Did you ever catch an unexpected break? Something that changed your day, or even your life?
Maybe it was service "on the house," a few much needed supplies, or scholarship to a program you couldn't otherwise afford. We all face barriers, finding ourselves in need of help at one point or another. Single-family homes often encounter extreme barriers due to the time and financial restraints associated with having only one adult in the home. There are exceptions, those who have planned and chosen to become single parents, but for the vast majority, parenting alone presents challenges financially, mentally and emotionally resulting in a heightened need for support networks.
There are many reasons why a person can find himself or herself a single parent, and while the causes may vary, one constant remains: a need for community support. According to a recent United States census report, 35 percent of all family households nationwide have a single parent, equating to over one third of the population. Single parent families are disproportionally at or below the poverty line, resulting in higher school dropout rates and instances of teen pregnancy, which can reinforce a downward socioeconomic spiral.
I recently spoke to Washington Nationals centerfielder Denard Span about his mission to uplift single parent families. His non-profit, The Denard Span Foundation was borne out of a desire to extend assistance proactively, launched with a vision to "see communities where single parents are empowered educationally and financially, creating strong foundations for children to enjoy active lifestyles and experience academic and long term success." His passion for this community is deeply rooted in personal experience, here is what he had to say:
1. As professional athlete, you have a unique platform and could choose any cause to support, why single parent families?
DS: I grew up in a single parent home, experiencing it first hand. I watched my mother work relentlessly every day, to make a way for my brother and me. As a child, I didn't understand the magnitude of her sacrifices, but as a man, told God I would reach back and help others in similar situations. There is nothing better than helping others, especially when you understand their personal obstacles and can be a source of encouragement or guidance.
2. Growing up with a mother pulling double duty in single-parent household, what sort of support or assistance would have made life simpler?
DS: The most significant difference would have been having a Dad, a father in the home. My mother did the best she could, and she did an unbelievable job, really. We did not want for anything, but it was still a struggle and unnecessarily hard on her. When I am able to connect with families through mentorship or events, I always stress the importance of good decision-making and responsibility. Small choices can lead to big outcomes, positive or negative.
3. What can you share about growing up in a single parent household that might surprise people?
DS: We had a lot of love in our household and memories that will last forever. My older brother was the man of the house, and our bond as a family even today is second to none. Those years molded me into the person I am now. Having a mother that committed herself daily to hard work and demanding respect for herself and our family, also stands out in my mind. That strength and positivity was contagious and instilled confidence in us, I would not change a thing.
4. How does that experience influence the way you approach working with families?
DS: I want single parents to know they don't need to feel stigmatized or inadequate. I want them to know that they aren't alone and can rise to any challenge. It is not an easy road and may not be what they had planned, but it can be done. Lastly, I want them to feel empowered and confident, knowing that their local communities and organizations like my foundation, want to help as their extended family.
5. What advice do you have for parents and children on how to thrive as a family, working together as a team?
DS: With parents, I stress the importance of decision-making because as a single parent, choices are amplified. Once decisions are made, there is no other recourse for a child in that situation, so thinking things through and seeking out advice is always best. For children, I remind them to be leaders and not followers. To find mentors, big brother or sister figures and to surround themselves with people interested in growing and to avoid negative influences. There is no short cut to success so I encourage to them to get excited about working hard for what they want in life.
6. What do you credit your success to, having achieved so much?
DS: My mother. To this day, we still talk everyday. I haven't always been perfect but have followed 90 percent of the advice she has given me over the years and still do. By growing up observing her "don't quit" example, I can't quit. She went toe to toe with grown men, figuratively, fighting for respect and never backed down. For example, any mechanic or shifty individual who thought they could take advantage of a woman, she showed different and required better. She is where my fight, work ethic and drive to succeed come from.
7. Your foundation is currently working to sponsor children at baseball camp in Washington and Tampa, how can the public help?
DS: For baseball camp, we would love to partner with any organizations able to donate equipment including gloves, bats, or uniforms. Volunteers are always helpful as well.
8. What is next for you and the foundation?
DS: This month on August 22, we'll be in Washington DC hosting our 1st Annual Denard Span Foundation Back to School Bash. We are looking forward to connecting with the local community while providing backpacks and getting the kids excited about a great school year.