From Spring Spirit Baseball’s modest beginnings six years ago, the organization that started with nine kids has grown to serving, mentoring and nurturing more than 800 kids every single week. Located in the heart of Spring Branch, Texas, the program is a welcome addition to a neighborhood where 57 percent of families of the Spring Branch School District’s 35,000 students are at or below the poverty level.
President and Founder of the league, Kenny Baldwin, and a group of tenacious volunteers conceived of the organization to understood that, given the right support, kids labeled “at risk” could be better students and better caregivers to each other.
As a former Rice University baseball player who played professionally before enjoying a successful career with Accenture, Baldwin himself has attributed much of his success to his own childhood involvement in a mentoring program in his challenged south San Antonio neighborhood that helped produce championship baseball teams.
Baldwin, his wife and the small group of volunteers started with a desire to support a challenged community by partnering with community stakeholders to focus on helping youth in the community realize their full potential. Participants interact with positive role models and mentors, attend summer camps and visit workplaces and college campuses, seeing more of life outside their neighborhood.
Baldwin attributes the organization’s success to an extraordinary board, a generous donor base, collaborative community partners, caring volunteers and dedicated staff, all of which are complemented by a growing core of community members who take pride in the success of the mission. “We have been very blessed with a ton of volunteers and building great relationships with the community, building relationships with the kids and showing them that we really love them,” Baldwin said. “If we are really going to steward 800 plus kids in a sustainable way, we have to find ways to do more with less. We will have to rely on volunteers and rely on the community to take ownership.”
The volunteers, staff and community stand united in supporting the organization’s mission “to provide safe pathways for youth to realize life opportunities through sports, education and mentoring programs that are based on Christian principles.” Spring Spirit accomplishes this by creating positive mentoring relationships between caring staff and volunteers, the education systems and youth and their families through baseball, softball, educational and community programs.
Spring Spirit Baseball has also attracted the support and participation of many current and former major league athletes. Among them is board member and retired Major League Baseball player Lance Berkman.
“People are drawn to a place where they can experience community, and it gives kids a place where they can come and know that they are going to be loved and they are going to be supported. And the staff here at Spring Spirit does a great job of that,” Berkman said. “I think we all have a platform that the Lord gives us, depending on our talents and abilities. I think we have the responsibility to try and leverage that talent, His kingdom and kingdom work. I think that whenever you can combine that passion with doing the Lord’s work, that is something special.”
A Bridge to Success
The Spring Spirit league's initial focus is a 1.5 mile radius around the Spring Spirit Youth Sports and Education Complex located on Pitner Road in north Spring Branch. SpringSpirit has a high school-size artificial turf baseball and multi-purpose field, ayouth baseball grass field, a multipurpose circle, a playground, batting cages and a Community Center. While baseball is the foundation of SpringSpirit Baseball’s existence, the organization has grown into much more. The organization provides a “bridge to success” that takes participants to pathways that seemed beyond their reach. The four pillars are education, faith, mentoring and sports.
The educational programs improve outcomes through three components. First, after-school programs help students with homework, problem solving, reading proficiency and English. Next, through educational field trips, students visit workplaces through the Take A Student To your Employment (TASTE) and visit colleges with the College for a Day. Finally, through the Academic Academy, motivated students receive extra academic help and visit an out-of-town college.
Faith programs include large-scale Friday Night Live (FNL) each week, featuring fun engagement around Christian values and character building, as well as more intimate Huddle Groups, which provide deeper connections with discussions about practical solutions to life issues, including choosing between right and wrong. Hundreds of students also participate in Christian summer camps at SpringSpirit, at a local church or out of town.
Through mentoring, participants receive positive connections with coaches on the field. These mentors are committed to creating and building a one-on-one connection. They help with educational support and further develop the life lessons and expanded life experiences.
Spring Spirit participants develop their fitness level and athletic skills through practices and health-building activities, league team play and high-level personal instruction and training. With positive and experienced coaching, the participants’ athletic skills, leadership and teamwork improve to open opportunities for broader life pathways. Through skill development, the opportunity for college scholarships and entrance will increase in the community.
Spring Spirit’s work is far from over. There are 10 other Spring Branch elementary schools with similar statistics. Spring Spirit is making plans for even more students and families to be able to participate in its trajectory-improving programs. As participants tell their friends about the difference that Spring Spirit is making in the community, others are being drawn to participate. Spring Spirit’s goals are to continue providing high-quality programs that make a profound difference and to expand to reach at-risk youth throughout Spring Branch.
“We have great opportunities in front of us because we’ve got a great team, a great board and great stakeholders to support us,” Baldwin said. “For the 800 kids who are coming here on a regular basis now, we have a responsibility to really make a difference in their lives, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
For more information, visit www.SpringSpiritBaseball.org.