HOUSTON – Growing up in California’s Bay Area, Calen Carr had many mentors during his upbringing. From his mother, who is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, to outside influences, Carr benefitted from having people around to help him navigate life’s choices.
Now Carr is returning the favor, working with the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program at Rusk Elementary, a school near the Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium. Through his fundraising efforts, Carr and others have raised $5,000 to jump-start the program and they have encouraged involvement from Dynamo president Chris Canetti and 15 members of the Dynamo staff as mentors in the program.
For his efforts, Carr has been awarded the MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Month for April.
Carr’s efforts are geared toward providing the same mentorship to students in a school that is predominantly at-risk. To help, Carr has dedicated his time to raising money for the program, but more importantly, has invested himself in the lives of the students the way his mentor, Justin Fong, did for him.
“He took me under his wing and helped me with everything from picking a soccer team to play for to helping me write my college essay,” Carr said of his relationship with Fong. “He’s somebody I keep in contact with today and is someone I still seek out for guidance.
“I know how those relationships can last a long time,” Carr continued. “To be able to play that role for someone else is special for me and is a way for me to pay back what he did for me.”
Carr began mentoring in college and continued the efforts when he entered MLS with the Chicago Fire. Once in Houston, Carr made steps to work with mentorship programs on his own time. The Big Brothers Big Sisters program with Dynamo Charities was a logical progression.
Carr has worked to raise money for the organization, mainly through his Calen’s "Big Play" initiative last August. With the program geared to kids, Carr chose a bowling event that could combine fun for kids and parents while also giving the opportunity to have an auction and interact with his Dynamo teammates.
Raising money is only a part of what Carr does. He also makes weekly stops to work with the students. During those visits, he talks school, sports, plays games or provides advice to his “little”.
“I think kids face so many more challenges than I did when I was younger with social media and bullying,” Carr said. “I really like the one-on-one aspect of it. You’re working with one person, one kid, and you’re able to make an impact. I’m really excited about the progress we’ve made over the past year and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.