How does one tackle the problem that only 50 percent of veterans graduate from college? Former Marine Alex Stone believes he has the solution with Athletes of Valor, a Boston-based startup where veterans are connected to a vibrant network of college athletics coaches, simply by signing up online.
As the CEO of Athletes of Valor, Stone aims to help people bridge the gap between service and a career by leveraging collegiate sports. Stone’s vision is to use team sports as a support structure to drastically increase graduation rates of veterans.
“My mission is to ensure these men and women move on after service and find meaningful employment,” Stone said.
Originally from the Boston area, Stone launched Athletes of Valor in July of last year. He moved back to Boston from Baltimore where he met with business partners and took advantage of the strong network he had built over the years.
Despite his ability to play collegiate sports, Stone decided instead to serve his country in the Marine Corps after high school. When Stone left the military years later, he was unaware of the opportunity to earn a scholarship to play college sports.
While working in the sporting goods industry, Stone was exposed to the recruitment process. He noticed companies were looking to hire employees with qualities similar to those found in people who had served in the military.
Stone recognized that over 85 percent of student-athletes graduate from college with a four-year degree. He realized that if veterans became student-athletes, more of them would graduate due to the similarly structured nature of both military service and college sports.
For Stone, the most important thing is that veterans would be in an environment constantly surrounded by friends and fellow students working toward a common goal. Day in and day out, looking toward the next game or match, would give them a sense of purpose.
While it’s hard to decipher every veteran’s reason for the difficulty readjusting to civilian life, Stone says that there are commonalities. When these veterans show up to a job or a classroom, they no longer have the same pride in the work they do and it’s difficult for them to stay motivated.
Stone knows from recruitment experience that military veterans combined with collegiate athletes who have their degree are very highly sought after in the work force. The values instilled in them through team sports and military service like leadership and discipline will ultimately lead to meaningful employment. The company hopes its program will allow veterans to utilize their connections through the sports network, collegiate network, and military network.
“When you leave the military and you enter the workforce it’s much less of culture shock to be part of a team while you earn your degree,” Stone said. “This makes sure that they find that sense of purpose and core structure.”
With a college degree, these veterans will avoid making the mistake of committing to the first job that becomes available to them. This causes long term issues as they might not be happy at the job. It may not be a great fit, and therefore not what they deem to be a successful career.
Veterans may be unaware that even after several years of service, those who still have their NCAA eligibility will be able to play college sports. Stone made reference to a former Green Beret—who at 38 is playing college sports in a school in St. Louis—to show that there is no definite cap for age in college sports.
Featured Image Courtesy of Athletes of Valor