Why We Exist
Kids have what it takes, sometimes they just need a champion to help them!
As a seven-year-old immigrant from Jamaica to Canada, Akeem Haynes quickly learned “to be adaptable and comfortable being uncomfortable.” Akeem struggled with the temperature change and his mother didn’t really have the money for warm clothing, so he missed a lot of school in those first few months in Yellowknife. His mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and Akeem only half-jokingly says he raised himself.
As a teenager at school in Calgary, Akeem met Steve Mesler, Olympic gold medalist in bobsled, Classroom Champions co-founder, and the organization’s first athlete mentor. Steve talked to Akeem’s class about their futures and how to be accountable for their goals. This is something a growing roster of Olympians and Paralympians now do throughout the school year as part of Classroom Champions structured, technology-based programming delivered in partnership with in-class teachers in underserved communities in Calgary, and across Canada and the U.S.
At times, Akeem struggled in school and in his chosen sport of track and field. However, he had a positive and optimistic outlook, an ability to set goals and persevere in achieving them, and he could dream big dreams. With the help of mentors like his coaches, as well as Steve, Akeem built on his strengths. He completed his education and he also won a bronze medal in track and field for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Looking back on the tough times he endured, Akeem says he wishes he had Classroom Champions when he was growing up. For him, Classroom Champions teaches kids that “nothing is unattainable,” and that “success is a state of mind.” Now one of dozens of Classroom Champions athlete mentors himself, Akeem delivers monthly lessons to students on goal setting, perseverance, fair play, and giving back to community. Having been in a similar situation to so many of his students, he can relate to them and work closely with their teachers to help them build the confidence and the camaraderie he knows they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom.
Akeem believes his purpose has always been to be of service to others. Through Classroom Champions, he gets to give back to underserved children across Canada. He also receives a lot in return, both through the training in public speaking and digital communications that he receives through Classroom Champions and through the support of his students. “When I went to visit my classrooms, I was having a tough time with the training and mentally sticking with it,” he says about his preparation for the Olympics in Rio. “Then I go and it’s like a refresher. They helped re-energize me!”
Akeem understands that “You can’t do it alone. You can’t choose success alone,” and says, “I’ve had a village of individuals help get me to where I am today.” For this athlete mentor, success comes from understanding the impact of your choices on other people as well as yourself, and from “making a choice that’s going to be beneficial for you and your family.” Classroom Champions also believes that building a community of support for the kids who need it most is the right choice to make because through those strong connections everyone succeeds.