This past Saturday, the Phoenix Convention Center hosted the annual NCAA Student Athlete Leadership Forum. During this 3-day event, student athletes from all over the United States came together to participate in various events that would help in developing their teamwork and leadership skills as well as inspire them to pursue leadership opportunities in life during and after college.

For the first two days, the 300+ students were broken up into smaller groups that attended motivational seminars and learned about effective communication strategies and leadership skills through various group activities. Before they could get too comfortable with their new peers, however, the groups were scrambled and assigned to complete a task that would be the ultimate test of their new leadership skills…

On the third and final day of the Leadership Forum, all 300 students were gathered in one massive conference room where they were to complete a large service project together. Separated into four groups of 75 and with no specific knowledge of what the project would entail and no instruction on how to complete it, they were given their objective: “Fill 1,000 lunchboxes with a water bottle, sandwich container, nutritional guide, a jump rope and a handwritten note stressing the importance of healthy living for the foster youth of Helen’s Hope Chest. Also, you only have 15 minutes. Go.”

It was fascinating to watch what unfolded. With little instruction, the participants managed to establish lines of communication, delegate tasks, and motivate one another through what originally appeared to be a mass of chaos. Some groups decided to use conveyer belt-like systems; some decided to have small committees of people responsible for a certain numbers of boxes. In either case, there was always somebody standing atop a dinner table directing workflow and adjusting strategy.

As the timer struck “0:00” and the mad dash for the finish faded, we were shocked to see that all 1,000 lunchboxes had been filled and organized successfully. The ability of these college athletes to complete such a large task in such a short time was nothing impressive. Pictured below is roughly 1/4th of the total number of lunch boxes donated by the NCAA to Helen’s Hope Chest.

At the end of the event as everyone was leaving the building to celebrate their last night in Phoenix, we had the privilege of meeting the most extraordinary man by the name of Joshua. A towering figure of athleticism and obvious physical determination, Joshua told us about his own emotional and psychological struggles of leaving an abusive household and growing up in various foster homes around New York City. He reminded us that the kinds of wounds these kids suffer take a lot of time and love and patience to heal. Now as a successful semi-professional football player, Army veteran and aspiring English teacher, Joshua is a perfect example to our young ones that no obstacle or circumstance is ever too large to overcome.

“My sun sets to rise again.”- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

By John Zielonka
VISTA Volunteer/Foster Care Community Outreach Coordinator