Jen Gunnels, NCAA.com
If you’re looking for a word to describe Brooks Dyroff, a sophomore forward on the Boston College men’s ice hockey team, you’ll be hard-pressed to settle on just one. Student. Athlete. Filmmaker. Leader. Philanthropist.
A native of Boulder, Colo., Dyroff is the co-founder of CEO 4 Teens, a non-profit organization committed to creating educational opportunities for underprivileged teens around the world. Established in 2007, the organization was the brainchild of Dyroff and his best friend Kenny Haisfield, now a sophomore at North Carolina.
“Both of our families are really big on community service, so we had done some little things in our hometown — helped little kids learn to skate, served families at homeless shelters, that sort of thing,” Dyroff said. “We were sophomores in high school at the time, and we had enjoyed those things, but we felt that we could do something bigger.”
Opportunity for Impact
Haisfield had just returned from a family trip to Indonesia, where the average annual income is $2,247. When Haisfield showed Dryoff photos of the living conditions facing some of the poverty stricken Indonesians he had encountered on the trip, the young men saw an opportunity to make an impact.
“We started talking about what we could do and the things we are most grateful for in our lives. Obviously our family and our health were the biggest things, but we realized that our education was a pretty big thing that we were grateful for, and something that we could help to bring to people in Indonesia.”
In the course of their research, the friends made a connection with the director of Campuhan College in the town of Ubud, on the island of Bali. Through discussions, the idea for a scholarship program for underprivileged teens was born. A year-long English language and computer skills program at Campuhan costs about $1,000 per student. Dyroff and Haisfield set about raising money through a simple donation letter to family and friends and a pledge system where donors gave a designated number of dollars for every hour of community service the boys completed.
“That turned out to be a really positive thing because we were serving our local community while raising money for this community in Indonesia,” Dyroff said.
Eventually, the pair raised $10,000, enough to sponsor a class of 10 students for the year-long program. Wayan Rustiasa, the director of the college, developed an application and an admission test and promoted the scholarship program across the island through advertisements on the radio and flyers around towns. Dyroff and Haisfield traveled to Ubud in the summer of 2007 to select CEO 4 Teens’ first class of 10 scholarship recipients.
“Wayan narrowed the list of applicants down to 20 before we arrived,” Dyroff recalled. “We spent four or five days traveling around the island interviewing those 20 students in their homes and meeting with their families.”
The pair wanted to ensure that the applicants were truly in need of financial aid, and that they were likely to succeed in the program. The interviews were conducted through the help of a translator, and the home visits allowed CEO 4 Teens to make a personal connection with each scholarship recipient.
“In 2007 when I was able to go over to Indonesia and meet with that first group of scholarship applicants and we said — through a translator, because these students didn’t speak a word of English at the time — that on behalf of CEO 4 Teens we want to award you with this scholarship, those reactions are forever etched in my mind,” Dyroff said. “There were tears every time. To see how important this was to them and to their families was really profound. In 2008, when we met with them a year later and were able to speak to them directly in English, it was incredible. I get speechless when I try to talk about it still, because I’m amazed by the progress they’ve made.”
Along with English language and computer skills, the students also receive job placement assistance at the end of the program. Many end up in the graphic design field, creating advertisements for local businesses or working on print catalogs. Dyroff says the combination of English language and computer skills is an especially valuable combination due to the island’s proximity to Australia. Graduates of the program are sometimes recruited to work for Australian businesses, and the income that the students are able to earn after graduating from the program jumps from about $12 per month to around $100 per month.
CEO 4 Teens also offers a microfinance loan program to scholarship recipients at the end of their scholarship year to start a new business or jumpstart a new career. The students complete a loan application packet and are typically given a year to repay the loan. Dyroff recalled one of the first loan recipients who requested $100 to pay for transportation to and from the job she was offered after graduating from Campuhan. By the time Dyroff and Haisfield returned the following summer, the student was flourishing in her new job, had completely repaid the loan and was beginning to use her increased income to support her younger siblings in school.
