COLLEGE PARK, MD (WUSA9) - The Youth Impact Program, founded in 2006 by former NFL star Ricki Ellison, has impacted more than 3,000 low-income kids. This year the multi-dimensional program hit the University of Maryland, and for one coach, mentoring these kids is a big deal given his background.
Despite UMD football coach Dan Pallante being busy with football during the summer. He's helping lead a youth impact program as director. It's a camp that helps at-risk youth strengthen their academics and learn from Marines and Maryland football players about life and sports.
The kids spend the morning buckling down on their academics. In the afternoon, they play football with UMD football players and Marines. Those two groups also give the kids lessons about respecting elders and gang prevention.
"You don't get into this profession or do things like this for the money. You do it for the love of the kids and trying to make a difference in someone's life. I think that's the best feeling the world," Pallante remarked.
Pallante, who views himself as a career educator, built the desire to care for others during his childhood days. His mother dealt with drug addiction and alcoholism.
"All three kids, myself and older brother and sister spent our young lives taking care of her," he said. "I guess rather than abandon her, we saw it as an illness and a problem. We took care of her, which ultimately failed. She eventually died from alcoholism and drug addiction."
Her death happened 17 years ago, one year after his dad died due to an aortic aneurysm. Pallante viewed his father as his mentor, given how his dad held the family together during the mother's struggles. Dan shares his story with the middle schoolers at the camp.
"If you want to reach the kids, you've got to let your guard down and be vulnerable," he shared. "They will respect you for it."
Pallante, a father of four, doesn't view himself as a life-saver. But given what he's been through, he knows working with these kids can go a long way.
"You find a young boy that is at a very confused age. You surround them with successful men, people who understand leadership and teachers who care about them, over a 10 day period of time, the kid is going to pick up something."
The kids pick up a great deal. Their reading and math test scores improve by an average of 42 and 22 percent, respectively. It's all done within two weeks.
To find out how you can help donate to the program, visit the website here.
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