UA Students Learning to Pay It Forward with LeBron James Family Foundation Project


There is nothing more essential in life than learning to “pay it forward.” The LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF) and its I PROMISE Program is a living example in the most powerful way. The Foundation ensures that more than 1,500 middle and high school students in the Akron Public School system learn and practice paying it forward and helping others—even making community service a key requirement in earning a scholarship to The University of Akron.

Paying it forward has long been a beacon of the Zip spirit, as well. Bringing a pay-it-forward program to life was the EX[L] Center for Experiential Learning at UA, who partnered with Dr. Sandie Crawford’s I PROMISE learning community made up of the inaugural cohort of I PROMISE program graduates. As incoming freshmen, I PROMISE students were enrolled in the “Akron Experience” course, which is a semester-long orientation class to help all freshmen adjust to college and learn how to be a successful UA student.

“Students need to have purpose and understand why they're here. What better way to learn than to get them into the community, get them out there, to kind of see how their gifts and talents could be used for not only serving others but developing themselves as well,” said Crawford, interim director for diversity and inclusion, who taught this pay-it-forward opportunity in her course.

This fall, twenty-seven freshman students met weekly at the I PROMISE Institute, located on the third floor of InfoCision Stadium. Crawford worked with LJFF to send the students back to the Foundation to learn the “other side” of the non-profit organization that made such a difference in their own lives. Divided into three groups, they worked as a team, each assigned to learn about one of three areas of the I PROMISE vision: the I PROMISE School Family Resource Center; the I PROMISE Village by Graduate Hotels that serves as transitional housing; and a seventh grade Family Consumer Science class that is part of the I PROMISE learning program.

Students were charged with learning the operation, assessing the needs of I PROMISE families, developing a service project that serves the families, and making a formal presentation of their findings and recommendations to a panel of judges—all to compete for a $2,000 grant to bring that project into fruition.

“This is a philanthropy and grant making opportunity where students get to work on behalf of a nonprofit that receives real money to implement a program,” Crawford noted.

Toni Montgomery, director of strategy, culture and operations at LJFF, works in the I PROMISE Institute providing secondary support for I PROMISE college students. Montgomery explained that the groups’ first site visits were to learn and gather information about their assigned program; the second site visit was to “really get out there to determine what the needs are by putting boots on the ground,” and the last site visit was designed to compile and create their PowerPoint presentation for their lead contact to ensure that they are reflecting the families needs accurately and representing the organization correctly.

Student Jonah Kristan and his group worked with the I PROMISE Village for transitional housing. The first floor of this renovated apartment building is community space with homework and computer stations, an arts-and-crafts room and community rooms. What was missing was storage. “[For our group project] it’s really about creating and filling a storage space that contains family essentials,” he said.

Student Shavelle Briggins was in the second group, aimed at helping the I PROMISE Family Resource Center located on-campus at the I PROMISE School, which opened in 2018 and is dedicated to APS students who are falling behind and in danger of falling through the cracks. “For my group’s project, we plan to choose five families and give them clothes baskets and money for Christmas,” she said.

The third group was tasked with helping an I PROMISE Family Consumer Science seventh grade class by paying for school supplies for students entering middle school. Freshman Anlaxander Vang said, “We’re helping the 7th graders, looking at what they need for school and how they're going to get it.”

After all their work, it was time for the judges to select the winning grant proposal. The presentations were made on Nov. 17 at the I PROMISE Institute. The judges were Dr. Christin Seher, co-director for the EX[L] Center for Experiential Learning; Autumn Frampton, director of UA’s Office of Multicultural Development; and Dr. Sheldon Wrice, UA’s vice president of inclusion and equity and chief diversity officer. The $2,000 grant was awarded to the first group, led by Jonah Kristan, and their plan for storage space at the I PROMISE Village.

“They are the first class [of the I PROMISE Program], so they really are trailblazing the way we want them to give back to the organization that gave so much of them when they were growing up,” said Montgomery. “We also want them to use this as a networking opportunity. The Foundation has so many community and national partners, and we really want them to take advantage of those resources, learn to work with leaders at the different sites, and learn how to network.”

Media contact: Cristine Boyd, 330-972-6476 or