Georgetown senior Deidra Sanders is leading a grassroots effort to touch the lives of Washington, D.C., middle school students. According to its website, The Grassroot Project educates at-risk youth about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention by using student-athletes as role models.
As managing director for The Grassroot Project, she manages and facilitates three Grassroot programs based in D.C.: Grassroot Bison (Howard), Grassroot Colonials (George Washington) and Grassroot Hoyas (Georgetown). Sanders said she is involved in every aspect of the organization from recruiting and training new athletes, communicating with the schools, finance, fundraising, as well as monitoring and evaluation of all programs.
“The Grassroot Project is designed to allow student-athletes to give a little of their time and do a lot of good,” Sanders said of the nearly 200 student-athletes who reach almost that many middle school students each semester through the peer education program.
Sanders’ involvement began in August 2009 after hearing about The Grassroot Project from women’s basketball student-athlete and good friend Monica McNutt. Sanders said she went to the first training session and “fell in love” with the program, founded by former Georgetown student-athlete Tyler Spencer.
Sanders said the most rewarding aspect of her involvement is watching students learn.
“We work with really hyper and exciting middle school students, and it may seem that they do not care or they are not learning everything that we are teaching them,” she said. “But our students remember everything we teach them on how they can live a healthy life.
“Every semester I am privileged to work with students that have been affected by this disease in some way and are glad to have someone to talk to about their experience.”
Her most rewarding experience came last semester, when Grassroot Hoyas and Grassroot Colonials partnered together to work with a group of students who were either infected or whose lives were dramatically affected by HIV/AIDS.
“They were so happy that we were there to talk to them and let them know that they can be whatever they want to be in life,” Sanders said. “From only one session, I felt like we were really helping and showed that this disease is real and is hurting the D.C. community.”
Sanders’ philanthropic leanings began at age 15 through a tutoring and mentoring program in Memphis called Peer Power, which taught her the value of giving back. She still volunteers with the organization when she returns to her hometown.
Finding time to give back is a priority for the busy Sanders, an international political economy major.
Last month, Sanders ran the 400-meter leg of the Hoyas’ distance medley relay that earned seventh place at the 2011 NCAA Indoor Track & Field National Championships, earning its members first team All-America accolades. She also serves as secretary of the Georgetown Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
While it is a challenge to balance academics, athletics and The Grassroot Project, Sanders has found a support system at Georgetown. The academic support staff, coaches and School of Foreign Service Dean (Bryan Kasper) have worked to create an environment where she can do it all.
“Life is still hectic even with all of the support, and all the Grassroot volunteers are always there to help in any way to help us reach as many students as possible,” said Sanders
Sanders will be graduating in May and said she already has job offers from the FBI as well as Apple. While she would like to work with The Grassroot Project full-time and expand its programming to the three other universities in the D.C. metro area, Sanders said the funding is not available.