Breaking the 26 Second High School Dropout Cycle through Giving

04/03/2012 08:43 am ET | Updated Jun 03, 2012

I met a boy. A boy that would change my life. Not just any old boy, but a 6'7" basketball player from San Diego State. His name is Tim Shelton. It was last summer in early July. He came out to volunteer with our summer camp called CampUS. Our camp is a high-school dropout prevention camp for incoming 9th graders that have been identified as being at the highest risk for dropping out.

I run a nonprofit called After-School All-Stars. We give middle school inner-city children a free, high quality after-school programming and a safe place to go.

I was so impressed with his ability to work with the children and gain their attention in a way that even credentialed teachers strive to do. When he finished his drills with the kids, we got to talking. He told me about his brother who played in the NFL, and his father who played in the NBA. He asked me questions about how I got involved with the charity. I told him about being raised a community of giving. We always gave to those less fortunate. In fact, in my family it is believed that you have to give, in order to truly get anything. As we cleaned up from the activity, I told him about the things we did growing up. Collecting baby diapers and canned goods. But my favorite activity, was to collect soaps and shampoos for the women and children's shelter in Sacramento.

While my back was to him, he said, "I know that shelter, Tyree.... I used to live there."

I stopped dead in my tracks. I turned around and looked him straight in the eye and said, "your father played in the NBA and you lived in a homeless shelter?"

From that moment, I realized that we were destined to meet. I gave to the shelter he stayed at when he was down and out, and I met him while he was giving back to my charity full of kids who are also down and out. I had to tell his story.

We decided to partner up to raise money for the very camp he volunteered at and we did so by sharing his story. As I dug deeper, I learned that he was jumped into a gang at age 11. He was destined to become a dropout statistic himself, until he found an after school basketball team. From there he found a brotherhood and a sense of belonging and would find himself being recruited by coaching legend Steve Fisher. He graduated from San Diego State with a degree in History and is working on his Masters in Educational Leadership.

The right to a free, high-quality education has made this country great. It is what differentiates from our country from anywhere else around the world. It is the key to bridging the socio economic divide. It is the pathway out of poverty and the secret to unlocking the American Dream.

In the United States, a child drops out of high-school every 26 seconds. Every year, we are producing cities the size of San Diego (1.3 million) full of students that don't even have a high school diploma. Our minority students (African-American and Latino) are dropping out at just under 50 percent. How can this be? How can this great country of ours be failing our students in such an egregious away?

Tim and I set out on a mission. We are determined to change the paths of the students of After School All-Stars. We designed a t-shirt that would stand in solidarity with the 26 second statistic. A shirt that would appropriately cost $26 that students could afford and wear to his games to stand for something much greater than just school pride. They were standing up for the future students that we hope will fill those seats.

He is the perfect example of what I hope all the students I serve will become. A kind, benevolent boy who was fortunate enough to find belonging in an after-school sports program. A boy who would meet coaches and mentors that set him on the path to greatness, both on and off the court. He has become a staple of the San Diego community and a role model for student athletes, community leaders and our students.

I had no idea that day in July 2011, that my life would be changed by the shake of a hand. Afterall, I run a nonprofit, I hear stories and change lives each and every day. Together we have changed a community and, together, we are creating a movement. #26seconds