T.J. Douglas '10, a former Elon University varsity basketball player, was working on his research topic in his upperclassmen years when he noticed the lack of health programs for young boys in Alamance County. While there were well-known programs for girls, such as "Girls on the Run," he noticed boys seemed to have limited options.
Douglas approached Lecturer in Health and Human Performance Elizabeth Bailey, who at the time ran a program known as “Alamance Girls in Motion,” which promoted active lifestyles for young girls in the area. Stemming off of Bailey’s program, Elon's program "Coaching Health and Mentoring Positive Students" (CHAMPS) was then created. Designed as a boys-only mentorship program in 2010, CHAMPS aimed to teach young men transitioning into middle school how to take care of themselves physically and mentally.
Several years later, CHAMPS continues to have positive effects on the community.
Being the youngest child in his family, freshman Eric Johnson always wanted to have a little brother who could look up to him. Through CHAMPS, Johnson has been able to work hands-on as a student mentor and role model.
“I never had a big brother-type program back home and I thought CHAMPS would be a good opportunity," Johnson said.
Twenty-four other Elon students from all four class years work alongside Johnson as mentors to fifth-grade students at Elon Elementary. Each college student is paired with a fifth-grader they meet with every Tuesday and Thursday.
Through CHAMPS, fifth-graders are taught how to build self-esteem, make healthy habits and be good teammates. In each session, there are different topics discussed to promote positivity. Mentors get to meet up with their assigned student and talk to them, and toward the end of the session the mentors and students have free time to play games or walk around and hang out.
“My [student] has really opened up and come out of his shell," Johnson said. "They're staying active and keeping a good attitude. It's little things we don't think about as college students, but they're at the age where they need to learn these things."
Bailey said she believes CHAMPS has a positive impact on the mentor as well as the student. Because some of the fifth-grade boys are from minority groups, mentors are given the opportunity to work closely with a diverse group of people.
Year after year, the program is passed down by the two student facilitators, and more men set the bar high for other mentorship programs.
“Since T.J. started the program, there were two freshman mentors who then took over the program the next years, and they groomed the next guys to take over,” Bailey said. “The fact that they pass it down means these are guys who are really committed to it.”
Even though the program only lasts four weeks because of the short spring school season, Elon students still make a difference.
“CHAMPS makes you think of how you impacted these kids' lives in a positive way," Johnson said.