July 13, 2011
What brings you to Austin?
I'm here visiting "Ricky's Kids." It is an after-school program that we started here. We have done Skype, and I've been on the phone with them, but I wanted to come and see them first-hand and see what we are doing. It was awesome. I expected that the kids would do their homework, but I didn't expect that the kids would be so close with each other, and for them to really listen to the volunteers and buy into the program so soon.
How did this program get started?
It started off as just an idea of, "Let's do something in Austin." We started brainstorming and we figured out that there are a lot of kids that don't have anywhere to go after school, and if they do have care it is at a cost which strains a lot of people's finances. So we thought let's see if we can offer a free, but also quality, after-school program where kids aren't just getting babysat, but they're getting taught about the world around them.
Why did you choose to work with kids?
I am partial to kids. I think kids, for the most part, are still innocent and very fertile to new ideas and a positive attitude. I think sometimes adults take a little more work, and I think kids really are our future. I look back at all the blessings I had growing up, and I look back at some of the things I wish were different. So I have an opportunity to combine those and offer my experiences to these kids, so they may have an easier time as they grow up.
Why was it important for you to begin a program like this?
There are many ways to think about giving back. I think one level, especially for athletes, is to become cliché - which is a positive thing because at least people are giving back. But I look at people who have success, and I think there is some kind of formula internally that has led them to be successful. And I think as far as helping the world to grow and be a better place, we owe it to ourselves and to our community to share our tricks and what has helped us and what has gone our way and to use our experiences to help enrich the lives of others.
Was it difficult to get the program off the ground?
If I was just an education major at UT and I came in to try to get this program, maybe it happens. But I think it is much harder work on our part, and I think we have to go through a lot more red tape. I think because of my name and what I have been able to accomplish, we got in here and the program was up, I think, in about a month, and it is fantastic. It speaks volumes for the community here in Austin and all the great Texas Exes and all the support we've had getting this program started.
In light of the recent budget cuts in our schools, do you think this program takes on an even greater importance?
It is huge. One of the things that made me really focus in Austin, is I was thinking of all the programs we do in Miami and there are tons of them. There are so many that you can't even figure out something to do that is new. Then I think about a town like Austin, where there have been so many great athletes that have come through here, but because there is no professional team I think it is a little neglected in that way. So I figured I can bring some programs that I've seen around to a place like Austin who can really use it and benefit from it.
What is special about this program?
First of all, we are not education experts. We are human beings who have experiences. So I think it is just a bunch of guys getting together and thinking about what we can really do to help these kids. I'd say at least once or twice a week, Aaron [Godbolt], who is the program director here, and I are on the phone just talking about what worked and didn't work. So the program is constantly evolving and it is just based on what works and what the kids like and what is useful and successful. We are just going with it, learning more every day and we are seeing what the kids like. I don't want to say we are experimenting, but we are learning a lot about the kids, and the kids are learning a lot about themselves. I think the foundation, especially with this group of kids that we are working with, is really their environment and their self-esteem. We are not all fortunate to have huge support systems in people that take the time to show us they really care about us. I think just us spending our time and our resources, devoting them to these kids with an open heart, I think the kids can really tell. In just my short time being involved, I can really see how they are growing and changing.
What have you seen today that touched you the most?
The biggest thing is just how the kids cared about each other. One of the things we talked about was really making it like a family. The kids, the parents ideally, and even the whole school. And if we can start with these 20 kids, and the fact that now going around the room all the kids know each other's names. Just to watch them out there, picking each other up and supporting each other, and even when one kid gets down the other kids don't jump on top and make it worse. They really try to lift each other up, and to me that is incredible.
Do you have any future plans to expand this program?
Definitely. I see myself doing this kind of work the rest of my life in whatever capacity I am able to serve. I also see myself living in Austin. I think it will be really fun. Hopefully, I'll be able to get a lot of other athletes that went to school here to join in and participate.
Do you have a different perspective on life now that you are a father?
It is different. I am almost 34 now, and I realize you forget what it is like to be a kid. And watching my kids, I am reminded of the things I had to experience and go through. One thing I am really learning about kids is that they are so resilient. They have this ability to push aside all the negativity, but when there is positivity, they just soak it up like a sponge. It is just awesome and inspiring to watch the way they keep on going.
What other things do you have planned for your visit to Austin?
The main purpose of this visit was for "Ricky's Kids." I visited with my mom last weekend when she was in town. But it is always nice [to come back to Austin]. We did a little house shopping this morning, so it is making the most out of our time. But last night we took four "scholars-of-the-month", and we took them out to dinner at Hula Hut. It was great to watch them. We ordered them all fajitas, and they had nice big desserts. It was awesome.