“Do you know Marcus Paige?”
That’s the question fifth grader Nasir Baldwin asks every UNC student he meets, like the athletes who volunteer at his after-school program.
On Wednesdays, students and staff from the UNC Athletic Department visit the Boys & Girls Club after-school program at Northside Elementary.
Bridge Builders, a mentoring program of more than 20 black men in the department, began partnering with the program in January, and since then has invited student-athletes to get involved.
Brittney Goldston, community impact director for the Boys & Girls Club of Eastern Piedmont, said the partnership provides role models for the kids.
“These kids really look up to Carolina, but have never been to UNC,” Goldston said. “Usually we have at least four adults here from the Bridge Builders program plus a few student-athletes.”
The mentors especially want to help minority boys. In Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, last year 42 percent of black students and 47 percent of Latino students scored within grade level proficiency on the End of Grade tests, compared to 90 percent of white students.
Bridge Builders founder Ron Reeves, assistant director of ticketing for UNC Athletics, said student-athletes are in a unique position to help those who love UNC sports, but may feel disconnected from the university’s academic community.
“These kids grow up sporting Carolina blue and cheering on the Tar Heels, but they may have never stepped on the campus,” Reeves said.
“They see college as something that’s out of reach for them, but we want our student-athletes to show them it’s possible.”
Caeli Harr and Bryn Melanson, both sophomores on the UNC rowing team, first heard about Bridge Builders through Carolina Outreach, a community service organization for UNC student-athletes.
“I’d been missing that community service component in my life,” Melanson said. “We don’t have practices on Wednesdays, so the timing worked out perfectly.”
Melanson and Harr played board games, built Jenga towers and read books with the kids, all while answering questions about college life.
“What kind of sport is rowing?” Nasir asked.
“What’s your favorite subject?” fourth grader Robin Smith asked.
“Do you ride the bus to school like me?” asked 6-year-old Kimberly Galdames.
The student-athletes bring college life down to a level the kids can understand.
“These kids want to know everything about our student-athletes,” Reeves said. “Who you’re dating, where you live, if you’ve met Coach Roy. They just idolize these young athletes.”
The UNC bubble
For the student-athletes, Reeves says it helps them break out of the bubble of UNC.
“My mom is a first grade teacher back home,” Harr said. “When I came to UNC, I missed that community interaction I had back home when I would visit my mom’s classroom.”
Harr said the most rewarding part of working with the kids is getting to know them and watch them grow.
“I just want them to know that people care about them, and that college is possible,” Harr said.
Goldston said the Boys & Girls Club plans to open an after-school program for middle schools in the area. It also hopes to reopen a summer program that did not run last year due to lack of funding.