Washington, D.C.: College Athletes Use Sports to Teach Kids About AIDS

Grassroot Project is a District-based program that teams up college athletes with local youth to provide them with the tools and information they need to prevent HIV/AIDS.

"Sports are a way to break the ice and begin a serious discussion," said Tyler Spencer, the project's founder and a former member of the Georgetown University rowing team. "Athletes have a unique reach to kids especially with something as stigmatized as HIV/AIDS. There sometimes can be a gap between teachers and students. But kids look up to athletes in general, and can be more open to their message."

Forty student-athlete volunteers operate the program. It provides 15-20 hours of programming over eight weeks, with each week's dodge ball game building on the last. Grassroot Project is part of the after-school program at 18 area schools. Through a partnership with the local Boys & Girls Club, Spencer hopes to expand it to more schools later this year.

The MTV Staying Alive Foundation provided an initial $12,500 grant to start the program last year. Funding from the D.C. Department of Health, the Washington AIDS Partnership, and Nike -- totaling almost $50,000 -- has been instrumental in the group's growth and success.

"My goal is to reach all kids in D.C. with this message, and to empower and educate them to make smart choices," said Spencer.

Spencer was inspired to start Grassroot Project after volunteering for a similar program in South Africa. "This program has a positive impact on the college athletes as well, and I want to allow more of them to have the same experience that I had in South Africa," he said.

For more information, visit www.grassrootproject.org/.