Debbie Jacobs spent 18 years teaching before she retired last year, but she never stopped caring about children.
After spending nearly two decades in the classroom, she knew that many kids face steep challenges. Whether parents are unemployed, struggle to pay the bills or are simply not around, children can flounder.
Oftentimes, parents are so busy coping with their own issues, the children’s needs go unmet.
“Too many of our young are at risk educationally, socially, physically and mentally,” Jacobs said. All of that can really take a toll on young lives.
Jacobs decided she wanted to do something about it.
That’s when she discovered Future for Kids, a non-profit organization that focuses on helping kids through programs and camps that focus on academics, athletics and ethics.
“Volunteering with Future for Kids, you know you make a difference,” Jacobs said. “The children who attend regularly look forward to participating in the program.”
And why wouldn’t they? Future for Kids sports and fitness camps are held throughout the year and feature professional athletes, coaches, healthy breakfasts and lunches as well as free T-shirts and a DJ playing high-energy music.
It’s all meant to show kids that physical fitness can be fun. Both pro and college athletes cheer the campers on and stick around to sign autographs. Even Sparky, Arizona State University’s indomitable mascot, mugs for photos with participants.
Thrown into the mix, an array of motivational speakers share some of the challenges they themselves faced and overcame through a mixture of courage, fortitude and hard work.
Retired National Football League player Rodney Smith, founder of Future for Kids, had a strong adult mentor who encouraged him to follow his dream. Smith worked hard and attended the University of Nebraska where he played ball and focused on academics. That experience led him to eventually work alongside two other NFL players to develop Future for Kids. Since 2002, the organization has touched the lives of more than 130,000 children and their families.
Some of those families live in Tempe and participate in the cornucopia of activities for at-risk youth. There are out-of-schooltime programs, summer youth sports and fitness camps, a week-long summer program, basketball camp and winter games sports session. Ninety four percent of the kids say they hope to return to the program. With one mentor for every four children, participants get the individualized attention they need and the positive role models who inspire them to succeed at school, at sports and in the community, noted Jacobs.
Crystal Rope’s two daughters have just finished their second year with Future for Kids and she says she’s seen a big change in them. The girls, who were 9 and 12 when they began participating, are happier and more outgoing these days. They’re doing better in school, too.
“I believe it’s made a really big difference,” Rope said. “Before they were really quiet. I think by being in this program they were able to meet other kids and learn about the importance of physical activity and teamwork.”
One of the aspects of Future for Kids that she especially appreciates is the emphasis on themes like leadership, integrity, excellence and education. Future for Kids encourages lifelong learning, healthy living and diversity.
“They are happy kids and are more involved now,” Rope said. “They want to help others and they’re doing really well at school. One of them was in the spelling bee — she made it to second place — and the other one plays guitar and is involved in the arts.”
As for Jacobs, the retired teacher, she says working with young people and making a difference in their lives is a passion of hers. Future for Kids allows her to do with a commitment of just two hours, once a week.
Jeff just finished his second year as a mentor with Future for Kids. “I have been able to work with a small group of kids on a weekly basis and watch them progress as students and human beings. The experience keeps me grounded and puts every other job or activity in my life in the proper perspective,” he said.