Osa Odighizuwa, Jalen Brunson join more than 115 volunteer mentors serving youth.
PLANO, TX – June 13, 2022 – On May 27 Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa sat down with six students ages 11-17 inside a Plano, Texas coffee shop. Their discussion was less about tackles and touchdowns, and more about setting goals, handling distractions and practicing self-discipline.
Odighizuwa, a 23-year-old who grew up in Portland, Oregon and played college football for UCLA, is just one of several professional athletes who have signed up as youth mentors for Plano-based Top Achievers Foundation. Incoming mentors also include the Dallas Mavericks’ Jalen Brunson, Detroit Pistons’ Saben Lee, Seattle Seahawks’ Tyler Mabry and NBA G League’s Jaden Hardy.
Top Achievers Foundation (TAF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by Lawrence Mann with a mission of inspiring, transforming and empowering students to live a lifestyle of high achievement. The organization helps Collin County students in grades 3-12 navigate their own unique path to a successful future through its mentorship, STEAM, esports, financial literacy and basketball programs.
Counselors, teachers, coaches and parents help identify students most in need of Top Achievers’ no-cost mentoring program. This includes kids who have accumulated a significant number of school absences, have stopped engaging with their teachers or peers, cannot afford costly after-school resources, or need redirection away from negative influences. Some of the students are referred because they need the extra help to become first-generation college students or would benefit from more diverse, positive influences.
TAF volunteer mentors are professionals who work in a wide variety of fields including sports, healthcare, nonprofit management, government, marketing, technology, the arts, education and more. Every mentor goes through a background check before receiving training and a toolkit of resources to help students. Mentors advise on self-management, goal-setting, self-awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Some mentors, including qualified college students, pair with students for homework assistance.
Top Achievers Executive Director Lawrence Mann made diversity a priority for this program. “It was truly an intentional effort to have a multicultural program where we all learn from each other. The kids we serve are from a diverse community. We want to have mentors represent all cultures and walks of life because that best represents Collin County,” he said.
Statistics show that some of the benefits of mentorship are increased graduation rates, healthier relationships, enhanced self-esteem and decreased likelihood of substance abuse.
“For the past two years through the pandemic, a lot of kids went to their phone or computer for education and entertainment. Kids in middle school and high school are heavily affected by social media at an important developmental phase of their lives,” said Malcolm Mann, mentorship program director for Top Achievers. “These students need person-to-person contact to thrive. We’ve seen positive changes in kids’ grades and relationships just from spending time, face to face, with someone who cares about them.”
For Odighizuwa, he stated that he signed on as a mentor because he felt it was important to pay forward the kindness of those who helped him get to this point in his career. “To potentially have an effect on the kids like those I respected – [my coaches], my mom, my brothers – had on me. To be able to have a bigger impact, or to make a splash that creates a ripple that creates a tidal wave in someone’s life, shifting how they think, or their perspective on things. I want to be able to have that opportunity,” he said.