Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Grizzlies Academy

Grizzlies Academy Graduates
As most of my daily readers know, I'm attending the Council on Foundation's annual conference this week, which is an international philanthropy leadership summit. Earlier in the week, I attended a workshop titled 'Tackling Emerging Issues in Sports Philanthropy'. I figured since I devote a good amount of time covering athletes and their charitable efforts on my blog, it would be an interesting session. So, I got there late. This new Gaylord National Harbor Resort is huge, and I got lost. As I found a seat, one of the panelists, Jennifer Turner Koltnow, Executive Director of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation was speaking about their Grizzlies Academy, a school for youth ages 15-17 in Memphis, Tennessee. In the photo above are students from the first graduating class, valedictorian Lequinton and salutatorian Chris, proudly showing off their class rings. But this is not your ordinary school. All of the students are at least two years behind in school.

The school began with a 1.5 million dollar grant from the Grizzlies Foundation, which was established in 2004. Its premise is this: Teach subjects of Math, Science, English, and life skills. The Grizzlies provides uniforms for the students and tickets to home games as incentives.

Is the school making an impact? Among all Memphis city public schools, the Grizzlies Academy has one of the highest attendance rates. What about parent involvement? The school hosts open dinners twice a week for parents along with regular phone calls and flyers, and a progress report is sent home every six weeks.

The Grizzlies Foundation has been honored for its charitable efforts, most recently by the Sports Philanthropy Project and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with the 2007 Steve Patterson Sports Philanthropy Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy. The main focus of the foundation is mentoring and this past January, NBA veteran Bill Russell helped them launch the Team Up Challenge, urging Memphis business leaders to become mentors. Their goal is to recruit 500 mentors by June 1st. Visit the foundation website here.

Photo: Joe Murphy/NBAE/GettyImages

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