For five years, Steven Lane was homeless.
Lane, a Communities In Schools site coordinator, said because of his homelessness between middle school and high school, he was unable to participate in sports until his sophomore year.
“When I started playing sports, I really didn’t feel confident in myself or my abilities because I started late,” the 28-year-old Virginia native said. “It was hard for me because I was going through a lot at the time, and track and football was my positive outlet. When I felt angry because of my living situation and things like that, [sports] was the way I could release that anger by focusing on my craft, which was track and football.”
His love of athletics not only provided an outlet for him, Lane said, it opened the door to opportunities he didn’t know he had.
“It pretty much got me out of a bad neighborhood. It got me into college, into a career that I absolutely love,” he said. “Also, it gave me a lot of confidence not only just in sports, but everything I approach in life, as far as getting my homework and stuff done.”
Knowing the impact sports participation had in his high school and college journey, Lane said he wanted to provide the same opportunity to the kids he works with every day.
“I feel like these kids deserve an opportunity to find their niche and craft they enjoy,” he said, “and have some outlet they can escape because we want to know what they’re going through at home or at school.”
COMING TO FRUITION
Since he was 16, Lane said, he’d had a project in mind that he wanted to see come to life — a project that could help kids get into sports earlier than he did.
Lane submitted his idea to collect sports equipment of all kinds at various locations throughout Franklin County for student use to the Leadership Franklin County class.
Leadership Franklin County is a yearly class organized since 1985. It is modeled after Leadership Kansas and is sponsored by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce. Each year, the class chooses a project that its members hope will improve the lives of Franklin County residents.
The leadership class, along with Communities In Schools, accepted donations of gently used sports equipment, clothing and athletic shoes at different locations throughout the county from Feb. 1 through Friday.
“We know that research demonstrated students who participate in extra-curriculars succeeded greatly academically,” Meg Dickinson, Leadership Franklin County class president, said previously. “[Students] stay in school longer, it provides an opportunity to build positive relationships with adults and peers, and it’s also the hope of the class and Communities In Schools that this will have the opportunity to grow into extra-curricular activities beyond sports to include those more creative curriculars, like art and forms of music and ensembles.”
The class received proposals from different places to team up with for a community project, Eric Duderstadt, member of the leadership class, said, but the RePlay project really hit home with all the members of the class.
“My first thoughts were that it kind of checked off all the things we were looking for,” Duderstadt said. “The class as a whole fell in love with [the project] pretty quick. We were looking for something that could have an immediate impact on the community, but also something that would also be able to be carried on after the class was over and working with kids was something everybody in the class wanted to do as well, so that project afforded us the opportunity to do all those things.”
GIVING KIDS HOPE
Positive influences in Lane’s life provided mentoring and helped guide him through times in his life he said he felt like just giving up.
“A lot of times I felt like life let me down or I had no control over my situation,” Lane said. “I didn’t know how to get out of my homeless situation and my mom cried at night, and yet I’m here and thinking it’s my problem. I want these kids to focus on something they love so they won’t have suicidal thoughts because I did — I had those suicidal thoughts because I was focused on my home situation because I didn’t have a positive outlet.”
A physical education coach recognized Lane’s talent and determination, he said, and made it possible for him to participate in sports.
“My PE coach, he saw how athletic I was and he gave me the opportunity to play ball even though my mom didn’t want me to play,” he said. “I told her I was going outside to play and I was actually going to football practice and she saw how much my grades and behavior changed.”
Lane never gave up on his dream, he said, even after he blew his knee out his junior year of high school. James Nelson Cornish, from the Boys and Girls Club in Virginia, took him under his wing and helped show him his potential, he said.
“He showed me the different opportunities and how to use my gifts — how to use my gifts that God gave me to get to where I need to be,” Lane said. “My gift was sports so I used sports to get my degree because my dream was to help kids and be able to help them. [Cornish] told me ‘How can I tell a student to go to college if I haven’t been there?’”
His ambition and drive landed him a scholarship to Ottawa University where he broke a record, earned a championship ring and a degree that would allow him to help at-risk kids like he once was.
“My whole idea is I want to provide these kids with hope and when I was thinking of this idea, I was thinking of the word ‘hope’ and how it’s given to these kids,” Lane said. “Hope is given by us — people — and I broke it down to an acronym to mean Help, Opportunity, People and Encouragement. It takes people to give hope and open the doors to opportunity and encouragement.”
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
The RePlay project wrapped up Friday with great success, Lane said, with lots of sports equipment and monetary donations to help with the costs of organized sports.
“We have equipment, but if kids need certain things, we can take the money and purchase those things as well as use it for physicals — we can pay for those and enrollment fees or tournament fees,” Lane said. “The thing is, what if a family has multiple children and can’t afford it all because youth sports is expensive? [Kids] would never figure out or have the opportunity to figure out what they’re good in and what they like if they’re not exposed.”
The equipment and money collected all will go to Franklin County schools’ athletics, Dickinson said, and can be accessed on an as-needed basis.
“If an athletic director or counselor within one of the schools without a Communities In Schools representative — as those needs become present, they can present those needs to [Lane] and he can equip them with whatever resources he has that he can share,” Dickinson said.
Lane hopes to expand the project next year he said, to include accepting donations for art classes, band and other music programs.
Duderstadt agreed that including the arts in next year’s project is a definite need in the community because he said he’s heard that if or when it came time to make cuts to schools’ budgets, the arts could be the first on the chopping block.
“I would hope that this project solidifies the importance of sports and the arts in our schools and the important role that it plays in kids’ lives,” Duderstadt said. “I hope [schools] can find another way to make cuts.”
With the RePlay project under wraps, Lane said he’s already ready for next year when it will be up to Communities In Schools to carry the torch.
“I already started on game planning for next year when [the Leadership Franklin County class] will hand it over to [Communities In Schools],” he said. “We want to keep the kids here after they graduate and know that Franklin County had our back even if you know these kids might go pro or be doctors — we want them to remember they had a chance and they can come back and give another kid a chance.”