When getting to the next level is beyond reach, student-athletes in less fortunate communities sometimes drop out of high school and never achieve their potential.
By Georgetta L. Morque
When getting to the next level is beyond reach, student-athletes in less fortunate communities sometimes drop out of high school and never achieve their potential. To set these youths on a better track, several sports-minded Rye families have joined hands in a unique nonprofit, Steer for Student Athletes.
Co-chaired by Michael Eck and Kevin O’Callaghan, Steer for Student Athletes was born in 2012 when the Eck, O’Callaghan, Abate and Tucci families – all immersed in Rye athletics, pondered how they could help youngsters in the nearby challenged school districts overcome their hurdles through sports, a valuable means for developing life skills. Integrating a business plan with the education sector, the Steer model provides funding and services for designated candidates in grades 7 through 12 to help them achieve success in academics and in life.
There’s more involved than just adding an after-school activity, said Eck, who credits Joe Durney, District Director of Health Education, Health Services, Physical Education, Technology and Interscholastic Athletics for the Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District, for the research behind the program and for developing the educational framework and approach.
What’s distinctive about Steer is that it tailors services to the individual’s needs by employing advisors to provide one-on-one support. Steer Advisors, members of the school community, coordinate a wide range of services, such as SAT tutoring, participation in travel teams, camps and college showcases, equipment, mental and physical health support, and whatever is needed that can’t be provided by the family. Advisors have helped with everything from school transportation for a student to eyeglasses for another. Often, families are busy working two to three jobs and are unfamiliar with the education system here. The advisors, who relate well to the culture and language of their charges, support the students from 7th grade through graduation. “It’s the long term commitment over time that can change the outcome,” said Durney.
So far, 15 Port Chester student-athletes have received help from Steer. The first graduate, a hard-working soccer star with language challenges, was able to achieve her goal of playing college soccer after dramatically improving her SAT scores through tutoring with Steer partner, the Sylvan Learning Center. “It has been a very rewarding experience watching student-athletes blossom academically and athletically,” said O’Callaghan, who feels humbled and inspired by Durney and the team of educational professionals he has put together.
Steer recently expanded to Yonkers where there are 26,000 students, no modified sports and at-risk behavior is not uncommon. According to Eck, the idea was to perfect the program in Port Chester and then take it on the road. With a five-year plan in place, Steer aims to have 100 student-athletes on board.
This past winter, Steer received a grant from the Finish Line Youth Foundation, which was impressed with how the organization delivers its services. Steer is looking for more resources from grants and individuals. Eck said it’s not just about writing a check but more like becoming part of an extended family and seeing the fruits of the labor.
The Steer team is also comprised of Jordan Eck, who manages administration, marketing and community relations, board members Elizabeth D’Ottavio and Dr. Tom Crawford, and a number of program consultants. For more information, visit www.steerforstudentathletes.org.