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About

Grassroots Health is on a mission

to advance health equity in cities by using sports to re-imagine health education in middle schools and mobilizing NCAA athletes as health educators and role models for youth.

We envision a world

where schools everywhere have the support they need to prioritize health and physical education as core subjects for students.

Our Story

Grassroots Health (formerly known as The Grassroot Project), was founded in 2009 by college athletes who were committed to re-thinking health education and wellness in schools. The organization was initially ignited in response to the growing HIV epidemic among teenagers in DC, and the opportunity to promote HIV prevention by using a grassroots model. In 2009, 40 Georgetown athletes built a program that used sports as a tool to break the stigma around sex, HIV, and relationships. They reached students at 60 schools with an innovative, games-based sex education and wellness promotion program. Over the past decade, the staff and athletes at Grassroots Health have expanded their model into a comprehensive set of adolescent health programs.

We deliver a three-year series of games-based health promotion programs facilitated by trained NCAA college athlete volunteer health educators. Our evidence-informed programs take place during the school day as a supplement to P.E. and health classes, and they focus on key topic areas based on the national health education standards: nutritional health in 6th grade, sexual health in 7th grade, and mental health in 8th grade. In addition, we facilitate two-session after school health promotion workshops for the parents and caregivers of our students, and we host semi-annual linkage-to-care health fairs to connect our youth to clinical and social support services.

We believe that school is a key place to improve young people’s health, and that schools present an opportunity to change the “culture of health” — the way students think about their health, access health services, and understand their responsibility to support others’ health. We also believe that P.E. and health are not an extra, but instead should be treated with the same attention as other academic subjects. When schools do this, not only are students healthier and happier, but they also perform better academically.

Our unique model supports schools to provide high-quality health education and PE by reducing teacher-to-student ratio by a factor of 5, reducing the time needed to teach health and PE by half (by combining both into a single curriculum), and by providing an engaging, standards-aligned, and community-rooted curriculum that students enjoy.

We are on a mission to expand our model nationally, and we hope you’ll join us by reading more, reaching out, and supporting us if you feel so inclined.

September – December 2008

Tyler works with a team of high school students and local health educators to adapt the South African soccer-based HIV prevention curriculum for use in DC.

December 2008

The first 40 Grassroot Coaches are recruited. They represent 9 sports teams at Georgetown University.

January 2009 – May 2009

The first group of Grassroot Coaches is trained, and Grassroots programs start at four local schools.

June 2009

MTV gives Grassroots the “Staying Alive Award” and $50,000 to support our growth. Months later, the DC Department of Health begins a 4-year grant partnership with Grassroots.

2009 – 2010

Athletes from George Washington University and Howard University join the Grassroots family.

2011

Grassroots receives a four-year grant from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to launch programs in 24 public and charter school classrooms.

2012

Bill Clinton interviews in an ABC News Exclusive, saying that Grassroots’s approach to HIV is “a great idea…better than anything I’ve come up with.”

2013

Grassroots adds athletes from the University of Maryland and begins new programs in Prince George’s County, Maryland

Grassroots meets Barbara Bush at the Clinton Global Initiative and joins forces with Bush’s nonprofit (Global Health Corps) to bring on our first full-time staff members

2014

Grassroots expands its footprint to more than 50 DC middle schools and begins launching community health fairs in partnership with the DC Department of Health and the DC Deputy Mayor’s Office for Planning and Economic Development.

2015

Grassroots completes the first randomized controlled trial evaluation of a US-based sport-for-sexual health curriculum. The results show that our programs significantly improve students’ sexual health literacy.

2016

Grassroots begins working directly with the DC Public Schools and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to improve the overall adolescent health landscape for DC students – including HIV but also addressing other health disparities facing DC teens.

2017

Grassroots designs and launches Grassroots Fam and Grassroots Connect. Grassroots Fam is a three-session program aimed at helping to improve the frequency and effectiveness of conversations between caregivers/parents and their teens. Grassroots Connect is a linkage-to-care program that directly connects our students and their families to a range of clinical and social services related to our programs (e.g. health screenings, health insurance navigation, counseling services, etc). Both Grassroots Fam and Grassroots Connect complement our existing school-based programs, and they have helped us to be more holistic and comprehensive in our approach to adolescent health.

