In 2015, Endure Athletics Foundation founder Joel Bigelow observed several young children playing in a narrow, grassy median between US Route 231 and a rundown rent-by-the-week motel, notorious for housing sexual predators and drug addicts, and asked himself, “Who is taking care of these kids? What does the future hold for these children?”. He knew the answers (no one and not much) and decided very quickly that something had to be done. The county YMCA had recently closed and, having four school-aged daughters of his own, he knew there weren’t many affordable, let alone no cost, options for homeless youth in the area for guided mentorship outside of school, if the children were even attending school.
With a deep desire to make a significant difference in the lives of homeless youth in Rutherford County, Joel and his wife, Jeannie, began a mission to help the kids Joel had seen and others like them in the area. Their initial vision was simple but meaningful: put a smile on the children’s faces, provide a safe place to play, and give them a warm, homemade meal. Joel quit his full-time job in August 2015, purchased a 12-passenger van, and established the Endure Athletics Foundation as a 501(c)(3) organization. The written mission became to enrich the lives of homeless youth living in Rutherford County, with a long-range vision of breaking the cycle of generational poverty for these children living in homeless shelters, rent-by-the-week motels, or sometimes even their caretakers’ cars.
The programs quickly grew from Saturday morning activities to enrichment activities, afterschool programming, academic support and providing meals throughout the week. Joel fondly remembers teaching a 5th grader to ride a bike that first summer. With crucial support from the Tennessee Titans’ Ben Jones and The Jones Mission, the Nashville Predators, Nourish Foodbank, the Experience Church of Murfreesboro, and many others, the dreams of what Endure can do in the community for the academic, emotional, and spiritual development of children with adverse childhood experiences has been realized.
Most students served are from broken families. Many have lost a parent to murder or a parent is currently incarcerated. Many have suffered personal abuse by a family member. The Endure Athletics Foundation provides refuge, love and hope to these children. On a daily basis, students who would be locked behind a door in a rundown motel are allowed through Endure’s efforts to play in safety, eat a healthy meal, receive help with homework, and simply be hugged. For many in today’s society, the assumption is that all kids have this, no matter their living situation. But that’s not the case. However, there is hope and evidence in our successes.
In 2018, the very first student to go through the Endure program entered Middle Tennessee State University. With the financial and emotional support of Endure, this student graduated high school, took his ACT, was accepted and enrolled at the university, and joined the university’s rugby team. There were challenges faced with this milestone when his parents refused to sign the necessary federal financial aid forms required for financial assistance. Endure, however, was not thwarted and stepped up to raise additional funds to pay for his first year of college, which he has completed successfully. Through hard work, this student bought his own car and joined the staff of Endure part time to give back to the organization that has helped him find his voice, his path, his promising future.
In 2019, Endure operates a Junior Varsity (elementary school age) afterschool program on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, a Varsity (middle school and high school age) afterschool program on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the original Saturday morning recreation time, enrichment activities on weekends and school breaks, and a five-day-a-week summer camp. After Summer 2019’s successful camp during which over 480 meals a week were served to the participants, Endure looks to add ten more elementary students to the JV afterschool program this 2019-20 school year.
Increased growth is accompanied by increased needs. More funding is needed for meals, tutoring, counseling, and a third van. Vans, versus a large bus, are crucial to the program because they allow flexibility for staff to pick up children from various schools, motels, and shelters, and take them to the afterschool program site and different enrichment activities.
Each year brings new opportunities to support children seeking stability, discipline, physical and emotional safety . . . a sense of belonging and self-worth. Endure will continue to seek out these youth and love them. Please consider partnering with us to serve these children.
Founder and Executive Director