Sometimes wonderful ideas are conceived on a napkin.
Jaron Barganier was sitting at the dinner table with his mother one evening in 2001 when he was discussing how he would like to give back to the community.
Fifteen years later Barganier is not only giving back to his native Houston, but he is the founder and CEO of a growing non-profit.
“I was telling my mother that I wanted to read to kids and do some mentoring,” said the former of University of Houston offensive lineman. “So we literally wrote the idea down on a napkin and that idea turned into reality.”
The reality is that Be A Champion has served more than one million underprivileged youths in Houston and other Texas cities.
When school lets out for the day, too many kids have nothing do and may go several hours between meals as they wait for their parents to come home from work. That’s where Be A Champion has been filling the void with after-school programs and providing children with meals.
“We would always do after-school programs, but we never thought about the fact that these kids are not eating,” said Barganier, whose partner in the venture is another former Cougars offensive lineman, James Hong. “They would stay and do their activities, but when you think about it if they get lunch at about 11 a.m. and if their parents are working, then they are not eating again until 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock. You can’t function properly going seven hours or so without eating.”
So about five years ago, Barganier, who graduated from Houston in 2004 and received a master’s in public administration from Texas Southern, put the wheels in motion with respect to expanding the non-profit’s role to include meals.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Agriculture, Be A Champion has been able to provide children with after-school meals in addition to activities. Barganier said this is a huge part of the program because lack of nourishment can be the root of many kids’ problems.
“We realized there was funding out there to provide this service to youth and we went after it and it has worked out well,” he said. “A child that is nourished properly is a well-educated child and a malnourished child is an under-educated child. With all the behavior problems and focus problems there are, some people want to label a child with having this problem or that problem. But a lot of it deals with (lack of) nutrition.”
Be A Champion has grown to the point it now services about 14,000 kids on a daily basis while operating in cities such as Dallas, Beaumont, Austin and San Antonio in addition to Houston. Many of the schools served by the non-profit are in rough neighborhoods and keeping kids occupied at school until their parents come home is vital.
“We provide enrichment and they can play board games, arts and crafts and remain safe between the hours of 3-6 when the crime rate is the highest,” said Barganier.
As much success as Be A Champion has had in Texas, the hope is that the company can expand to other states. Some form of expansion along those lines could be reality by the end of 2017.
“Right now we are really spreading our roots in Texas, but we definitely have interest in Louisiana, Florida and Georgia and some of the other southern states,” said Barganier. “I think in the next year you will see us start to expand to other states and bring similar programming to them. It is something all kids should have access to, but they just don’t.”
Thanks to an idea and a napkin many kids in his native Texas do.