Photo Credit: Rainier Athletes

Rainier Athletes was founded in 2013 to provide access for historically marginalized youth to participate in organized youth sports and summer camps. Each student is paired with a dedicated mentor from 4th grade through high school graduation. They recently moved into WeWork Bellevue in October 2019 as their team has grown and they have acquired different needs over time.

We interviewed Jesse Franklin, Rainier Athletes Founder and Executive Director, to learn more about this inspiring non-profit.

What is Rainier Athletes Mission and Purpose?

Rainier Athletes strives to inspire and affirm their youth’s sense of purpose and belonging by intentionally connecting their community of teachers, coaches, families and mentors. They begin the journey with each student and the student’s family in 4th or 5th grade and together, continue to strengthen their connection until high school graduation. Once selected, each student is fully sponsored year-round to participate in sports, extracurricular activities and summer camps. Each student is positively influenced both on and off the field through Rainier Athlete’s classroom engagement and self-advocacy model.

Since its founding in 2013, Rainier Athlete’s vision has evolved from an incentive program for our community’s most vulnerable youth to a comprehensive mentorship model. Each day of the school week, over 250 Bellevue School District teachers lean on the Rainier Athlete’s model in their classrooms to form productive connections with some of their most challenging students.

The non-profit has raised $1.4 million in the last seven years.

How Did the Idea for Rainier Athletes Come About?

Jesse Franklin started to feel bored and frustrated in his corporate job and began to attempt to discover his life’s deeper purpose. He reconnected with friends from his time at Sammamish High School and found that many of them felt the same way as he did. Through these conversations, he realized the difference in opportunity he had simply by being born into and growing up in an affluent family. The incredible mentors and coaches that came with year-round sports participation inspired him to believe in himself and his future. He wanted to be able to help provide that for underrepresented students and founded Rainier Athletes.

Franklin served as the program’s first mentor in the spring of 2013 and met with three students at Lake Hills Elementary. The idea started with sponsoring the student’s participation on a Little League baseball team and they agreed to earn their eligibility on the field by meeting certain goals in the classroom. He later realized that sports were the “tip of the iceberg” in a massively bigger equation. Per Franklin, “sports is the vehicle that allows them to engage in much deeper conversation.”

Where is Your Program Currently Being Utilized?

Rainier Athletes has a unique partnership and data sharing agreement with the Bellevue School District and is working with 11 different schools within the district. They currently have 70 mentors working with underserved students.

How Can Community Members Get Involved?

  • Donating: sponsoring a student costs $2000 per year and $70 pays for basketball shoes.
  • Auction donation for Shape the Future 2020
  • Joining Rainier Athlete’s mentor team or connecting them with a person or group that could help them recruit more mentors
  • Corporate sponsors/community partners
  • Activity partner for youth like a group cooking class.
  • Apply to be a mentor on their website.
  • Volunteer opportunities with administration work
  • Joining the Rainier Athlete’s Executive Board

How Can Students Learn About the Program?

A presentation is made to the student’s 4th or 5th grade class and students apply. Teacher and school building staff are highly influential.

How Many Students Have Been Helped by Rainier Athletes So Far?

Rainier Athletes has supported well over 100 students, along with their coaches, teachers and families. Their first students selected in 4th or 5th grade will be graduating from high school this year. They are also currently serving as Rainier Athletes mentors to middle school students.

How Did You End Up at WeWork Bellevue?

In October 2019, Rainier Athletes moved into WeWork Bellevue due to the growth of their team and the complexity that has increased with that growth. They needed a designated space where their staff could collaborate without the enthusiastic interruption of their students and the hourly buzzing of the school bells.

How Has WeWork Bellevue Helped Your Company to Grow?

In just one month, the non-profit has made over a dozen partnerships and connections from joining WeWork. Because of the collaborative nature of WeWork, they met and secured a significant corporate sponsor for their annual fundraiser, Shape the Future, this past October. They have added five mentors who have committed to a minimum of one year of mentoring and they have met other non-profits who they have started to work alongside and generate a collective impact.

Photo Credit: Rainier Athletes
Photo Credit: Rainier Athletes

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