Eastern Iowa police officer's program helps mentor at-risk youth - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Eastern Iowa police officer's program helps mentor at-risk youth

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Footwork and conditioning. It's an out of the box approach from an Eastern Iowa police officer to get boys off the streets and on the field.

For the past 5 weeks, the 'Hail Mary Project,' has been using the sport of football to give kids purpose and direction. 

The program is 12 weeks long and is geared towards at-risk youth, as young as thirteen and fourteen years old. Many of these boys are growing up with violence, abuse, and poverty all in the mix. At times, it's hard to see outside your own world-especially when you see the odds stacked against you. That's why the name of the game is the 'Hail Mary Project.'

Waterloo Police officer Justin Brandt, who's been with the department since 2009, created the program. It certainly isn't your typical Friday Night lights, because the lights these boys are playing under are on a much grander scale than just this field. 

"They're good kids, some of them have just been dealt a bad hand," said Brandt. 

Using football, the 'Hail Mary Project' is giving these boys a hard and fast lesson on life. 

"You see football," said Brandt. "But what's happening is-it's bonding. There's trust being built between the mentors and the kids. And at some point, we're going to start learning more about each kid and we're not going to give up on a single kid here. We're gonna be here for the long haul."

It started as a vision for Brandt, with a goal- keep each and every one of these boys off the streets and out of trouble. Now, he has the help of volunteer coaches and UNI football players.

"I know what this sport could do and what this could mean to somebody so it's fun to see that happen," said UNI Sophomore Alfonzo Lambert. 

For the boys, like seventh grader Quatzhill Watson, this is their 'Hail Mary.'

"Cause it lets out all my anger and it helps me with sports too and get muscles," said Watson. 

For eighth grader Elijah Spicer, it's learning to choose the people you have on your team. 

"Just to be more positive," said Spicer. "Because everybody here is positive and wants you to do well. Like if you drop the ball, you know they want you to get back up and try again."

Lessons of teamwork, discipline, accountability, integrity, and respect. But most importantly, always keeping your eye on the ball.

"Knowing that there's a world outside, that there's a bigger world outside of their neighborhood, where they come from," said Brandt. "There's opportunities out there, whether there be employment, or college education. There's just more to life than just yourself."

But this program is more than just footwork and conditioning. Officer Brandt has teamed up with UNI's Center for Violence Prevention Director Alan Heisterkamp who will be coaching the boys into men. Conversations will include topics such as gender violence, respect, bullying, harassment, integrity, and social issues-all led by volunteer coaches. 

"If they walk away with character, they're living the integrity,the respect, the nonviolence that we're going to be preaching from the curriculum-then that's success for us," said Brandt. "If they walk away from here. They're not getting in trouble. They're not getting referrals, suspensions from school, they're not getting in trouble with police. Then that's a win for them, it's a win for us."

These boys are looking to score big with this 'Hail Mary.'  

"Football is my favorite sport and I want to go to the NFL someday," said seventh grader Camren Montgomery. 

For more information on the program, visit their Facebook page. 

If you have background coaching or playing football and are interested in being a mentor, or looking to sign up for the program, reach out to Officer Brandt, brandtj@waterloopolice.com.

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