Devin Browne wants to help students in underserved communities that lack access to resources and funding afforded to other schools.
To do that, Browne founded Sports Konnect, a small nonprofit based in Miami that mentors at-risk youth — those more vulnerable to problems with substance abuse, school failure along with mental health disorders — through sports, science and mental health awareness. “I've always been passionate about mental health because I understand the space that a child needs in order to grow mentally, and for kids who grow up in underserved communities and neighborhoods where health and educational support are limited, they often don’t get the chance to express themselves or feel safe mentally,” he said.
But, to realize his vision fully, he needed help to expand the nonprofit, and through the Children’s Service Council and his business consultant George Gadson at the Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), Browne secured $17,000 in funding to assist in a capacity building project.
This support allowed Browne access to more employees, a position in two schools and six public libraries in Broward and Miami Dade County and a contract with a mental health clinic that provides therapists who were also former athletes.
Sports Konnect now has a full after-school lesson plan from Monday through Friday. Employees teach students how to play different sports on Monday and Friday, like soccer, basketball and baseball. On Tuesday and Thursday, students can express their interests through social media, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Wednesday, Sports Konnect focuses on mental health awareness and teaching students about life lessons and social skills for the future.
Browne originally began the nonprofit in 2011 as a prototype with one school, Richmond Heights Middle School in Miami. He would meet students outside to play a fun activity such as football or inside for an engaging computer exercise.
“There were about 20 to 30 students I saw when I first started, and it was exciting because I’m a big believer that sports connect to everything. It's one of those things that transcends all,” said Browne, who was able to launch the program that same year at Country Club Middle School in Hialeah after his successful prototype.
A few years later after his launch, Browne struggled to look for more funding to support his nonprofit. In 2018, he finally earned $34,000 from the Children's Trust, a youth social service organization in Miami aimed at helping the community. The grant allowed Browne to support Sports Konnect and reach out for further financial assistance, including a contract with Medicaid that allows him to bill for Sports Konnect’s therapy services.
Through his search, he connected with the Children's Services Council, a local government entity dedicated to helping families in Palm Beach County, and with Gadon, who mentored Browne, providing business plans and expert consulting, he said.
“George has also become like a father figure to me. He was very instrumental in helping me secure funds from the Children's Services Council and the interns and employees I currently have that allows me to focus on continuing this rapid growth we’ve been seeing,” Browne said. “This is what success feels like and I’m thrilled to be able to make a difference in so many communities that don’t yet have these kinds of opportunities.”