Partnerships with Home Depot and the Ballard Center allow Mass St. Collective athletes to give back in Lawrence

Partnerships with Home Depot and the Ballard Center allow Mass St. Collective athletes to give back in Lawrence



The budding name, image and likeness industry, for some, might be most synonymous with brand deals and sponsored social media posts.

After all, the 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for college athletes to profit from their own name, image and likeness has since led to NIL mega-deals — worth millions and often accompanied by brand new vehicles, merchandise and more — for student-athletes like Bronny James, the son of NBA legend LeBron, and women’s basketball phenom Caitlin Clark.

But the NIL organization representing athletes at the University of Kansas, Mass St. Collective, isn’t just interested in compensation. It’s also concerned with what life after college athletics looks like for the Jayhawks of today, and how they’ll support the community around them in the meantime.

Patrick Sullivan, Mass St. Collective’s director of operations and business development, told the Journal-World that’s why KU’s student-athletes are a frequent sight at a variety of local nonprofit agencies, from the Lawrence Humane Society to Just Food. It’s especially important to strike that balance given the relatively low likelihood of a professional athletic career.

“You consider what these student-athletes are going to do when they’re done being student-athletes, and it’s that tiny percentage that are going to go on and have a career in athletics — so let’s do life stuff,” Sullivan told the Journal-World. “This is real life.”

According to the NCAA’s most recent statistics, only 46 of 4,270 draft-eligible collegiate men’s basketball athletes were selected in the NBA Draft in 2023. That same year, just 1.5% of the 17,156 eligible players participating in football were selected in the NFL Draft.

The percentage of athletes that make it to the pros on the women’s side is even slimmer — only 0.9% of women’s basketball players, 0.7% of women’s soccer players and 0.5% of softball players were drafted in 2023.

“When these kids finish at KU, or hopefully not another school, what are they going to do?” Sullivan said. “… They’re embracing (volunteerism), and you walk away with this feeling of not satisfaction, it’s a feeling of almost love — community.”

It’s that sense of community that’s drawn in another of Mass St. Collective’s partners, the Ballard Center. Executive director Kyle Roggenkamp said it’s an added bonus to get to see the student-athletes spend time with kids at the agency and get a chance to simply “be themselves,” without being asked for an autograph.

Those athletes have built a relationship with Ballard, Roggenkamp said, which in turn allows them to build a greater sense of community. He said that can help with what’s sure to be an “incredibly difficult transition” for individuals who have spent much of their lives to that point with a pinpoint focus on athletics.

“But if these athletes can have a sense and feeling of community beyond the weight room, beyond the football field, beyond the basketball court, beyond the recognition, that sense of community is so powerful for a human being when they’re going through a major life transition,” Roggenkamp said. “… I want these athletes to have that. I don’t want them to be in their box as an athlete. I want them to be in a bigger box that is the Lawrence community.”

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Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

A group of Ballard Center kids get a helpful push on the swing set from University of Kansas defensive end Jereme Robinson.

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On a particularly sweltering day in mid-June, that pride is on full display on the playground at the Ballard Center.

Members of the KU football team are on site for a service project. They’re helping to build three garden planters, filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers that Ballard kids will be able to watch as they grow from the other side of the playground fence. A few members of the team, instead of putting together the planters, spend their time with a task that’s just as strenuous: keeping up with the many kids who are playing outside — somehow tirelessly, despite the heat and humidity — for the duration of their visit.

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Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

University of Kansas student-athletes work to build a garden planter at the Ballard Center on Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

The nonprofit has become an especially popular volunteer destination for KU athletes.

A few members of the starting lineup of last year’s men’s basketball team were among those in attendance at a late March groundbreaking ceremony for the agency’s new building addition. And standout women’s basketball player Taiyanna Jackson’s last stop before leaving Lawrence — fresh off becoming the first Jayhawk selected in the WNBA Draft in nine years — was the Ballard Center, with donations for its clothing pantry in tow.

Devin Neal, the starting running back for KU’s football team, is yet another frequent Ballard visitor. Neal was one of the team members who helped out with this week’s service project. The Lawrence native told the Journal-World that it means a lot to him to be able to give back to his hometown.

“For me, I’ve said it a lot of times, it’s really important for me to be able to give back,” Neal said. “Not only just because (of) being from here, but I like to give children or those in need a better opportunity than I (had). It’s really big to me. I’ve been preached to about it my whole life, from my family, from mentors, and they’ve always given back and they’ve always done stuff like this. Me being able to return the favor means a lot to me, and I’m willing to do whatever I can — especially in my last year, maybe, in Lawrence.”

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Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

University of Kansas running back Devin Neal and Ballard Center Executive Director Kyle Roggenkamp chat during Mass St. Collective’s visit to the nonprofit on Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

Neal said the team’s head coach, Lance Leipold, places a big emphasis on community service. That’s a message that resonates with everyone, local or not, though Neal said he’s no stranger to showing the ropes to teammates who are newer to Lawrence.

“I truly believe that the most fulfilling thing you can do is giving back, and for them to understand that now and to be able to go through the ropes and do everything they can to give back, it means a lot to me especially with this being my hometown,” Neal said. “And I know it’s going to mean a lot to them in their future, as well.”

The project not only deepened Mass St. Collective and the Ballard Center’s connection but also brought another collaborator on board. The two agencies partnered with Home Depot, which agreed to donate every item on what Roggenkamp described as a lengthy wish list — the garden beds, tools and even a new shed for the Ballard playground that will be installed at a later date.

On top of that, Home Depot employees also helped to construct the new garden beds as part of the service project. They were led by store manager Jarrod McClafin, who told the Journal-World that partnerships like this one are a good way for local branches of a big company like Home Depot to get out into their communities. The employees who helped out at the Ballard Center earlier this week were all volunteering their time on a day off, McClafin said.

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Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Ballard Center kids, aided by nonprofit staff, dig holes in one of their new garden planters for a variety of flowers.

As of this week, the partnership between Home Depot, Mass St. Collective and the Ballard Center was still fresh, but McClafin was already thinking forward — not just toward the next project, the new shed, but the multiple projects he’d like to complete after that.

“We’re pretty excited to do more with them and just keep that relationship going,” McClafin said.


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