Community Engagement Fellow Spotlight

Fellows at Track and Field Events

Non-Profit Consulting (NPC) is a significant way for Orr Fellows to connect with the Indy community and make a difference for local organizations. This past spring, Orr Fellowship successfully partnered with four non-profits in need of consulting expertise (read more about it here). While the projects normally end after a couple months, they can be a great avenue for fellows to find ongoing community engagement within the non-profit they consulted for. Kenny Coleman and Sandy Sledge are prime examples of this as they chose to continue involvement with their NPC project, AthLead, after the actual project ended.

Kenny and Sandy were both track athletes in college, so when they saw that AthLead, a track and field club, was an option for NPC, it was an obvious first choice for them. After being selected to be on the AthLead NPC team, Kenny and Sandy were introduced to members of the organization to better understand the group and learn about the scope of their project.

AthLead Indy

AthLead already had the infrastructure in place but needed help with leveraging what it already had in order to reach more people and make it known what AthLead is all about. “They had a lot of components to them that people were not aware of. Me personally, when I heard of AthLead, I just knew it was a track program. I didn’t know much about it” Sandy says. Some of these components include reduced cost to be in the club, facilitators who teach on mental health, scholarships for athletes who continue on, and even work that the athletes do to help the community. In the NPC project, Sandy and Kenny were able to make these evident through redesigning the website and designing sponsorship flyers. 

From Consultants to Coaches

After their NPC experience, both fellows decided to become coaches for the team. As coaches, they help out the main coach, Willie Little, by going to practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays and meets on weekends. Their season lasts from May-July, and kids have an opportunity to qualify for nationals in Oregon at the end of the season. Sandy has taken over long jump along with pole-vault where she coaches 5 boys ages 11-14, while Kenny is the throwers coach with about 15-20 kids who all wanted to try out throwing. “One of the things with Coach Little, he wants you to try everything so you get a taste for what you like, what you don’t like,” Kenny says. 

This experience has been much more than just a side job for Sandy and Kenny. Both chose to be coaches because they saw the impact that Coach Little had on the athletes and they wanted to be part of that impact.

Key Learnings

Sandy grew up as an athlete, and when she stopped competing, she felt that her identity was taken. She can now help athletes feel like their identity is found in much more than how they perform. “I think Willie does a phenomenal job of showing every single person that they are not an athlete… I couldn’t care less what you do and what you don’t do. I care for you the same way no matter what … All we ask is that you put forth the effort”, she says.

Kenny didn’t have a lot of mentors in athletics, and he struggled with utilizing mental strength and with remembering that track is not life or death: “Those are both things that I learned while I was in college, and they didn’t click until after I was done. And so now that I understand the mental side of the game I think I kind of felt it to be my responsibility to continue giving back”. He can now be a mentor for these kids and help them to develop a strong mindset.

Meaningful Impact in Indianapolis Community

These fellows have definitely made the impact that they were hoping for as Coach Little has nothing but positive comments about them: “Kenny and Sandy have been such a blessing. I don’t know if there’s a better word to describe it. They have exceeded any and all expectations for what their roles were for us… From helping us work on the website to coming into practice and becoming our coaching staff to engaging with our youth and becoming mentors. They have really been everything I could’ve wanted and asked for volunteers and just people that care about our mission ”. 

Sandy and Kenny have been able to have an even more meaningful influence on AthLead because of their choice to stay connected with this organization after their NPC project. Their efforts reflect the value and desire of Orr Fellows to uplift the Indy community and make it a better place. NPC has definitely proven to be a great avenue for Fellows to get a foot in the door in order to have a lasting impact on the community.