2018

Grassroots pilots and launches the new pipeline approach to adolescent health education based on the National Health Standards and community-led focus groups. Now in addition to the 6th-grade comprehensive sexual health curriculum, 7th-grade students complete a nutrition and physical health curriculum. This new curriculum is an innovative and community-based approach to increasing adolescent’s self-efficacy to make small, manageable changes to their daily nutrition and physical activity.

2019

Grassroots expands the pipeline to its final stage by researching and piloting a new mental health promotion program for 8th-grade students. This new curriculum includes sessions on mental health stigma reduction, emotional regulation, stress management, healthy & unhealthy coping mechanisms, interpersonal communication, problem-solving, bullying, mindfulness, and goal setting.

2020

Grassroots transitioned programming to a virtual platform in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This allowed students to access full health education programs online both synchronously, facilitated by our student-athlete volunteers on ZOOM, and asynchronously as independent at-home work for students. Grassroots is now able to utilize these virtual lessons as a supplement to in person programming.

2021

The pandemic that never ends! Grassroots started the year still in a virtual program setting, but transitioned back to in-person in the fall of 2021. This marked the first period of students receiving the full-pipeline approach to health education with all 3 curricula being implemented by Grassroots student-athletes.

2022

Grassroots successfully closed out the first year of in-person programs since the onset of the pandemic. Our team has worked diligently to build out systems, structures and staff as excitement builds for our expansion into Philadelphia, continued growth in DC,  and our new brand: Grassroots Health. 

Our Values
Community is at our core. We value the gifts and experiences of all, and understand there is power in our similarities as well as what makes us different. We push each other to grow, while recognizing there is already incredible talent and strength alive and well within our community. We work to amplify voices and illuminate the brilliance of all.
Demonstrate-esilience
We see every challenge as a chance to find creative solutions. When we face hurdles, we deepen our resolve, bounce back, and persist with optimism.
Practice Empathy
We listen. We learn. We Act. We acknowledge the limitations of our perspectives, and humbly seek different points of view so our work is relevant and supportive.
Achieve-Impact
We pursue ambitious, meaningful outcomes that lead to a thriving, healthy community for all. We hold ourselves to high standards, make data-informed decisions, and orient to long-term success.
Encourage Innovation
Revitalizing the culture of health in our country’s schools demands new ideas. We are innovative in our approach, not simply for the sake of being different, but because it is effective. We value creativity and encourage all to tackle problems leveraging their unique strengths.
Pursue Equity
Every person deserves the opportunity to be healthy and successful. We acknowledge the complex systemic barriers and elements outside of individual choice that impact health. We spark dialogues about the unjust structures that drive health inequity, and acknowledge the collective power that students, families, athletes, teachers, and clinical providers can bring to the table in addressing these injustices.
Embody-Inclusion
Advancing health equity requires an inclusive and diverse community united around shared values and a common purpose. We are strongest when we recognize the intersectionality of identities involved in and affected by our work, and we strive to leverage the assets we bring to this work based on our identities and life experiences.

Our team

Staff
Treniyyah Anderson
Program Coordinator
Ana Avalos
Program Coordinator
Mackenzie Jones, M.P.A.
Director of Operations, People, and Systems
Lara Negrón Ocasio
Program Coordinator
Tyler Spencer, Ph.D.
Founder and Executive Director
Katie Steinour, M.B.A.
Development and Communications Manager
Darien Thomas
Program Manager
Jane Wallis, M.P.H.
Director of Programs
Training Fellows
Elizabeth Cruz
GW, Soccer
Kevon Elzey
Howard, Track and Field Alum
Helen Feldmeth
Georgetown, Rowing
Genevieve Mumma
GW, Sailing
Jane Reffelt
American, Lacrosse
Board
Tyler Spencer, Ph.D.
Founder and Executive Director
Christine Campbell, M.S. (Chair)
Sole Proprietor at CMConsulting
Deidra Suber, M.B.A. (Vice Chair)
Head of Sales and Operations at Stealth Startup
Craig Lejeune (Treasurer)
Senior Competitive Intelligence and Price-to-Win Manager at Caliburn International
Nick Turk
Account Executive, AboveBoard
Ugwechi Amadi, Ph.D.
Senior Director, Strategy at NIKE, Inc
Richard Livingstone, M.P.A.
Public Servant in the DC Department of Housing and Community Development
Interns
Névaeh Alston
Urban Alliance Intern
Nazret Berhane
Urban Alliance Intern
Marie Williams
Urban Alliance Intern
Garen Woldehawariat
Urban Alliance Intern
Alania James
Communications Intern
Dylan Theisen
Digital Media Intern