Services also partnered with the project to study the effect of the program on HIV and AIDS awareness among D.C. school students.

The project has been chosen by the NCAA to receive the Division I SAAC Award of Excellence. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee award will be shared by all three schools for their combined participation in this education program.

At GW, the project's participants are known as Grassroot Colonials. Jake Miner, a GW rower, got involved after receiving a recruitment e-mail from the project.

"It seemed like a really amazing program," he says.

Mr. Miner says finding time to participate in a community-service program was a worthwhile challenge that he recommends to other student-athletes.

"Being an athlete, obviously your schedule is packed, and it's hard to find time even for yourself."

Liz Hillin, a GW psychology major and a member of the women's soccer team, attended an information session on the Grassroot Colonials and was hooked on the program.

"I personally just love combining my two passions of playing sports and being involved in the community, which is exactly what Grassroot Colonials offers."

She says there is nothing like helping kids learn something new.

"Going to the school each week and seeing the kids getting questions right that they didn't know the week before is the most rewarding."

The project's beginnings can be traced back to Tyler Spencer, a rower at Georgetown.Mr. Spencer started Grassroot Hoyas with 40 athletes from his school and began the program in three schools. The project grew to GW and Howard universities and now reaches out to young people in 18 schools.

There is a four-day training period for the university student-athletes who then run the programs for the students after school once a week throughout the school year.

As part of the project this semester, D.C. kids will be video pen pals with school students in South Africa. The World Cup, which is being held in June in South Africa, will be a rallying point for the program. Connecting with the organization Teamup2010, the groups are planning to send 15 school students and five university student-athletes to the World Cup to meet with their counterpart pen pals in Soweto, South Africa.

Mr. Miner will be part of the travel party.

"I think that taking these kids to South Africa will be life changing."

GW Associate Professor of Prevention and Community Health Dr. Karen McDonnell has been comparing pre- and post-program quiz results from the past two semesters of the Grassroot Project. Mr. Spencer says the original programs in South Africa and in the Dominican Republic have shown a significant improvement of the school students' knowledge, attitudes and beliefs related to HIV and AIDS.

All the hard work of the program was celebrated May 3 when the D.C. school students and the student-athletes came together at a graduation ceremony for the program at the Smith Center.

For Jake Miner, the entire experience is very rewarding.

"The effect GW students are having on the community is something very powerful and special."