The idea started by accident last May. My Notre Dame football teammate Cole Luke had some extra Under Armour cleats and didn’t know what to do with them. So his roommate, Andrew Helmin, offered to take them back home to Frankfort, Ill., and give them to the kids in the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the kids were overwhelmed with excitement at the chance to wear the game-used cleats of one of Notre Dame’s starting cornerbacks.
Like a sudden light illuminating a dark room, an idea emerged. What if more student-athletes gave their extra gear and clothing to those in need? That simple notion gave birth to a nonprofit organization now known as One Shirt One Body, a student-athlete led initiative to donate athletic apparel to local communities.
An epiphany helped bring the idea to life, but then came the hard part: How do you build a working model that could be implemented on campuses across the country? To achieve it, we did what most college students do when they have an idea and no clue what to do with it—drink lots of coffee and brainstorm until the wee hours. Playlists from Majestic Casual and Bon Iver blared until 3 a.m. as we snacked on leftover Chipotle and wrote our ideas on scattered pieces of loose-leaf paper.
A few long nights later, our mission crystalized. One Shirt One Body would be more than just a clothing drive; it would be a vehicle for student-athletes to be role models. As athletes, we got to Notre Dame because other people invested and believed in us. Why couldn’t we pass it on to the next generation? The donated athletic shirts would serve as a symbol to encourage the pursuit of higher education among youth. It would also serve as motivation for college athletes to give others the same inspiration they received when they were kids.
After we decided on our mission, everything happened at light speed. Our idea went from brainstorming in our friend’s kitchen to a national initiative in less than three weeks.
Andrew, a Notre Dame junior and former track athlete, and I began by presenting the idea to three senior athletic administrators last June—Michael Harrity, Claire VeNard, and Jack Swarbrick. They quickly gave it the green light. Harrity, a senior associate athletic director, suggested I pitch the idea to the ACC at their summer Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) meeting that weekend.
Four days later, I was on a flight to Greensboro, N.C., trying to convince SAAC representatives from every school in the ACC to adopt our initiative. I was confident in our idea, but it’s daunting to ask the likes of Duke, Louisville, and Syracuse for their endorsement. When I presented One Shirt One Body, every single SAAC rep present voted for it to be a conference initiative. And just like that, our little idea became a reality for a Power Five conference.
We were thrilled, but it got even better when Notre Dame officials asked Andrew and I if we wanted to go to Indianapolis to present our idea to the Division I SAAC representatives in late July. Who could turn down such an incredible opportunity? So we put on suits, jumped into a car and nervously practiced our pitch on the 2 1/2–hour drive as we scarfed down McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. It’s not everyday you get to present in front of representatives from every conference in Division I.
As the meeting flew by, our palms were noticeably sweaty. When it was finally our turn to talk, Andrew and I looked at each other, took a deep breath and went to the podium. Fifteen minutes later, representatives from all over the country were shaking our hands and giving us their business cards. Patriot League. Conference USA. WAC. Atlantic Sun Conference. We did it. In 18 days, our little idea went from an over-caffeinated brain storming session to a national initiative.
The fall shirt collection went incredibly well. Eight schools participated and more than 2,000 shirts were collected, with Notre Dame donating 300 to the South Bend Center for the Homeless. Peter Lombardo, the Center’s Community-based Learning Coordinator, praised the initiative for the impact and willingness of student-athletes to go into our communities to promote good values and higher education. Schools including Wake Forest, Syracuse and Louisville collected hundreds of shirts each and gave them to a variety of community organizations and local schools.
After such an overwhelming opening response, I got a phone call from the NCAA. They wanted Andrew and I to present One Shirt One Body at the NCAA National Convention in my hometown of San Antonio on Jan. 15. We packed our bags and got ready for the big stage. At the conference, the NCAA partnered with us to collect more than 1,000 shirts to donate to four different IDEA Public Schools campuses across the city. My father, David Robinson, has worked with IDEA Public Schools to help create 44 tuition-free public charter schools in South Texas. Despite the schools being in low-income, high-risk areas, every single child has gone to college. Ten student-athletes from around the country showed up on a Saturday afternoon to give shirts to nearly 400 excited students. We played basketball against fully-suited middle school girls and boys, took pictures and signed autographs. The most rewarding moment I had was seeing the Instagram post one of the kids tagged me in later that day with the caption: “I met my new role model today.”
This is just the beginning. We recently partnered with the ACC and established One Shirt One Body as a non-profit with the ultimate goal of providing scholarships to students across the country to fulfill their dream of going to college. We want to continue to push the forefront of community engagement and use our statuses as student-athletes to positively impact individuals on a national level.
I hope to use One Shirt One Body’s rapid rise as a prime example that anything is possible. Just as One Shirt One Body went from an idea to a national initiative, I hope to inspire my fellow students at Notre Dame to become agents of change. Life isn’t about making a living; it’s about how you live. And the past few months have taught us we can change lives One Shirt One Body at a time.
Corey Robinson is a junior wide receiver on the Notre Dame football team from San Antonio. He is the co-founder of One Shirt One Body, which has donated approximately 3,000 shirts since November 2015. This blog post was originally posted on Campus Rush’s website.