It’s no coincidence that STRYV365, a nonprofit based in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, employs a one-time basketball pro and a host of former college athletes. For one thing, sports nurture important soft skills like leadership, teamwork and perseverance. Another reason for these strategic hires? Building credibility with the kids they work with. “We want to inspire youth, and a big part of that is being cool and approachable,” says Cody Hallowell, the organization’s director of business development and general counsel.
STRYV365, founded in January 2020 by tennis coach (and former college player) Brandon Currie, creates custom programs for schools and other youth-oriented organizations in Milwaukee, Chicago and Indianapolis. Whether STRYV365 coaches work directly with kids in after-school programs or train school employees, the goal is to equip at-risk youth with skills to cope with trauma in their homes and communities – poverty, violence and racism, to name a few.
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“With these challenges comes a lack of hope, which can feed into kids’ mindsets,” says program manager Kadeem Batts. Trouble at home, for example, can cause a student to act out at school. STRYV365 programs, using psychology tools like mindfulness, deep breathing and cognitive reframing, teach stressed-out kids how to be more resilient – bouncing back from whatever strain of difficulty they encounter to make healthy choices.
These lessons can happen in real time – say, when two kids are fighting – but the programs are specially designed to weave psychological skill-building into a multi-week curriculum of sports, games and other activities. “Kids might not even realize they’re learning about overcoming adversity during a kickball game,” says Hallowell.
Learning new skills can help kids try new things, listen, follow directions and resolve conflicts – all gains reported by STRYV365 participants – but trust is the secret sauce for growth. STRYV365 leaders and their community partners are trained in trauma-informed practices, such as empathy and active listening, which helps prime kids to learn psychological skills.
STRYV365 has plans to grow beyond the Midwest, too. In July, the nonprofit announced it will formally test its methods with up to 1,600 fifth- to ninth-graders at Milwaukee-area schools, including Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, the Milwaukee Academy of Science, and the Brown Deer and St. Francis School Districts. The findings will inform future programming, and hopefully, enable the organization to teach more kids how to cope with challenges so they can focus on what matters most. “Many of these kids haven’t had a chance to just be kids,” says Batts. “Our goal is to help them dream again.”