LATEST NEWS & UPDATES Reports: “Miss America, Raheem DeVaughn help DC youth through Michael Walton Foundation”

Posted by: Reports: “Miss America, Raheem DeVaughn help DC youth through Michael Walton Foundation”

Examiner Press Michael Walton Foundation

Michael Walton (left in picture) speaks to youth at the Friendship Collegiate Academy in DC. Seated (L-R) Miss America Laura Kaeppeler, former NFL cornerback Leigh Bodden, ESPN sports anchor Jorge Andres, R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn.
Credits:  Don Baxter/Media Images International

It is not every day that high school students receive advice and encouragement from a Grammy nominated singer/songwriter, a former NFL player, a major network sports anchorman, Miss America, and a world-class track and field athlete; but that is exactly what the students of the Friendship Collegiate Academy in Northeast D.C. were treated to Tuesday.  The “Speak Out to Reach Out” program allowed students to hear life stories from Grammy-nominated R&B neo-soul singer Raheem DeVaughn, former New England Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden, ESPN broadcast anchor Jorge Andrés and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler.  Each shared inspiring stories with the students and encouraged them to set and achieve goals through planning, hard work and determination.

“When I say love, you say life,” Raheem DeVaughn told the students during a call and response. “That’s the number one motto that I live by. The second motto is ‘the dream is real.’”  DeVaughn encouraged the students to think out of the box and be ambitious and self-motivated in striving to achieve their goals.  “Everybody can’t be a musician, everybody can’t be an athlete,” said DeVaughn to the students. “Think about starting the next Twitter, think about starting the next Google … It all starts with a dream; it all starts with setting a goal for yourself and having the right team around you.”

“I am legend,” he asked the students to shout out, referring to his new web series. “You can be a legend too,” DeVaughn said with encouragement. With that, he sang and impromptu rendition of his song “You,” much to the delight of screaming students, enthralled by his masterful melody and smooth vocals.  During an interview after the program, DeVaughn explained his commitment to young people. “As a parent, as a role model, we have to water the seeds to grow,” he said.

DeVaughn grew up in the D.C. area, mastering his musical craft on U Street and small venues. However, the road that led Jorge Andrés to his success started in a different country.  “My family came here when I was very, very young,” Andrés explained to the students. “One of the things that they taught me was you can do whatever you want to do. You can be whoever you want to be. You can achieve whichever goal you want to achieve.”  As a child, his parents wanted him to play soccer, but his love was American football. His goal was to play in the NFL.  “I worked out, and worked out and reached a couple of bumps in the road,” Andrés said, “a bad knee.” At that point, he decided to study and work his mind in the event that another injury stopped his NFL career goals.  “Little did you know I got hurt again. There goes my shoulder and there goes my NFL career,” he told attentive students. “But this time, I said OK. I may not be on the field with a helmet on … playing the game, but I’m still on the field doing the same thing covering stories.”

Soon, he landed a job with ESPN as an intern. “I got a million no’s before I got a yes,” Andrés explained. He was persistent. Thus began the journey toward his present job as an ESPN sports anchorman.  “I would never have gotten that opportunity if it wasn’t for me realizing that I had to exercise my mind and continue my education,” he said.

Playing in the NFL was also the dream of Leigh Bodden. He started playing football at DeMatha High School. He was neither a star athlete nor a star student, but he was persistent.  “I didn’t give up on myself,” said Bodden. “Like Raheem said you have to be self-motivated and that’s one thing I was. People told me that I couldn’t do things, but I believed in myself.”Less than 1 percent of aspiring athletes make it to the professional level. “I always knew that I would be that less than 1%,” Bodden told the students. “So I started to work hard. I worked on my grades because I knew that to get into college I had to get a good SET score.”

Unlike Andrés, Bodden reached his NFL goal – against very high odds. Bodden entered the NFL in 2003 as an undrafted free agent. He went on to play for eight seasons until an injury sidelined his career in 2011. “Set a goal and write it down so you can see it every day,” he encouraged the students. “Really strive to get to that goal.  “I went through a lot of obstacles. One thing you can’t do is give up and let people tell you that you can’t do something, because I did it. I’ve lived the dream,” said Bodden. “Do everything you can to live your dream.”

Laura Kaeppeler’s dream was to be a music teacher. Her life took a dramatic turn during high school when her father went to prison. As a result, her grades suffered. Had it not been for a teacher who served as her mentor, her life may not have turned around. “I had someone who came into my life and her name was Katie, one of my dance teachers,” said Kaeppeler.  Under the watchful eye of her mentor, Kaeppeler improved her grades and applied for college in Kenosha, Wisconsin. While in college, a friend asked her to compete for the title of Miss Kenosha. Kaeppeler competed and won. Feeling encouraged, she competed in the Miss Wisconsin pageant and placed second runner-up.  Driving home with her family, she said “even though I didn’t win I feel like I can do anything. This is such an amazing experience.” Her goal soon changed to winning Miss Wisconsin. In preparing for the Miss Wisconsin pageant, she learned a lot about the Miss America organization.

“I learned that [the Miss America program] is the largest provider of scholarships to young women across the country. I don’t come from a family that can help pay for school, I don’t come from a family that can pay for my college. This is a way for me to help me pay back my student loans.”  She combined her love of competition with her musical talent and prepared very hard with a team of mentors. Everything was in place – except her confidence.  “The last part that was missing was me believing in myself,” she said. “This team of people helped me believe in myself. They believed in me, and that made me believe in myself.” The self-confidence instilled in her provided a source of energy that allowed her to win Miss America.  She told the students, “The teachers that are in the room, they all believe in you. That should make you believe in yourself.”

The Michael Walton Foundation produced Tuesday’s program for the Friendship Collegiate Academy. The foundation’s goal is to help young people identify and cultivate their talents and develop leadership skills.

“It’s important to bring together role models that youth can relate to,” said Michael Walton. “It’s an awesome assembly of role models,” he said of ‘Speak Out to Reach Out.’ “All the children here today got an experience that they will never forget.

“This is our 10-year anniversary. We have reached over 155,000 students to this point and my hope is that we can impact double or triple that amount. We’re excited about doing this kind of stuff, and really excited about the results.” Follow Don on Twitter @dccityexaminer




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