At Play Rugby USA our mission is to use the unique power of rugby to inspire and empower youth, primarily from underserved communities, to Go Forward and realize their true potential. A key element to achieving these outcomes are the Youth Development Mentors (YDM) who work with our students every day and build strong bonds, what we call vital connections, with each child.

IMG_1512Two of our Youth Development Mentors have consistently gone above and beyond to ensure the success of their students, both on and off the rugby field, and we’re pleased to share the most recent opportunity they arranged for their students.

Taye Daniels and Jurrian Zoeteweij are YDMs at Monroe Academy For Visual Arts & Design in the Bronx. This program began three years ago, and the rugby program has flourished in that time under the guidance of these dedicated YDMs. With a consistent group of boys and girls returning to play each season, the rugby program has shattered records at Monroe, a school where students face many challenges, as revealed by a recent NYC Department of Education report:

Just 44% of students graduate within 4 years, and only 57% of students graduate within 6 years.

Only 52% of students feel the school offers enough variety of programs, classes, and activities to keep them interested in school.

And a mere 3% of students graduated college ready.

Daniels and Zoeteweij recently organized a career trip for the Monroe students to the NYC headquarters of advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy in Manhattan as part of a career education program the YDMs are implementing at Monroe.

“In March we started to coach the kids on thinking about their future, career and continuing education opportunities, as part of the curriculum of Play Rugby USA. We stressed that it is important to think about career planning and personal strengths.”

IMG_1518Their decision to add career readiness to the curriculum was sparked by conversations the coaches had with students before and after practice:

“When we asked about careers, college and the future, the kids only knew obvious jobs, like lawyer, banker, technician or teacher. And they all were hesitant to go to college because of the tuition, some even told us that their cultural background held them back from being successful.”

Zoeteweij found it hard to believe that students this young could feel so limited in their career opportunities.

“Listening to the kid’s answers we thought it might be a nice idea to invite all the boys and girls to a career excursion to a real company and show them many more possible roles within a company. We asked Wieden + Kennedy (where my wife works as a HR director) to organize a tour and set up a panel with employees from different departments like Finance, HR, Account Management, Design and Legal.”

19 student-athletes attended the career trip to Wieden-Kennedy, and the experience was overwhelmingly positive.

“They [Wieden + Kennedy] did an excellent job by appointing employees from very diverse backgrounds to the panel, so the kids could relate to them. One employee grew up in the projects in the Bronx, another one came from a Haitian immigrant background and a third grew up in an underserved neighborhood in Brooklyn.

They spoke about their struggles, anxieties, insecurities and how they overcame their family bonds or cultural backgrounds to go to college and end up working in advertising. A lot of the advice they gave the kids were the same statements Taye and I talked about during career class.”

The students walked away from the experience with a better understanding of the types of opportunities that are open to them, regardless of their background, as well as some concrete tips and tricks that echo the types of life skills our programs emphasize:

  • use all your possible resources and ask for help
  • your background doesn’t matter to be successful
  • motivate each other and back your friends up in their ambition
  • apply for scholarships
  • ask for informational interviews and do internships in every possible field
  • travel or study abroad
  • change your friends when they hold you back

“We wanted to show the kids of Monroe another environment and encourage other possibilities, we think we managed to do just that.  Hopefully we have sown the seeds that everything is possible if you work hard and follow your heart.”

The dedication of these Youth Development Mentors is just one of the ways that Play Rugby USA programming is different than your average after school sports program. You can help support students like this with a donation to the Play Rugby Fund. Help strengthen the programs that put the focus on building life skills through rugby.

Support the Play Rugby Fund today!


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