In a previous blog I mentioned, “God was preparing me for a life of service. He was preparing me for a journey much larger than myself. As dramatic as it was, God needed to sit me in a wheelchair to get my attention and sharpen my tools that I would need to fulfill the purpose he has on my life.” Safe Alternative Foundation for Education is what he was preparing me for.
God ordered my steps and had a plan for how it would play out. I needed have faith, be obedient, and trust the process. He prepared me to fulfill his purpose, provided me with the resources, and sent everyone needed to bring the vision to fruition.
God turned my tragedy into triumph.
Waking up from a dream, two days after walking on my own for the first time in 8 years, God instructed me to start a nonprofit. Here’s the thing, I didn’t know what a nonprofit was nor, did I know anyone with one. Despite that, fueled by passion and a vision of using my testimony to help others, I spent the next few months researching, cold calling people, and asking anyone who would listen “how to start a nonprofit”. For the first time since my football days, I had something that I was extremely passionate about. This calling on my life renewed my sense of purpose and confirmed why I suffered my injury.
Having graduated a couple months earlier and not having a job, my days became consumed with this mission. This ultimately became my fulltime job. Google also became my best friend. Eventually, I met a lot of people who provided me with great advice and guidance. Additionally, I found a nonprofit checklist online that helped me legally form the foundation. I would also later use this same checklist and the knowledge I gained to help other founders jumpstart their foundation.
Now having a plethora of information to start from, I began thinking about a name that would also tell the mission of the foundation. Wanting to stay involved in sports and intrigued by the statistics of how many athletes make it to the professionals, the career expectancy of a professional, and how many of them go broke after making a substantial amount of money; the initial name I had was Scholastic Athletes Foundation for Education. The vision was to use my testimony to share with athletes on the vitatlity of having an education and a backup plan for life after sports. I also envisioned focusing on the importance of financial literacy and investing.
Now, if you’ve been following my story you know that isn’t the name of my foundation so here’s when the change happened.
One day I shared my vision with a friend who asked me some very thought-provoking questions. The same type of questions I ask many people who often come to me for business consulting. At the end of the conversation he said, “Van your story can help a lot of people. It’s too powerful to only share it with one group. Don’t box yourself in.”
At that moment, I knew he was right. My story could have an impact on a lot of people and I shouldn’t segment my audience. He also suggested a broader name and thus Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE) was born. SAFE’s mission is to inform students about the importance of obtaining an education and having an alternate career plan in anticipation for life’s deviations.
Now that I had the name and mission, I had to start fundraising and building out a plan to implement the vision. I’m a firm believer that you can speak things into existence by putting them into the atmosphere (of course there are other factors like hard work). It’s like the saying from the movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, “If you build it, they will come.”
That’s exactly what I was determined to do. I began to broadcast to the world my mission and vision for SAFE and in 2013 I had my first fundraiser. Previously whenever the anniversary of my injury came it served as a negative reminder of how my life changed and I wanted to change that. For the first time since my injury I called the head coach from Georgetown Prep. As you could imagine, he was in disbelief that he was talking to me.
After providing him with an update on my life and sharing my vision for my foundation and fundraiser, I asked him if he could gather some players from that team and bring them to Baltimore to be my special guest. I also asked him for the contact information of Kevin (not his real name), the player whom I broke my neck tackle.
After reaching out and extending an invitation to Kevin, I was excited when he agreed to attend as well as get on a call with me. This was a big moment for us because since my injury we have never spoken. He explained how devastated he was when the accident occurred and how the uncertainty of my wellbeing had taken a toll on him over the years. I explained that I was doing very well. Additionally, I explained how that event has shaped my life and lead to me founding SAFE.