Big Man on Campus

Honoring one coach by helping others who are in crisis

By Sue Baldani

Coaches can have a huge influence in young athletes’ lives, and not just on the playing field. They are often vital in instilling important values such as responsibility, hard work, and humility, and some become much more than coaches to their young players.

One coach who touched many lives was Jamal Powell, a Texas Christian University standout and former NFL and CFL (Canadian Football League) player. “Coach Powell had a tremendous impact on me,” says Casey Kroll, who played football for Powell at James Madison University in Virginia and later followed him into the Texas coaching circuit.

“When I met Coach Powell in my senior year of college at JMU, I was at a crossroads in my life. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after I graduated, and had aspirations to be a lawyer. But then I looked at Coach Powell and thought ‘What a cool job he has. He’s making such a difference in young people’s lives.’ He was someone I looked up to and who helped me through some difficult times as a student, as an athlete, and as a young person.”

When Coach Powell was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome in 2018, he not only lost a considerable amount of weight but also lost feeling and motor function in his extremities. Months later, after spending a significant amount of time in the hospital, Powell was then diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. After undergoing surgery to remove the cancer, it returned in the summer of 2020, this time in his stomach.

“People within the Southern Methodist University [where Coach Powell was the assistant football coach] and JMU football community as well as the Dallas community helped in whatever capacity they could,” says Kroll.

During this time, Kroll was working on starting up The Big Man Foundation, a 501(3)(c) organization that would help coaches and their families going through crises like the Powell’s.

Sadly, Coach Powell passed away on April 6, 2021 at the age of 39, and the name of the organization is a tribute to him; Powell called his offensive line unit the “Big Man Fraternity.”

“We had a really great opportunity to expand his legacy and there’s no better way to honor him than by helping others, so that’s what our real drive is – being able to help and serve other coaches,” says Kroll.

Kroll, a native of Nokesville, missed his family (he was the oldest of four children) and left Texas to come back home. “I then got linked up with Coach Greg Hatfield, who was my high school coach when I was at Kettle Run High School in Fauquier (Kroll graduated in 2010). They had an opening on their staff and I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to work with him. When he recently left to coach at Battlefield High School [in Haymarket], I went with him and am now serving as the offensive line coach.”

Today, Kroll is the founder and president of The Big Man Foundation, which has been in operation since December 2020. “We’ve had over 100 people donate so far, and we have five or six ambassadors and six board members.”

The first Jamal Powell Legacy Grant will be bestowed later this year. The deadline to apply for this quarter is September 3 and the amount of money given will depend on the number of people who apply and how much money the organization raises. Instead of just choosing one family, they hope to be able to help a few different families.

“Right now, our goal is to give out grants quarterly, but we also want to have emergency financial relief available, which may be needed right away,” says Kroll.

Their focus right now is to get the word out about their organization. “We have to make a big push to get people to share who we are, what we do, and why it’s important. We just recently started an ambassador program for people in the athletics community who align with our mission and to share that mission.

“Aaron Stinnie was so passionate about it he became one of our board members,” says Kroll. “I played with him at JMU for Coach Powell, and he now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who recently won a Super Bowl.”

Also on the board is Blaine Stewart, a teammate of Kroll at JMU and currently the coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers; Bryan Schor, quarterback of the JMU 2016 National Championship team; Lou Chiccehitto, Kroll’s college roommate; Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Kroll’s professor at JMU; and Aaron Epstein, who was Powell’s neighbor and also worked in fundraising at JMU.

The 100% volunteer-based organization is hoping to raise $120,000 by the end of 2021. “Every decision we’ve made up until this point has not been based around what is best for The Big Man Foundation right now, but instead focused on our long-term growth and solvency and looking at what we want to be doing five or 10 years from now,” says Kroll.

Besides illness-related expenses, The Big Man Foundation will also help coaches and their families affected by natural disasters or domestic violence. In the future, he hopes the foundation will be able to help in even larger ways, such as paying off someone’s mortgage or all of their medical bills.

“One of our other goals, and this is really close to my heart, is to be able to hire Coach Powell’s wife, Rachel Powell, to work with us, to be able to give her a job and stability. And it would be an awesome opportunity to work with someone who has lived our mission and knows why we’re doing what we do.”

When the board receives applications for grants, it’s going to look at each applicant on a case-by-case basis to find out what that particular person’s needs are and how they can best help each family. “We aim to give financial resources, but some people might not need those, and instead need some other type of support such as a therapist or baby sitter. One of the things Mrs. Powell needed was someone to watch her children and go to the grocery store. With three kids (Jaden, now 13, Ellison, 8, and William, 5) and a husband in a wheelchair, she needed help with daily tasks.

