As a college student, Doug Probst thought it was fun to serve as a big brother with NCAA Volunteers for Youth. It wasn’t until years later, however, that his little brother caught up with him and told him how much the experience had meant.
“You don’t know the impact you had on me,” he told him.
The comment stayed with Doug. In 2011, then the CFO of DSW, he approached fellow DSW executives Bill Jordan and Roger Rawlins with an idea to create a coaching program that would engage high school student-athletes from all backgrounds. The goal? To provide them with valuable lessons they can use throughout their lives, including the importance of knowing how to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye.
Handshake America’s program started in 2012 with Doug, Bill, and Roger as coaches and three male student-athletes from Whitehall-Yearling, Gahanna Lincoln, and Reynoldsburg high schools. It has grown to include 35 students, both male and female, representing 26 schools in 2016. The program has also expanded to Atlanta, and Doug’s dream is to have 2,030 kids across the country in the program by the year 2030.
Students are chosen for the program during their junior year. In addition to being assigned a coach and participating in group meetings throughout the year, each receives a $1,500 scholarship at completion—$1,000 is donated by their coach and the rest is raised through fundraising efforts.
“The response from the students
is the motivation that keeps us going.”
— Doug Probst
In 2013, a Scholarship Fund, Handshake America, was established at The Columbus Foundation.
“The kids who are selected by their school have grit and are coachable,” Doug explained. “The beautiful part about this is that we are mixing things up and getting them out of their local area bubble—and that’s true for the coaches, too.”
Coaches are local professionals who are looking for a way to personally give back and help cultivate the leaders of tomorrow.
“The core of what we do is build each other up,” Doug said. “We become bigger, stronger people. Better family members, better students, better members of the community.”