This summer, a group of University students hopes to make an impact on children’s lives by playing basketball and football with them.

The student-run program called i&I Mentor for America — “i” as a visual representation of a small child and “I” of a college student — will offer sports mentoring to underprivileged youth involved in community centers and will train college students to be coaches and mentors. The program will start in Ann Arbor and will later branch out to other towns with universities across the country.

Engineering senior Bo Zhu, a member of the i&I team, said the program will feature a curriculum based on mentoring and sports and will be aimed at teaching students life strategies that will keep them involved in the community in a positive way.

The program will create youth athletic teams that will train at local community centers and schools, LSA junior Ginny Liu, also a member of the i&I program, said. She added that the teams — which will be soccer and basketball to start — will be coached by the college student mentors.

Liu said she conceived the idea for the project along with Art & Design sophomore Alexandra Gardner during her introductory social entrepreneurship class. While working on a project to see what changes were needed to make a low-income community in Bryant, Mich. safer, Liu said it was apparent that the lack of space in the community center caused children and young adults to venture outside to unsafe streets and parks after school.

“A lot of times these parks become places where teenage gangs hang out,” Liu said. “So it’s not a very pleasant or safe place for kids to hang out.”

Liu said by talking to the children she found that they want to be around college students and play sports.

“Sports is a universal language,” she said.

The idea was further developed after Zhu, Liu, Gardner and Social Work graduate student Eleonora Katsambouris took an interdisciplinary social venture creation course in the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship. The group then named the program i&I Mentor for America.

Zhu said he hopes the model, which he compared to Teach for America, can be used at prestigious universities across the nation.

“Think about UPenn, NYU, Columbia (University), John Hopkins (University) — all these prestigious universities surrounded by very low-income neighborhoods and areas,” he said. “There are tons of very bright gifted college students and then a huge disparity in their immediate vicinity.”

There is a large gap nationwide between the number of kids who require mentoring versus the number who currently receive mentorship, Zhu said.

“There are a lot of youth who aren’t being reached out to by the existing organizations,” Zhu said. “We are trying to meet the need, not trying to create competition.”

The i&I mentoring team will launch its pilot program in the Ann Arbor area this July to test if it will be sustainable as a nationwide program. The group will also work with at least five community centers in Ann Arbor, including the Peace Neighborhood Center and Avalon Housing — a non-profit that offers support and low-cost rental housing to people with lower-incomes.

“We want to be able to create a program that has the ability to assess the impact and to empower both the kids and the college students who go through this program to be the leaders of the future,” Zhu said.

The group would like to include University athletes as mentors in addition to non-athletes, Liu said. Zhu added that he hopes the University will be open to collaborating with the group in the future so that student participants will be able to receive course credit.

Zhu also said he thinks the project will be successful because coaches often have a large impact on students’ lives.

“A lot of people think back to their high school and middle school experience, and they remember their coaches and their mentor figures who invested a lot of their time into them,” he said.

Moses Lee, an academic program manager and lecturer in the Center for Entrepreneurship, along with Nick Tobier, an Art & Design associate professor, teach the social venture creation course in which i&I mentoring was developed.

Lee said he believes the program could expand to other universities because many of these higher education institutions are located close to underprivileged areas. He added that with cuts to K-12 education across the country, college mentors through programs like i&I will be beneficial.

“I think it could be tremendous for a lot of these under-resourced sports programs,” he said.

During an i&I information session in the Michigan League last night, LSA sophomore Leah Hargarten said she was interested in the program because of her previous experience as a camp counselor.

“I hope to form some really good relationships and really involve myself in the community,” Hargarten said.

Education junior Michael Tengel said he heard about the program through the school and is interested in participating since he enjoys sports and working with children.

“It’s important to me to affect the Ann Arbor area as much as I can because it has kind of become my home since I’ve spent so much time here,” Tengel said.

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