A mentor for area at-risk youth
Most college students would consider tackling a double major while playing an intercollegiate sport to be a difficult task to juggle. But for LaGrange College junior Jalen Butler, it's not enough.
"In high school, I was just a basketball player, and people kept telling me to broaden my horizons, especially my mother," says the exercise science and political science major from Augusta. "But that was my comfort zone at the time. When I got to LaGrange College, I met a lot of people who pushed me to do even greater things and get more involved. Finally, a light bulb came on for me, and now I have this internal push to want to serve my campus and serve my community."
Jalen has worked as a basketball camp counselor for the past two years at the college's summer athletic camps for area youth. And as part of the Exercise Science program, he served as an intern for the physical education teacher at nearby Hollis Hand Elementary School spring semester his sophomore year.
This year, he has continued mentoring by eating lunch weekly at Whitesville Road Elementary School with boys who do not have father figures in their lives. Each Tuesday at the 100 Black Men of LaGrange Prevention Center he and seven of his fellow teammates help eighth- through 12th-grade at-risk youth with their homework.
"I've been blessed to have a lot of people throughout my life care about me," says Jalen, who plans to become a college basketball coach after earning a master's degree. Some kids don't really have anybody, and that just pushes me. Some people have that one person who might say just one sentence that helps make a big difference in their lives.
"I just want to be a positive influence on them. If they're playing in a basketball game, I want to be there so they can see my face in the crowd watching them. If they need help with their homework, I give them my phone number so they know they can call me."
Jalen's basketball coaches have taken notice of the mentoring he's done in the lives of local young students and nominated him for the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Allstate Insurance Co.'s Good Works Team. The award recognizes a select group of college basketball student-athletes who have made significant contributions to the greater good of their communities through volunteerism and civic service.
Jalen and his coaches recently learned he was named one of 117 male finalists nationwide for the Good Works Award. (Eighty-four female nominees were named through the Women's Basketball Coaches Association as well.) The final roster of 20 award recipients will be unveiled in February.
"For Jalen to be nominated for this award shows what type of young man he is," says David McGreal, Assistant Men's Basketball Coach and the college's Director of College Access and Admissions. "He is a wonderful example of creating students who aspire to lives of integrity and moral courage, as our college's mission says. He exemplifies the core values of LaGrange College as well."
Jalen also has excelled in the classroom while juggling basketball and volunteering. He won the basketball team's Glen Simpson Academic Award in 2012-13 and was selected to the USA South Academic All Conference Team that same year. He is a contributing researcher in the college's Political Science program, a junior Senate member of the Student Government Association and an active member of the LaGrange College Honor Council, Enactus and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He's also participated in Real Men Read, the Troup County Beautification Project and Stop Hunger Now.
"LaGrange College has been a great fit for me, and my growth while I've been here is amazing," Jalen says. "I have pushed myself to be the best I can possibly be because I have lofty goals and aspirations for myself, and I know that slacking will not get me there. People have tried to tell me that throughout various parts of my life, but now I get it."