ORONO — College student-athletes too often are celebrated only for their accomplishments on the field.
Roosevelt Boone enjoyed his share of success on the University of Maine football team. Yet the athletic scholarship only opened the doors to what the school has to offer for someone with passion and persistence.
The charismatic young man from Washington, D.C. has utilized the programs, faculty and staff members at UMaine, along with his own initiative, to serve less fortunate youngsters from Maine to Africa.
Boone is the co-founder of the nonprofit organization Strong Mind-Strong Body Inc., which sponsors free programs that promote physical education, wellness and nutrition for kids ages 10-17. He has run three summer camps at UMaine and has twice traveled to Ghana to share his enthusiasm and knowledge.
Boone, who graduated in 2011 with a degree in kinesiology and physical education, is completing work on master’s degrees in KPE and human development. He has done so with a graduate assistantship as a coordinator with the Black Bear Mentor Program, which works with at-risk school children.
In his spare time, he directs the UMaine Chapter of Strong Mind-Strong Body Inc., which he co-founded with his mother Alice Boone.
“He has forged relationships from one side of this campus to the other,” said Jesse Moriarty, coordinator of UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation. “He’s getting people to donate time and money to help him.
“What he’s done for this state, which is not even his home state, is incredible,” she added. “It’s life-changing for those kids.”
Doing good in Ghana
Aided by grants from UMaine athletics and UMaine student affairs, Boone traveled to Ghana in December 2012. Representing SM-SB, he taught phys ed and activities to children at the Presbyterian Staff School, which does not offer physical education.
“It was surreal,” he said after arriving there to a welcome from some 1,500 smiling youngsters.
The link to Ghana is Charles Kyeremeh Jr., a former UMaine football teammate of Boone’s who was killed in a 2011 motorcycle crash in Pennsylvania. Kyeremeh and his sister, Nana-Ama (Denise), were born in Ghana.
She put Boone in touch with a close family friend, Ms. Cecilia Boateng, the headmistress of the Presec Staff School in Acraa, Ghana’s capital. She graciously housed him during his first stay.
The Kyeremehs both attended the school before moving to the U.S.
Boone was struck by the lack of funding for education in Ghana, where poor children often are encouraged to work rather than study. There is a student-to-teacher ratio of 80:1.
“It’s very humbling to see how other people live,” Boone said. “They lack many resources that we have in America, [things] that we take for granted.”
Boone distributed donated UMaine summer basketball camp T-shirts, which quickly became the uniform for a Presec netball team.
Last December, Boone returned to Ghana, where daytime temperatures hovered around 90 degrees with high humidity.
“It’s hot in every way you can think of,” he said.
This time, he joined forces with Kyeremeh and four other volunteers for “A December to Remember,” a combined effort of SM-SB and the nonprofit Charles Kyeremeh Jr. Foundation.
“My brother loved kids and he loved mentoring and athletics,” Kyeremeh said. “We thought this would be a great opportunity for the foundation and [Boone’s] organization to go to Ghana and do some work there.”
There was a language barrier working with the Ghanaian school children, who speak Twi but are learning English in school.
“[Boone] was really comfortable. He definitely enjoyed it and had fun with it,” Kyeremeh said.
“He was really excited and took charge and we just followed his leadership,” she added.
The trip was costly, about $3,000. Boone received some financial help from UMaine student affairs, but incurred an unexpected expense when he was robbed of a UMaine camera valued at $600 as he slept at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Kyeremeh Jr. foundation, which distributed 300 backpacks and children’s Bible stories to students, hopes to build a library in memory of Charles in Dormaa, Ghana, where Nana-Ama’s mother attended school.
SM-SB has done two book drives at UMaine to help support the Presec schools and Boone said he would eventually like to construct an athletic facility at the Acraa school.
SM-SB and the Kyeremeh Jr. Foundation are teaming up for an initiative in Orono this summer.
“I want to bring one of the children from one of the schools here to
our Summer [Wellness and Nutrition] Camp this year,” Boone said.
Something for everyone
In 2010, Boone worked as a counselor at a UMaine summer ice hockey camp. He was touched by how much the kids enjoyed the experience.
He found one dynamic of the situation troubling.
“Those are great camps, but I realized that they are rather costly,” said Boone, who admitted he would not have been able to afford such a program.
One of Moriarty’s children was attending the camp, so she and Boone subsequently talked about the possibility of holding a camp for underserved kids.
They began meeting to develop the concept for SM-SB, which had taken root in Boone’s discussions with UMaine professor Dr. Steve Butterfield. The Foster Center, which helps students with such efforts, offered Boone office space to run the organization.
Boone credits Ed Homer, his former football coach at Christ Church School in Saluda, Va., with demonstrating how an adult can impact young people.
“He was more concerned with what you’ll do outside of football, what you’ll do in life,” Boone said.
“That inspired me to join the coaching and teaching profession.”
Homer now serves on the board of directors of SM-SB, which is based in Washington, D.C.
Strong Mind-Strong Body was up and running in 2011 and Boone initiated the free Nutrition Summer Youth Camp at UMaine.
It exposed needy area youngsters to a variety of sports activities and provided nutrition education. Boone quickly discovered there would be significant challenges.
The students, identified through school guidance counselors and teachers, were from low-income families and required transportation to and from UMaine each day.
Boone reached out to various people at UMaine for help, including Bruce Stinson of UMaine’s Conference Services Division.
“I owe him the world,” said Boone, who recruited fellow student-athletes to work the camp.
Boone received an unexpected shock on the first day.
“The kids arrived and half of them didn’t have shoes,” Moriarty recalled. “It was a really tough moment.”
She explained that Boone and his mother immediately drove to Walmart in Bangor and purchased sneakers.
It wasn’t the only expense Boone would incur. The cost of transporting the children to campus and back home was substantial.
“It took him a year to pay it off,” said Moriarty, who explained the Foster Center donated $500. “It was really tough, but he did it.”
Boone has conducted SM-SB wellness and nutrition camp each of the last three summers. In 2012 and 2013, each youngster received a pair of sneakers and a workout outfit through a donation from New Balance.
Last summer, the Boones brought a group of kids from Washington, D.C., to attend the camp.
Boone said his years of competing in football as an undersized player have taught him how to confront such challenges.
“Patience plus perseverance equals power. That’s what athletics has taught me, for sure,” Boone said.
Boone’s passion for working with young people is explained simply.
“I get to be a kid when I’m working with the kids,” he said.
He has made a lasting impact through his efforts during the last seven years at UMaine.
“He really is committed to changing the world and, God love him, he probably is going to,” said Lisa Morin, the coordinator of UMaine’s Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism.