Student-Athelets engage youth in educational outreach about HIV/AIDS

The Grassroot Project is one of the first 501(c)(3) organizations to be designed, initiated, and managed completely by NCAA Division I varsity athletes. It uses the platform and universal language of sports and the role model status of local student-athletes to engage youth in educational outreach about HIV/AIDS. The project has been chosen by the NCAA to receive the Division I SAAC Award of excellence. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee award will be shared by George Washington, Georgetown and Howard Universities for their combined participation in this education program.

“We are using multiple methods including surveys, qualitative interviews, and focus groups with coaches and students to create a full contextual picture of the program and how it affects the lives of those involved,” said Karen A. McDonnell, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the doctoral program in Health Behavior in the Department of Prevention and Community Health.

More than 100 student-athletes from 30 sports teams at Georgetown University, Howard University, and The George Washington University are running semester-long programs in 18 D.C. schools and community centers and more than 500 at-risk youth have participated in 8-week, games-based programs.

“Prior to starting the programs in D.C., similar programs across the globe have proven to be effective in significantly reducing sexual risk behavior, decreasing stigma, and improving students HIV-related knowledge, attitudes, communication, and decision-making,” said Tyler Spencer, founder of the Grassroot Project.

Washington, D.C. has a significantly higher rate of AIDS cases compared to all other American cities. Specifically, this rate is 10 times the national average, and the statistics are continuing to worsen. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, currently 1 of every 20 adults in our nation’s capital is HIV positive. The risk for HIV/AIDS is heightened for young people in the city. The number of new HIV infections among youth tripled from 2000 to 2005, compared to the previous five years, and 10 percent of all new HIV infections in Washington, D.C. are among individuals ages 13 to 24.

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