A couple gave up their jobs and everything they owned to create mentoring programs that help kids reach their fullest potential.
Originally Caleb Luper was living day to day as many people do, and mentoring programs didn’t cross his mind. Out of college, he worked for a developer and was super excited to receive his first paycheck. One paycheck led to the next, and he found himself eight years in, married and the not-so-proud owner of lots and lots of stuff. A house, a car, clothing — just a lot of things. And instead of making him feel fulfilled, those things started making Luper depressed.
“We started thinking, ‘There’s got to be more to life than buying a bigger home, saving up for a bigger retirement,’” Luper says of himself and his wife. “‘If that’s all there is, then that sorta sucks.’” To them, the bigger picture was helping others, so the couple began to think about how to make it happen.
“How can we really align our life with our faith, which is serving those in need, and bring as many people along on that ride as possible?” So the couple did what few reasonable people would do, especially with three children, as the Lupers have: In 2007, they sold and gave away everything they owned and worked for a year in the Dominican Republic and Haiti building feeding centers and orphanages.
Caleb Luper gave up his home, his savings and everything he owned to help kids through Triple Threat Mentoring programs.
Caleb Luper described the experience as life-changing. After they returned to Chicago to their business careers, the couple realized their corporate way of life wasn’t going to cut it anymore. “I quit my job again, and I had no money, but I knew we were supposed to help people,” Luper says.
This is how Triple Threat Mentoring was born.
Triple Threat uses the big three — passion, purpose and relationships — to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth.
It all started modestly, with a simple goal.
“My original goal was, ‘Can I mentor five kids and start a nonprofit connecting with five kids using what I love: sports?’” Luper says. Luper then keyed into people’s passions and leveraged those passions to help others. “What if they could use what they love, too, and do what they’re going to do anyway and make it into an atomic bomb of goodness? It’s a way to activate something that goes dormant in a lot of people,” he says.
Many volunteers see their passions come alive again when they share them through mentoring programs.
Triple Threat awakens passion, and the byproducts are mentoring programs.
For example, if a volunteer loves to play the drums, Triple Threat can create a one-time event for them — a workshop with a few children who want to learn more about drumming. Or they can build entire music mentoring programs based on the volunteers’ availability and goals.
Triple Threat officially launched in Chicago in 2007, followed last year with a similar program in Los Angeles and small outposts in New York, too.
The best thing about the mentoring programs? They really work. Since 2007, Triple Threat has connected nearly 39,000 at-risk youth with more than 5,000 passionate volunteers who have done almost 650 mentoring programs with those kids.
To make this work, they rely on volunteers with plenty of different passions, from sports to music to reading and more.
Kids in the mentoring programs get to participate in many fun activities, from swimming to playing music to going on trips.
They also need materials. Triple Threat can’t have music mentoring programs without instruments, nor can they offer basketball mentoring programs without basketball shoes.
So they pair up with corporate sponsors, such as Nike, and local sponsors whenever they can. To date, Triple Threat has more than 100 local and national sponsors, Luper says. Helen Rich, CEO of Medallion/Crixeo, one of their biggest supporters, said, “Triple Threat is about hope. And the passion of the people who help create it.” It’s because of this kind of belief in the mission of Triple Threat that impactful mentoring programs could be created.
Most importantly, Triple Threat had to connect with kids who needed these mentoring programs. Their kids come from low-income schools around Chicago and Los Angeles.
Some of the kids stay with the programs for years, Luper says. “One young man started with us when he was 13 or 14 and he was homeless,” Luper says. “He went through a variety of programs and ended up working with us and got into college.”
Jonathan Arzate, a sophomore at East Aurora High School in Illinois, is another student who receives mentoring via Triple Threat. He’s been with them for eight or nine years, he says. “They gave me confidence in school and with life,” says Arzate, 15, who now helps teach the Bases Loaded program at Triple Threat.
Jonathan Arzate has been with Triple Threat for years, and he has seen his confidence skyrocket. He wants to be a technical engineer when he grows up.
At its core, Bases Loaded is a math program cleverly disguised as a baseball class. Kids can go through three eight-to-10-session programs through Bases Loaded, learning about the history of baseball and the math behind the statistics. They also learn about drug, alcohol and steroid abuse, and how these could negatively affect players. Before they graduate from the program into the Hall of Fame, students work on public-speaking skills and give an acceptance speech.
Arzate, who now wants to be a technical engineer when he grows up, says he feels accomplished when he helps teach, especially since he felt so unprepared for this when he entered the program as a child. “Without Triple Threat, honestly, I would be more closed off,” he says. “They helped me think of myself more with a positive image.”
That’s the goal, says Steve Blacksmith, the mentor for the Bases Loaded program. He’s been working with Arzate and says he stays in touch with him and many other students in the program.
“Passion isn’t a passion until you share it with someone else,” Blacksmith says. “When I got involved with the first group of students… The influence that you see you have on them is incredible.”
Steve Blacksmith volunteers with the program, and he uses his passion for baseball to teach kids about math, statistics and steering clear of drugs.
But the classes and mentoring programs are only one part of Triple Threat. Once Luper saw that major goal of his nonprofit being achieved, he turned to other smaller, but not less significant, parts of the program.
In 2016 Triple Threat created The Farm, a sustainable interactive organic hydroponic farm in Illinois to help fight childhood obesity and also support the community with healthy eating. “It’s a building, and we grow 100,000 pounds of organic fresh food every year,” Luper says proudly.
Last fall the Santa Ana location opened The Studio. The program, headed up by Ben Thomas, provides classes and workshops in music, visual art and media production.
Triple Threat is also in a partnership program called Wings with the Jordan Brand. The goal of the program is to empower 300 students at six schools on the South and West Sides of Chicago to “dream, pursue and achieve greatness.”
Triple Threat’s vision doesn’t stop there, however. They also have a resident program, and the residents get to live in a house in Illinois or in California and work full-time, learning to fight poverty with passion and to help others do the same. “They leave with a clearer picture of who they can be, where they can go,” Luper says.
And Luper refuses to stop. He’s so determined to change the world, to fight poverty through mentoring programs, that he’s tackling it from all angles, teaching others to mentor and creating mentors who will make his message a reality.
“It’s been almost 10 years now, and I’m always pinching myself that we’re still going,” Luper says. “Our goal is to never get to the place where we say, ‘Okay, we’re helping enough people now.’” He’s been all in from day one, and there’s no stopping the momentum now.
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What’s your passion, and how can you share it to help people?