A worthy goal

Students at the Gardere Community Christian School live five miles from the LSU campus, yet most have never attended a sporting event there. Many aspire to be athletes, but they don’t have the opportunity to participate in organized sports. In this socioeconomically troubled part of the city, students don’t have ready access to those with experience. They don’t have a coach who once played college ball. They don’t have a mom who was a cheerleader in her younger years. Recognizing the deficit, leaders of the Gardere School recently brought in LSU football players, golfers and cheerleaders to hold a clinic with the children so that they could meet college athletes face-to-face.

“Children see the prestige and the victory, and they think that becoming an athlete is easily attainable,” says Nancy Zito, executive director of the Gardere School. “We wanted to expose the students to some real athletes and let them clarify what it takes to succeed in the world of sports.”

The LSU student athletes—some who came to the university from as far away as Australia and Great Britain—met with the young students and shared their personal stories. They told of hard work, perseverance and tenacity. They encouraged the young students to get good grades and to never give up, even when they make mistakes. The athletes then split the students into groups and let them rotate through sports stations where they received hands-on instruction.

“It was great getting out into the community to help children who look up to you so much,” says Jamie Keehn, an LSU football player. “It’s always enjoyable to give back and see children’s faces light up by our presence.”

This LSU student athlete clinic is one of several clinics that the Gardere School hosts for its own students. Business professionals from the area have also come and shared what it takes to succeed. Zito wants the students, whom she considers her family, to have vision and drive. She began tutoring in the Gardere area in 2009 and opened the school in 2011 with 10 students. This fall, the school expects to enroll more than 80 students.

“The golf team thoroughly enjoyed talking to and playing with the students at Gardere,” says Smylie Kaufman, an LSU golfer who attended the clinic. “We were all extremely impressed with the students and their staff, and we all believe that school is heading in the right direction.”