The foundation would also like to expand to include a wellness outreach program for student athletes and coaches. “We’re going to try to work with schools and sports teams, and we’re sharing resources with Morgan’s Message, a nonprofit focusing on student athlete mental health.”

Like every nonprofit, The Big Man Foundation needs funding, and lots of it, to fulfill its long-term mission. If people aren’t in a place to help financially, they can volunteer their time and/or talent. Families in crisis often need reliable and caring babysitters, house cleaners, tutors to help children with homework, and/or counselors for emotional support. People can also help by getting its message out, following the organization on social media, and/or signing up to become an ambassador.

To find out how you can help support and refer families, or if you are a coach in need, go to www.thebigmanfoundation.org, like it on Facebook, and follow on Twitter @thebigmanfound and on Instagram @thebigmanfoundation.

Written for Haymarket & Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.

Turn Around, Don’t Drown

By Sue Baldani

When Tropical Storm Ida recently tore through our area, over 25 people in New Jersey died, mostly from drowning. Although some of these deaths couldn’t have been prevented, others could, especially those that occurred on our roads.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. The next highest percentage of flood-related deaths is caused by walking into or near flood waters.

In their desire to get to their destinations, many people underestimate the power and force of water. When coming upon a flooded road, instead of backing up and finding an alternate route, they tell themselves that their vehicles can get through just fine, often misjudging how deep the water truly is. Many times, this leads to tragedy. Once in the middle of these flood waters, cars often stall and people find themselves stranded and in trouble.

If they’re lucky, rescue crews are nearby and can pick them up before the water gets even higher or their cars are washed away by flash flooding. If they’re not, and can’t make it back to dry land, they often drown. Driving into flooded waters also puts first responders at risk when they have to venture into these dangerous waters to save others.

So the next time you drive up to a flooded road, turn around. Don’t take the chance; don’t gamble with your life and that of others. Drive to higher ground and find a safe place to wait until the water recedes and it’s safe to travel once again.

Written for the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad in New Jersey. Sue Baldani is a life member of the squad.

Make Learning a Snap

A fun way to develop STEAM skills

By Sue Baldani

When it comes to education, kids learn best when it’s a more natural process. Add interesting and fun to the mix, and you’ll get Snapology. Named the #1 Children’s Enrichment franchise in Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500, its curriculum is full of STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) learning opportunities.

“After I had my son Darren, I watched him explore his surroundings, and when he was about 2 years old, he got hooked on LEGO®,” says Sunny Sun, the owner of Snapology Summit. “I realized that LEGOdoesn’t force kids to build anything, but instead they can build based on their own imagination and observation. I felt like it really boosted children’s creativity. That was the first connection I had with LEGO.”

While working full time in finance, she decided to find something that would give her a better work/family balance. “When I discovered Snapology and saw the whole educational approach and the curriculum and structure of the classes, it was exactly what I was looking for. It connects creativity and learning and provides all the tools for children to design, create and build based on their own thoughts. And this program uses mostly LEGOto teach. I was sold!”

In addition to LEGObricks, Snapology makes learning fun by using Duplo, K-Nex and innovative technologies such as robotics. And the instructors are all experienced STEM/STEAM teachers. “I looked first for people who had a loving heart for children,” says Sunny. “This was the most important element for me. I didn’t want them to treat this as just a job.” Sunny is an instructor as well.

Everyone involved with Snapology, she adds, is very passionate, from those who research and develop the curriculum to her fellow owners. “We all care about education and children. Our mission is to make children happy and to develop the habit and love of life-long learning.”

Snapology, stresses Sunny, is not just LEGObuilding; it goes beyond that. “We use the LEGObricks and other innovative toys as tools for the kids to boost their imagination and creativity. We also help them with the concept of teamwork and social development so that they will eventually become great people.”

Another wonderful aspect of Snapology is that the classes, parties, play dates and workshops are mobile. Sunny partners with local venues such as schools, libraries, and community centers; classes can even be held at children’s homes. Snapology Summit offers classes not only in Summit but in the surrounding areas as well.

Classes and workshops are flexible in terms of length and are customizable. While its summer camps are usually three hours long, birthday parties can be 1 to 1 ½ hours and workshops 2 hours. Snapology also offers half-day field trips right on school grounds. They will arrange fun activities and indoor and outdoor games for an entire class.

Many parents, she says, are surprised at what their kids can do in these classes. “I recently hosted a Video Design class for 6- and 7-year-olds and there was a girl with special needs in the class. I customized it for each individual’s pace, and by the end of the course, she and the rest of the group were able to make the same game. Her parents were happy and amazed.”