“These are the most unselfish people you will ever meet,” Dyroff said. “We had no idea how far this money would go because what ends up happening is that once these individuals become established, they use their income to pay for their younger brothers and sisters to go to school and have the same opportunities. And they buy food for their parents, so entire families are being impacted by these scholarships.”
Along with continuing their efforts in Indonesia, CEO 4 Teens has also expanded its operations to the Boston area where Dyroff is enrolled at Boston College. After reading an article about the barrier many Americans face in earning their general education diploma (GED), Dyroff saw an opportunity to apply CEO 4 Teens’ mission to his new community.
Upon arriving in Boston in the fall of 2009, Dyroff met with the GED Coordinator at Roxbury Community College in Roxbury Crossing, Mass. Along with adjusting to college life and playing hockey at the Division I level, Dyroff was busy posting flyers around Roxbury announcing a scholarship to assist students in earning their GED. At a cost of $250 per student, CEO 4 Teens was able to award scholarships for three individuals to complete their GED exams last year.
“Brooks is an incredibly deep young man,” said Jerry York, head men’s ice hockey coach at Boston College. “There’s so much more to him than what you see on the ice. When we were recruiting him, we wondered how his skill set would complement our team and our program.
“One day his coach at Phillips Andover, Dean Boylan, grabbed me and told me about the impact that Brooks had made not only within the hockey locker room but within the entire community at the school. He was a role model for all the students at Andover Academy. I said to myself, ‘This is the type of person we’d like to have in our program.’ It doesn’t matter if he scores 35 goals in his career or two goals. He brings so much to our team and to college hockey. We’re just proud to have Brooks as part of our program.”
Despite seeing limited game action, Dyroff has leveraged his position on the men’s ice hockey team to further serve the Boston community, spearheading a partnership between the hockey team and students at Saint Columbkille Partnership School, just minutes from BC’s campus. Every freshman, sophomore and a few juniors on the men’s ice hockey team were paired with a fifth grade student at the school in a mentoring relationship. The student-athletes visit their mentees at school, help them with homework and host them at men’s ice hockey games.
“I think you forget sometimes how important a member outside of your family can be as a mentor and a role model, just what an impression those people can make on you as a kid,” Dyroff said. “So we’ll meet with these students for the next few years while we’re at BC and hopefully those relationships will continue beyond that.”
Dyroff also established an after-school program at the school called MATHLETES, which provides the students with extra math help. CEO 4 Teens hopes to eventually raise enough money to provide the school with new sports equipment and improved playground facilities.
“One night we got back from being with the kids and my roommate was just really pumped up about it,” Dyroff recalled. “He was talking about how good it felt, what we were doing in the community and in the lives of these kids. That’s been a really rewarding thing about all of this to me, is passing on this feeling of giving to others.”
Dyroff is passionate about sharing the work of CEO 4 Teens with those who will listen and has used his talents in filmmaking to share the stories of scholarship recipients in two short documentaries — “Change For Change” and “A Drop in the Bucket”, both of which garnered recognition at film festivals in 2008 and 2009.
“Originally the documentary was made as a ‘thank you’ for our donors to show them how their money was used, but it became a great tool to raise awareness about what we were doing,” Dyroff said. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then film must be worth a million.”
Reaching a Milestone
As Dyroff and Haisfield have become more involved in their collegiate activities and communities, the way they conduct program operations in Indonesia has evolved. The friends now conduct their scholarship interviews through Skype® and run local operations through Wayan, with whom they have established a strong relationship. The pair keeps in touch with the scholarship recipients through e-mail and Facebook chat during the year, which allows the Indonesian students a special opportunity to practice their English. CEO 4 Teens received word last week that a donation has been made to the organization that will allow it to award another class of students with scholarships to Campuhan College in 2011.
“This gets us to five years of scholarships,” Dyroff said. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to say that. We’re just ecstatic that we’re going to be able to do this again for another year. It’s hard work raising the money, but we just try to take it one year at a time. We want to keep building and expanding our efforts and make it to a sixth year and a seventh year and beyond.”
For more information about the work of CEO 4 Teens, visit www.ceo4teens.com.