One of our member organizations, Athletes for Change, utilizes a different game plan than most when it comes to the lingo used at their shelter in Dallas County: football language.
Central to Athletes for Change is a team-sport mentality that focuses on relationships between its “players,” teenage boys aged 13 to 17, and its staff members, who are referred to as “coaches.” The player-coach relationship works to promote positive relationships and an optimistic attitude about being in a treatment center. Coaches are also more often perceived as mentors and role models instead of authority figures. The organization “recruits” its players, finding boys who are open to therapy and mentorship, have an interest in sports (although not required), and will remain committed to the six-month program to ensure healing and growth takes place during their time with the Athletes for Change team.
Boys at Athletes for Change work their way through the program in a unique way that encourages good sportsmanship and positive character development. Instead of a typical point system, yards and touchdowns are gained for successes such as having a good day at school, participating in a recreational activity, and improving challenging behaviors. The boys use a playbook to track their progress in these subjects towards their life goals. Additionally, Athletes for Change often brings in guest speakers, typically collegiate and professional athletes, to discuss how they achieved their goals through hard work and perseverance.
This innovative sports-centric mentality didn’t just appear overnight; it’s the brainchild of former NFL Philadelphia Eagles player and Athletes for Change founder Dennis DeVaughn, who experienced first-hand the benefits of mentorship from his coaches and wanted to give back to the community where he grew up. DeVaughn attended Franklin D. Roosevelt High School and Bishop College, both in the Dallas area. When DeVaughn learned that there were no residential treatment centers for youth in Dallas County, he decided that he wanted to start one himself in 2008.
“Dennis always remembered, as a football player all the way back in his high school days, that he always felt that he could talk to his coaches.”Maureen Murphy, Co-founder of Athletes for Change and Dennis DeVaughn’s wife
“They were more relatable than his teachers or the principal. He wanted to continue that kind of feeling at the residential treatment center.”
In 2010, DeVaughn and Murphy opened Athletes for Change’s doors in Glenn Heights, a small town sandwiched between DeSoto and Red Oak, Texas. The center provides a home for 27 boys but typically only fills 15 to 20 of these spots to ensure a close mentoring relationship between coaches and players. The boys receive supervision, mentorship, a school curriculum, and dialogue focused cognitive behavioral therapy.