June 11, 2013
Photo Gallery of Haven Middle School's NU Visit
By Jocelyn Vinoya Serranilla
EVANSTON, Ill. -- It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the visitors or the hosts, during a tour of the Northwestern athletics facilities Friday afternoon.
"Nice. Cool," gushed Hakeem Quadri as he grabbed a poster of the men's basketball team during a stop by the Purple Counter in Anderson Hall. "There you are," he says as he points to a picture of Reggie Hearn, his mentor the past spring quarter at Haven Middle School in Evanston. Quadri then turns to Hearn, who was standing next to him, and gives him a ribbing. "Did you beat Michigan? Did you?" Quadri's Haven schoolmates, meanwhile, busied themselves collecting posters and schedule cards, just delighted to see the faces of their mentors on the posters.
Quadri is one of nine Haven Middle School students participating in a mentoring program designed by Northwestern swimmer Charlie Rimkus, a political science major and recently named Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award winner for the 2012-13 academic year. Rimkus says he wanted a more relaxed mentoring atmosphere for the kids, where mentor and mentee participate in sports, play, work out and do homework. "It's pretty casual. We didn't want to make it seem too intense sitting down."
Together with Rimkus, eight other NU student-athletes, including Hearn, visited Haven Middle School every Thursday morning last spring quarter. Before school started, usually from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m., mentors played basketball, soccer or Frisbee with their assigned mentee. Rimkus explains, "We usually play a game or do a workout. We play basketball a lot, soccer, Frisbee. You just have a conversation with your mentee when you're playing. We have different topics each week like time management or goal-setting. It's more like a conversation to get them thinking about their goals."
"For kids that are still impressionable and love sports, it just makes sense," Rimkus says of his time spent every Thursday at Haven. Rimkus designed the mentoring program, which opened the door for several NU student-athletes to develop friendships with adolescents who were selected by their teachers as individuals who will most likely benefit from having a role model.
Hosting Quadri and his middle school classmates at Northwestern was part of the experience Rimkus wanted to impart to the kids. As part of a program called the Leadership Certificate Program he is currently enrolled in at Northwestern in addition to his degree coursework, Rimkus started a community leadership initiative last spring quarter to benefit students at nearby Haven Middle School.
The Leadership Certificate requirements gave Rimkus the opportunity to design a major leadership project such as a mentoring program at the middle school. As part of the coursework, Rimkus was exposed to "major theories, thinkers and frameworks that leaders use every day." Also, the Certificate courses provided Rimkus "a rigorous and thought-provoking way to learn about leadership strengths and weaknesses, to identify gaps in leadership assets, and to receive group and personal coaching."
"I can say that they gave back just as much to us," Rimkus says about the kids they have been visiting at Haven the past spring quarter.
"I thought about my time as a student-athlete and since I'm a senior now, I really wanted to find a way to give back, share some of the lessons that we've learned through sports and through our experiences. I wanted to find an avenue to give back and share those lessons. And I thought what better way to do it than serve as a mentor or role model for kids in middle school."
Friday afternoon, Rimkus and fellow Wildcat mentors Reggie Hearn, women's basketball forward Alex Cohen and Rimkus's teammate on the swim team, Alexander Ratajczyk, took time out from Reading Week and their hectic schedule of writing term papers and preparing for final examinations, to host their mentees at Northwestern.
"I know we got a lot out of it. It's a renewed energy when you see the kids and how excited they are," Rimkus explains.
From Anderson Hall, where the kids also visited the academic services computer lab, Rimkus and his fellow mentors, headed to Welsh-Ryan Arena, "where Alex Cohen plays," Hearn says. Cohen, who still had two exams left and three papers to write, shared her own experience as a mentor. "It's a cool experience. There was one day when we did homework with them. It's cool because we get to develop relationships with the kids and they have someone to look up to and help them with different things."
Asked about her advice to the two girls she's mentoring, Cohen says, "I tell them to keep working hard in school, and keep working hard on sports."
Kelly Kleschen, one of Cohen's mentees, says. "I thought it was fun to be able to play with a college athlete. It was a fun experience. We play basketball. We play sports, Frisbee.
She's fun to be with."
Amy Odwarka, Haven's librarian and coordinator of the program hopes the Northwestern and Haven Middle School mentoring program continues. "It's terrific. Charlie has great ideas, original thinking. It's really been terrific. The kids found it a positive experience. They really enjoyed themselves. We've never done anything like this. We've been thrilled, thrilled of the results. The kids have been excited. They are already mentioning names of other kids who can get involved."
Ratajczyk, a member of Northwestern swimming team's sprint freestyle group, says he has enjoyed his time as a mentor. "It's been awesome. A really nice aspect of the program is that it's been on a consistent basis. It's nice to get to know the kids and know how they're doing in school and helping them with whatever problems or concerns they have. It's been nice to get to know them." Ratajczyk says his advice to his mentee is, "just give his all and if he works hard, he can achieve what he wants." Ratajczyk has used library time with his mentee to encourage him, "if you work hard, you'll be able to get the grades you want."
Reggie Hearn, who was an All-Big Ten selection in 2012-13, says he wished he had a little bit more time with the kids. "There's only 40 minutes or so every Thursday. It's good to know the kids and tell them what I know about basketball, what I experienced as a college athlete. There were times when we met in the library or just played basketball."
But in between play and sports, Hearn said he took the time to talk to Quadri and shared his own experience as a student-athlete at Northwestern, balancing school and sports.
Quadri was quick to ease the trash talk he and Hearn shared during their time at Haven. "My favorite mentor is Reggie. He's funny. He's nice. He's a great mentor to have. He's nice with everybody. He makes things fun. Most mornings we play basketball, we lift weights. We usually just have fun. We talk before school. He tells me, `maintain your education.'"
Rimkus called out the group to follow him at the Byroon S. Coon Sports Performance Facility, then the Trienens Field House. Last stop was Ryan Field. The kids were also feted to a tour of the Stadium Club located on the seventh floor of Ryan Field, with its expansive glass windows overlooking the football field.
Rimkus, who is scheduled to graduate this June with a degree in political science and business institutions, expressed hope to continue the program at Haven.
"It really gives you a good feeling to know and at least hope that you gave someone to look up to
and be their role model. It's a touching experience," Rimkus says.
"I know we're going to keep in touch. It's a program I want to keep going throughout the years. I'm graduating but I hope someone else can take over."
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!