The majority of John Carroll University students have never been in jail. However, when the doors of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center (CCJDC) slam shut behind a courageous, strong willed and faith filled group of John Carroll University students this week, that assumption will have been completely forgotten.
Michael Gong and Ned Barnes, two alumni of John Carroll University, have started a legacy that will forever embody the Jesuit mission of living as “men and women for and with others.” While volunteering at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center in a program called Passport to Manhood, they felt that there was not enough opportunity to get to know the residents.
Gong and Barnes wanted to foster a deeper connection between the residents and the volunteers to create an environment of encouragement and openness. After brainstorming, they developed an idea for a nonprofit service organization that would be dedicated to spending genuine time with the residents.
They suggested that a group of JCU students could come to CCJDC and play basketball with the residents to create a comfortable environment.
Also, as a part of a Jesuit tradition of hospitality, they would like to share a meal and genuinely converse and spend time with the residents afterwards as a mentor figure.
They presented this concept to the CCJDC and they loved the idea that is now called The Carroll Ballers.
The Carroll Ballers began their journey to the CCJDC in the fall of 2012. Seven male JCU students willingly gave up their free time on a Friday night to shoot some hoops and share a meal and good conversation with the residents of the CCJDC.
The amazing integrity and passion of the Carroll Ballers has inspired not only the community of JCU, but the residents themselves to want to make positive changes in their lives. The time the residents spend with the Carroll Ballers ultimately shows them there are people who believe in them and who want them to succeed.
Margaret Finucane, professor in the Tim Russert department of communication and theatre arts, and faculty advisor for The Carroll Ballers, interviewed several of the residents inquiring why it matters if the Carroll Ballers come to the CCJDC.
Remembering an interview she had with a previous resident she recalls her reaction, “I honestly thought they would tell me it’s different, I get to go out and play basketball. But it was actually the conversations that mattered to them.”
“Because they are not afraid of us, they want to be here and they want to talk to us,” Finucane continued.
This unique quality of the Carroll Ballers is the difference the residents of the CCJDC needed to feel, to know someone cares.
JCU is a Jesuit institution dedicated to living out a mission of “men and women for and with others.” For the students of JCU, Carroll Ballers is allowing them to understand more and become open to growth and change.
The foundation of this organization can be taken from the pages of the Bible: “When I was imprisoned, you came and visited me.”
The students will quickly come to realize that living out the Jesuit mission through this organization doesn’t mean just visiting the residents, it goes far beyond that. This organization is helping the residents to see themselves differently and in a positive light.