Mike Johnson breaks the words down slowly and separately. Activities are extra things for kids to participate in that are fun, help with self-esteem and keep them on the right track. Curricular because there’s programming and educational value to doing after-school activities or sports.
The emphasis on those two concepts matters. Across Madison, and Dane County for that matter, many children are routinely left out of the after school activity scene. Financial constraints freeze a lot of families out of sports, music and educational opportunities outside of school.
All the while, negative things like getting in trouble are totally free.
As a track and field coach for youth for over 12 years, Johnson knows the impact positive sports and activities can have on kids. Sometimes these activities are just for fun. Other times it’s just to pass the time. But often times they are the difference between a kid making it or winding up in awful situations.
“Extra curricular activities,” Johnson told Madison365. “That’s what this is about. It’s extra. And some curriculum is what these kids are getting and what kids need in general. Whether it is language, arts, sports. A lot of kids don’t have the money to do these things. Things that help them with their identities and self-esteem.”
Johnson has started Blueprint4Hope, a non-profit fundraising organization to help create a resource for youth to participate in after school activities or sports. Blueprint4Hope, which he just began last month, will do fundraising on several fronts to offer scholarships to kids to pay the fees often associated with after school sports and activities.
Under the Blueprint4Hope banner, Johnson runs a series of programs designed to provide fun and life building opportunities for kids such as a neighborhood cleanup program, a track and field program, and he is working on a partnership for a summer pilot program with Badger Rock Elementary school.
All of the funds that Blueprint4hope raises will go to these programs and to scholarships for kids. Johnson is in it for the mentoring, and his time as a track and field coach has provided him with countless examples of watching kids’ self-esteem improve by doing a sport or having a program.
“Mentoring is based on positive reinforcement,” Johnson said. “People aren’t always quick to provide feedback when a child is doing something right. In the moment when someone does something wrong, we tell them instantly. But when they’re doing something right they don’t get that.”
Johnson uses his track and field students as a prime example. Individual sports, he says, provide major opportunities for helping kids improve their self-esteem and have a way to measure their own improvement.
“In building one individual person, I think that individual sports are the best because success is built upon what you do. Not someone else,” he said. You. In track and field, there’s no bench. In basketball there’s a bench. Six kids win the championship for the team. Do the other nine kids on the team who never really played get to feel really great about it? With track and field, say you have eight kids filling the lanes in a race. What’s great is I don’t care if a kid I’m coaching gets last place in the race. I don’t care about the seven other kids in the race. I only care about that kid. If they ran a time of 20 seconds last time they raced but they ran it in 19 seconds this race, I can build on that. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t the team. You did that individually.”
Johnson says that one second of improvement a kid accomplishes can have a domino effect on their lives. It gives them the confidence to work a little bit harder or do just a little bit better. Whether it is reading one more chapter in a book for school or listening just a little bit harder to their parents at home (he says laughing), it makes a difference.
“The major emphasis with the Track program is it’s all based on positive reinforcement,” he said. ¨Track and field is an individual sport and with that what happens is myself and the coaching staff are all there to say good job. A lot of these kids don’t come from areas or situations where they get a lot of positive reinforcement.”
About a year ago Johnson came up with his idea for Blueprint4hope, wanting to be a conduit through which kids could get more support. Any grants or donations the non-profit receives are split between keeping his after-school programs afloat and providing scholarships for kids to participate in extracurriculars.
Johnson says donations from business is what he needs in terms of financial support, but that more than anything he just wants people to volunteer to spend time with kids at various activities.
“We want that old school feeling of it takes a community to raise these kids,” he said. “There’s things like Bratfest, Taste of Madison, the Madison Marathon, all of these opportunities for volunteering. If we can get volunteers to come up to work at these places, that’s money we get for the non-profit that helps these kids. We take the funds and reciprocate them back into the community. Say a kid wants to do a music class and the class costs $50. We help cover that so they can do it.”
Johnson said when he talks to older teens who are 16 or 17 years old and asks them what they liked to do as kids, it gives them pause. He makes them think about what they liked to do when they would go play outside before things got to the point in their lives where they were fighting or selling drugs. Invariably, they tell him they wanted to pursue a sport or some other activity. But the cost was too high. Getting in trouble was free.
“When kids have goals and dreams, we’re here to support them,” he said. “Let’s stand up and help these kids do the things they dream about doing. We need money from corporations for the programs but we need people in the community to volunteer. Just donate time. Maybe four hours at the Madison Marathon or a Badger game raising money. Think of what impact that could give. Helping out for a day, that’s a kids’ scholarship.”
Johnson said that recently the father of a student pulled him aside and said, “look at my kid! He’s playing with people. How did you do this? I’ve never seen him do this”. Johnson says the secret is all about listening to the kids. Finding out what makes them feel good about themselves. Learning what their identities are.
His programming helps accomplish that. Whether it is Track and Field or his program helping clean up downtrodden neighborhoods, finding what makes the kid tick is the key to what he hopes to be able to do.
“Let’s stand up and volunteer and start a program that’s community based that’s all about supporting the kids, their goals and ambition,” he said, spelling out his HOPE: “Help others pursue excellence.”