Q & A with STRIVE Trips founder Tyler Andrews:
1. What is STRIVE?
STRIVE is a program uniquely designed to give high school student athletes a chance to give back to communities abroad in a service trip without missing a day of training. Over the course of our three work programs, our goal is for our students to see the world in a new light. We hope that each student comes away with something different from our program but still learns the values of hard work, commitment and community. Ideally, we want to create a community of future leaders and athletes that influence, shape and change the world in positive ways.
2. What does running/athletics have to do with the causes you're working towards?
I think it is a matter of just providing a community of people to do something greater. If you think of the growing number of runners, people competing in marathons and other local races, a greater consciousness to healthy living, etc...these things are all contributing to a strong group of people that are seeking to do something even greater than their original intent. What is interesting is that many of the places in the world that are uniquely fit for training at high altitude are also in the heart of neglected communities that can use our help.
It’s funny, because – as a sport – running can often be viewed as a selfish endeavor as many people start running because they want to improve themselves. That’s why I think it works so well to pair running with service work – combining something that’s focused on you the individual with something that’s devoted to improving the lives of others. You can see this with companies like Janji and in the huge amounts of charity money that gets raised in major marathons. We’re just taking it a step farther and bringing the running and the service closer together. High school student-athletes are generally very driven, self-motivated, passionate people. When we can get these kids as focused on teaching Peruvian elementary school students or building a new classroom in Kenya as they are on their running, really amazing things can happen!
3. Have you seen successful impact?
We have seen impact in many ways, but there are three ways we can see it immediately: for the communities we serve, the participants athletic careers, and the way they see the world.
On the community service side of things, the school we have been assisting in Kenya has seen their regional exam scores greatly improve in the three years we have worked with them. The Headmaster of the school also testifies that our dedication to their school has motivated the teachers to put more energy into their lesson plans. He notes that teacher and student attendance has improved, and more students are looking at continuing their education once they have completed 8th grade. The Physical Education teacher has seen an increase in the number of kids taking their running time more seriously. Overall, we have improved morale in a poor community of learners.
On the training side, we have seen a few of our past participants go on to be very competitive at the state level, with some doing well on the national level as well. STRIVE-Kenya alum Eddie Owens has even competed at the international level, making it to the Steeplechase finals at the 2012 Junior World Championships. While we realize that Strive was only one step of hundreds for these successful athletes, many other athletes have also seen their times improve and have found a new love for their sport.
Participants have also noted that their time with STRIVE helps them see their world through new eyes, which will impact themselves personally and their communities in years to come. Many have written back to us noting that running and STRIVE were a big part of their college essay and feel that it helped them get into the college of their choice. One of the pioneers of STRIVE is studying East African Studies while others are now in college studying education or preparing for other service-related occupations.
Overall, our success can be summed up in any manner of ways. It can be the close to $100,000 worth of cash donations and thousands of person-hours that we and our participants have given; it can the physical development of our student athlete who go on to compete at the national level in high school and college; or it can be the personal development that our students undergo, the real changes in the way they see the world, and their ongoing commitment to service to and exploration of new cultures.
4. Do you have any specific stories you would like to share that exemplify your work or motivate your staff to keep going?
Having been involved with STRIVE for a few years, it’s really cool for me to be able to follow some of the kids I met on our trips and watch them grow up and develop. I never worry about what our groups will be like because I know that the kids who apply to our program are applying because they are passionate and motivated and want to give back to the world.
It’s great to spend 3 weeks with these kids over the summer, but to me, one of the most exciting things is to keep in touch afterwards and watch them flourish through high school and into college. Our trips are 3 weeks long, but because the groups are fairly small (18 kids or less) and they're usually fairly like-minded and driven people, there’s always this super-tight bond that forms incredibly quickly that doesn’t subside afterwards. There are lots of alums who say they met some of their best friends on their STRIVE trip who may have been from the opposite side of the country, but with whom they are still incredibly close. I guess that’s what motivates me the most: seeing the creation of long-lasting bonds with this new culture, service, and also with their trip-mates.