Snapology has a well-established curriculum with over 1,500 hours of instruction. Some of the more popular classes include the Amusement Park Engineering course, where kids learn the mechanisms, or physics, behind the rides. Another is Escape Snapology, where they have to solve math and other problems in order to unlock themselves from one room and get to the next.

“We just established a new program called Drone Commander, which is a drone made out of LEGO. We add a little engine and wings so it can fly with a remote control and do different tricks.”

Sunny also believes in giving back to the community. Through Snapology, she raises money and/or offers free classes for nonprofits such as Room to Read and Crossroads4Hope.

Darren, now 5, loves Snapology. To get your children involved in these amazing courses as well, go to www.snapology.com/location/summit.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

A Non-Dieting Approach to Health

Building a better body through eating and living right

By Sue Baldani

Good nutrition is not just about losing weight. It’s also about feeding your mind, body and soul. This is the main tenet of Cara Clark Nutrition, and it’s this philosophy that has garnered Cara Clark a strong following.

A certified Sports and Clinical Nutritionist, Cara specializes in full-body wellness as well as sustainable lifestyles. Since founding Cara Clark Nutrition in 2009, she has shared her “non-dieting approach” to feeling and looking better.

“We don’t proclaim it to be weight loss and our success stories aren’t about what the scale says,” explains Cara. “Instead, it’s about people getting off medication, or those who had chronic illnesses getting better. Success is about a mom who felt so down and out and alone and now has the energy to be present in the moment with her kids.”

While living in Orange County, California, there was no shortage of celebrities seeking out her expertise. One of these was Christine Haack of HGTV’s Christina on the Coast and Flip or Flop (which Christina films alongside her ex-husband, Tarek El Moussa).

“We met eight years ago when Tarek was going through thyroid cancer treatment,” says Cara. “Christina reached out to me to help with a meal plan for him that aligned with his treatment protocol. Very quickly she realized she needed some nutritional support as well.” Christina was drained from caring for a sick husband, raising a toddler, and being new to the TV world.

Shortly thereafter, they became fast friends, and have maintained a close relationship to this day. In fact, when Cara and her family moved to Franklin last year, Christina was the first to visit and even bought a place nearby to stay while visiting. (The family’s move from California to Tennessee will be featured in an upcoming episode of Christina on the Coast.)

“We became that person we were missing in each other’s lives,” says Cara. “We even had babies at the same time with her Brayden and my Carli Jo and all of our kids are friends.”

They also co-authored the book, The Wellness Remodel. “We really wanted to touch on rewiring because a lot of it is how we think,” says Cara. “If time is the biggest obstacle, you can actually gain time by meal prepping. It’s not actually as hard as you think, but you have to have the energy to apply it. So, we say give us five days, which is when people’s energy starts to change.”

Being a wife to Chris, a financial planner, and a mom to four daughters – Maggie (age 11), Mila (9), Claire (8), and Carli Jo (Jo Jo) (5), Cara knows all about time constraints. Soon after moving into their new home, they also rescued a Pyrenees Australian shepherd mix named Aspen, so they have a full house.

Limited time is one of the reasons that Cara now only takes on athletes on an individualized basis. For others, she offers a unique and effective group challenge program. “When my third daughter was due, I had so many people begging me to take them on as clients, so I created a challenge that would work for everybody, but also take into consideration their personal assessments.”

The program has been unbelievably successful, with over 2000 participants per season taking part. “We do them seasonally so we can use seasonal foods and recipes not only to inspire people, but to also make sure they are taking in the best nutrients possible.”

Adults aren’t the only people she focuses on; she is currently writing a program called “The Balanced Kid” that she hopes to launch this month. “We already have a Fall Back to Health challenge every summer for parents to get back on track, and a kids’ cookbook, [with recipes approved by her children] so this is an add on.”

Cara collaborated with Dr. Kaisa Coppola, a functional medicine doctor, to talk about the main issues she sees in her pediatric patients, and then went on to provide all the meal plans, recipes, and guidance to help with those issues. She says that when many kids act out, instead of a behavioral problem, it may actually be a nutritional deficiency issue.

Eating first thing in the morning, she says, is key for both kids and adults, and she gives many grab-and-go ideas like rolling up your protein and carbs. A great snack or meal can be a combination of nutritious crackers and cheese, hard-boiled eggs and sliced apples, watermelon and nuts, and popcorn with nutritional yeast, which adds not only a cheesy flavor but protein and B vitamins as well. “It’s not about sneaking these foods in, but instead just shifting the experience. This is what I want to teach with The Balanced Kid.” Go to CaraClarkNutrition.com or pick up “The Wellness Remodel” to get started on living your and your family’s best lives.  

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Brentwood, TN.