As a national organization with 20 chapters on college campuses spread throughout the country, travel to support our bigger mission in the rare disease community is part of what we do.
The time on the road interacting with college football players and leaders on their home turf and seeing first-hand what they are doing to support rare diseases is inspiring and motivating.
With Rare Disease Day around the corner on February 28, members of our 2013 staff shared some of their experiences on the road in continued year-round support of the rare disease community.
Scott Shirley and Becky Mayes went zipped all around the country in 2013 including stops in Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, Florida and New York City, for example.
And while each trip has its own successes and challenges, the relationship building and message each hears has a profound impact on the core values and mission of Uplifting Athletes.
There’s no better place to learn first-hand the impact these leaders in college football are having in their community than getting on campus.
So Shirley and Mayes hit the road during the college football season to get some face time with our chapter leaders, and also help craft a bigger and stronger platform for Uplifting Athletes at each individual school.
The formula is working. Uplifting Athletes more than doubled the amount of money it donated in 2013 for rare disease research compared to 2012.
SHIRLEY: It helps me stay connected with today’s student-athlete. I wore their shoes/cleats so I “get it.” But 10 years have passed and I would be naive to assume that their college experience is the same.
We want to enhance it as much as possible so they can find success and continue to give back.
Two contradicting response that I always hear are (a) why wouldn’t everyone do this? and (b) things are different here so we can’t do this.
What we’ve found is that if the players want to do it…Uplifting Athletes will succeed no matter how different they are.
One of the most important connections that I can make on a campus visit is actually with the players’ parents. Maybe it’s because my parents were public educators, but I believe that “interested parents” wield a lot of influence.
Tailgating at college football games just happen to be a great opportunity to visit with them and share our story. It is usually a good time to walk through the halls of the athletic facility and introduce myself to anyone that will take a minute to shake my hand.
Ultimately, if there is an opportunity to get in front of a group of football student-athletes (or even address the entire team)…the excitement can build pretty quickly.
MAYES: Creating and maintaining strong relationships with the universities we work with is a huge focus of ours. We want to not only give our chapters the tools they need to succeed but also provide support.
For many of the chapter leaders we work with, they have never knocked on a compliance officer’s door or talked to someone in marketing. We are able to help guide those relationships and help create powerful networks at each university.
Being located in a central office – a long drive or flight away from many of the schools we work with – means that we typically get to only meet face to face two or three times a year.
It really does help to know who is on the end of your phone call or email and spend time learning more about them.
We really do want to get to know each of the schools we work with and find out how we can best help them to accomplish the same mission of excelling both on and off the field.
As the one responsible for all of our Chapters at Uplifting Athletes, traveling in the fall to as many schools as possible is extremely important.
Although our organization is expanding rapidly, we continue to have a strong focus on building relationships.
There is no way we would be where we are today without spending time on all of the relationships we have with the universities with which we work.
Being able to have players, coaches and administration familiar with the Uplifting Athletes staff is a huge help to all parties.
For people who have heard about Uplifting Athletes, they always respond that they cannot believe what current football players have done to make an impact for or in honor of a player, coach, family member or fan.
People understand the time commitment that comes along with playing competitive college football.
And yet I find they are almost always impressed that current players are putting time and effort into a cause that they believe in even though it may not even directly affect them.