Union soccer player Ben-Ishay launches Athletes With Influence – The Daily Gazette


SCHENECTADY – They leave Union College with a degree.

They don’t always leave with their sportswear.

A football player, for example, may never find the opportunity to put on the epaulettes again once his stay with the Dutch is over, so why take that baggage with you into the next phase of your life?

Someone could use that gear, though, and that’s where second-year Union cornerback Jake Ben-Ishay came in — and stepped up. He noticed equipment being abandoned by graduating players and discovered an opportunity to make a difference in the community through a charitable effort he named Athletes With Influence.

In early April, with the help and guidance of the Union Athletic Department and Senior Gift Manager Nick Famulare, Ben-Ishay, a native of Closter, Northeast New Jersey, launched a fundraiser which is raising money through GoFundMe and will donate leftover equipment to benefit select Schenectady youth sports organizations.

Balancing soccer and schoolwork is a tall order to start with, but Ben-Ishay said it’s rewarding to fill his free time with an effort that can impact city kids and hopefully , serve a higher mission of exposing children to the possibility of going to college.

“My idea was that I’ve been an athlete my whole life and always played sports, and I wanted to do something that involved that,” he said. “I’ve always seen the value of sport, more than just running on the field. So I wanted to do something that involved that. I knew I could put passion into that rather than another fundraiser, make a difference in a different way. I’ve always been involved. That was my first thought.

Athletes With Influence has already caused a stir on the fundraising front with the sale of t-shirts, and Ben-Ishay’s program will be present later in May with a tent set up on campus during the weekend of the old.

“I started working on it in the winter,” he said. “We just started a fundraiser, and we raised over $500 in the first 48 hours and we’re down to just under $1,000 now.

“I started talking to the sporting director [Jim McLaughlin] here at school about possible ideas. We were thinking and I thought we could do some kind of program to cover the cost of equipment for the teams in the region. That’s where I started.

Getting his effort from the conceptual stage to real charity work was a little more complicated than he had anticipated.

This is where Famulare played an important role.

“I felt like I was on Shark Tank pitching my idea,” Ben-Ishay said with a laugh. “I was definitely quite nervous about it. But I talked to him about it and he gave me advice. He asked me all the questions I didn’t have an answer for, like ‘Who do you give it to? you ?’

“These teams know what they need much more than I do. So he gave me the idea to launch it as a fund, and that teams can apply for grants from this fund. My job is to raise funds, and they can apply for grants. It’ll be easy then, once the word gets out, those teams can fill it out, and I’ll process all the grants I can, whoever needs it the most.

Ben-Ishay has been in contact with the Schenectady Youth Hockey Association and Belmont Patriots Pop Warner.

And he checked with Union hockey equipment manager Dave Baglio to see if equipment was usually left behind when players graduate.

“The idea has bounced back and changed a lot since this winter,” Ben-Ishay said. “Like half of what I’m trying to do now, I’m playing football, and I know we don’t necessarily get new equipment every season. At big Division I schools, it’s definitely the case.

“All that surplus is either dumped in landfills or . . . I do not even know. They don’t just store everything, they either get thrown away, so let’s find a place to put those things. That was the second half of the idea.

“He [Baglio] was excited and said he thought he would have a good amount of stuff to give away. He says all those kids leave a ton of stuff in the locker room at the end of the year.

Ben-Ishay, who is majoring in managerial economics with a minor in data economics, said Union’s choice was influenced not only by the fact that he could play football here, but also by the fact that his brother Sol, who graduated this year, was on the soccer team.

He looks forward to spring football, having gained 20 pounds, and expects part of his Athletes With Influence program to involve bringing local kids to practices and games to show them what it’s like. is to play on a college team.

“Literally, the influence of athletes, anything we can do to have an influence,” he said. “A lot of these kids don’t even know about the possibility of going to college, let alone that sport gets them to a better college, which is exactly what happened to me. Sport has helped, although it’s not a full turn.

“Money is definitely an issue. I grew up in an area in North Jersey just outside the city [New York], and there has never been a college athlete to come and talk to us. And I really think that would have been something that would have left you with something. You would remember that.

Ben-Ishay said part of his inspiration for Athletes With Influence came from Kozi’s Kids, a program developed by men’s hockey captain Josh Kosack through which he helped COCOA House, an educational center for children in Schenectady.

Like Kozi’s Kids, Athletes With Influence is not just designed to throw money at an issue, but also to provide a platform through which young children can get a taste of college life and perhaps a better perspective on whether it’s something they can aspire to.

“What I want to convey is not even related to sports,” Ben-Ishay said. “Education is the most important thing. The reason I’m here is through sports, which is why we’re getting this message across.

“But that’s not really the message. The idea is that athletics builds all those non-cognitive skills that you don’t develop if you don’t play sports. I think those things, 100%, transition into real-world success. So when they develop those skills as kids, it will at least lead them to be more likely, in my opinion, to want to go to college. It makes success more of a reality, in my opinion. What I think is great.

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