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Leadership Spotlight: Jon Harris from the AthLife Foundation

The AthLife Foundation works with high schools to create professional academic-athletic mentor positions to develop and deliver high impact programming for student-athletes. They program has been widely successful in changing lives, creating positive peer culture, and improving attendance, grades, and graduation rates of athletic teams.

We interviewed John Harris, Founder and President of the AthLife Foundation to learn about how his organization is making an impact with youth athletes and what programs they've developed.

To start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Proud husband and father of three. Founder and President of the AthLife Foundation, AthLife Inc, and AthLife Unlimited.

As someone who works for a nonprofit, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Knowing that we are making individual lives better each day, which in turn is impacting the communities where they live.

Tell me about a program or two you developed from start to finish that’s impacted you, your nonprofit and/or others?

The AthLife Foundation has built a solid platform vs. a packaged program. We believe there are talented educators that exist in our nation’s most challenged schools and communities. Sometimes, they just need the right kind of partner and ignition switch to thrive. We pride ourselves on having a top line philosophy and approach grounded in Positive Youth Development, which is infused in all of our platform’s programs. In addition, we have a thriving national peer network that promotes creativity. That is the real difference maker driving life-changing success for the students in all of our school’s programs. Educators want to be creative and impact their students for the better, and when you add that to the right kind of the sport experience, it can be a powerful solution.

What’s the most challenging part of your job that in turn makes it so rewarding?

Not being able to serve all those in need, which ultimately drives us. As we continue to grow the @AthLifeArmy, we can see our platform reaching more than 20,000 young people by the year 2020.

What called you to this career choice where individuals put service above self?

I have to think that most of us want to live in a better world and I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so through our work. In essence, the impact we are making energizes me each day.

Skydiving or bungee jumping? Why?

While I have never gone skydiving, that certainly fits my personality. Building three organizations has been a free fall. Still a long way from the ground so no parachute needed yet!

Share one of your most cherished memories with your nonprofit, and why it stays with you?

A few months ago, I walked into one of our high schools and an assistant principal came up and actually hugged me. He was excited because he had just received notice that for the first time in the schools history, they had achieved a graduation rate of over 80%. He also believed it was the first time EVER that a non-tech school on Staten Island, NY, had ever graduated more than 80%. He attributed it to our platform driving their program, which not only raised graduation rates of the student-athletes, but had reached the general student population as well. Hope is very powerful, and when it hits you hard enough, it can certainly strengthen your resolve to accelerate the mission forward.

Besides your nonprofit, is there another nonprofit or cause you support?

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation. My father-in-law was a 9/11 First Responder and died from cancer related to the recovery effort. The work they continue to do to honor those that perished that day and beyond, along with the support they give in building smart homes for injured veterans is inspiring.

Name your favorite sports team and why they are No. 1 on your list?

The DePaul Blue Demons. My time as a four year letterman at DePaul has largely impacted the work we do today.

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Published on December 11, 2015

by JohnPaul Bennett

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