Beating the Odds Foundation inspires children to dream and achieve those dreams, in spite of any obstacles that stand in their way. The foundation landed on the game of football as a way to illustrate just what it means to take charge, score points, and win. But Beating the Odds is more than a philosophy. Beating the Odds Foundation Founder and President Rocco Scalzi, has himself faced challenges and moved beyond them to live a full, meaningful life, giving back to hundreds and thousands of youth. Scalzi works in tandem with former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, who also faced and overcame challenges, and is now using those experiences to inspire youth.
Growing up is hard, and sometimes outside factors make it even harder. Instead of allowing life to beat them down, Scalzi’s brainchild shows students how to take charge and well, beat the odds. The former police officer brings in many others, some famous, who have faced difficulties and overcome them to lead full and meaningful lives, to speak to the students and give them hope and a way forward.
Inspiring children to make the most of what life throws at them is critical and we hope that our modest small grant award will help the Beating the Odds Foundation to continue to carry out its important work and mission. We put some questions to Rocco Scalzi to learn more about this initiative for youth:
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us something about the youth you hope to inspire through your “Quarterbacks of Life” approach? How many youths have taken part in what you have to offer?
Rocco Scalzi: We work with students, teachers, and counselors in middle and high school. These students come from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Some students want to reach for the stars, while others have no dreams or goals. Over the past 34 years, the Beating the Odds message has reached 500,000 students through different settings.
Kars4Kids: Why “Quarterbacks?” What is it about football that resonates with kids? Is it something particularly strong for youth identifying as members of the Steeler Nation?
Rocco Scalzi: Having worked with former NFL quarterbacks, we use a football analogy that quarterbacks on the football field are in charge of leading their team down the field against the opposing team, with the goal of scoring points and winning games. While most individuals will never be a quarterback on the football field, every one of us can become the quarterback of our life. The playing field is life, and the opposition is the obstacles and challenges we face. We had students team up with former Steelers in a Quarterbacks of Life® Research Challenge.
Kars4Kids: What drove you to found the Beating the Odds Foundation? Would you tell us a bit about your story?
Rocco Scalzi: My background is in law enforcement. As a former Altoona Police Officer, I was working on a national law enforcement initiative to develop emotional support programs for police officers using deadly force or shot in the line of duty. In the early 1980s, more police officers were taking their own lives than were killed in the line of duty. Alcoholism, drug addiction, divorce, and suicide ranked highest in law enforcement than in any other profession. Following an appearance on the Geraldo Rivera television show to address this problem, I was invited to a high school to share my story of a split-second decision during a hostage incident. From this school assembly, I received hundreds of letters from students sharing their stories of hurt in their lives. Seeing the need for students not to give up from their challenges, I continued visiting schools. In 1990, along with Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier, I brought 15,000 students to Three Rivers Stadium to kickoff the Beating the Odds Foundation. Rocky and I have been working with schools for the past 34 years.
Kars4Kids: Why Rocky Bleier? What makes him the perfect person to inspire youth?
Rocco Scalzi: Growing up around Pittsburgh Steeler football, I knew Rocky’s story. When I met him around 1988, I knew how special he was. We have been working together ever since. Rocky and I have a special bond that will last a lifetime. Rocky is one of the most well-respected and celebrated professional football players of all time, and he is a true American hero.
Kars4Kids: Would you give us an overview of your Five Stepping Stones to Success curriculum?
Rocco Scalzi: Our dear friend, who has also been with the Foundation since 1990, Dr. John Worzbyt recently passed away. Dr. Worzbyt created our Blueprint for Success around his Five Stepping Stones to Success. Dr. Worzbyt authored several books centered around building caring human beings and builders of caring communities. Dr. Worzbyt served many years as the Department Chair for school counselors at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Worzbyt spent many years studying the lives of individuals who had beaten the odds, including my story. Dr. Worzbyt created the Five Stepping Stones to Success, which he found to be the common link between all the stories. The Fives Stepping Stones to Success are: Dream & Goals, Self-Awareness: Resource Review & Development, Team Support, Decide & Plan, and Positive Mental Attitude.
Kars4Kids: What can you tell us about your Student Success and Leadership program?
Rocco Scalzi: The Quarterbacks of Life Student Success & Leadership Program provides a structural framework for schools. The Program teaches students how to apply what they learn in school to create and sustain a caring school community and to achieve success in life, school, & a career. When schools and students work together in support of a common vision and mission, they build caring and supportive school communities, bring relevancy to teaching and learning, and foster caring citizens who, through their careers and volunteer activities, make the world a better place in which to live.
Kars4Kids: Beating the Odds has another program, with a NASA connection, correct? Would you tell us a bit about that? How does the program work? Does it involve STEM learning?
Rocco Scalzi: Our Quarterbacks of Life®/ NASA Research Challenge is in its ninth year. Year one brought together two team members, Charlie Bolden and John Grunsfeld, who flew on Hubble missions. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and his team were so touched by our student research teams’ stories, that they have continued this program into its ninth year. Yes, this initiative is an experiential STEM learning opportunity for middle and high school students. While the challenge is based on aerospace missions, it shows students the broad spectrum of careers available at NASA and in other STEM industries.
Kars4Kids: Beating the Odds has some pretty famous “Quarterbacks” on its roster. Can you name drop for our readers? Who are some of the most famous people who have shared with QBOL students about the obstacles they have overcome in life?
Rocco Scalzi: It has been an honor over the years to work with individuals from all walks of life who have beaten the odds. The life lessons from these inspirational individuals (or as we call them, Quarterbacks of Life®) bring learning to life for students. Threaded through all our programs are our Quarterbacks of Life®, partners and role models who inspire students to dream about what they can become and set ambitious goals. Whether they’re reading QBOLs’ stories or meeting them IRL, students can see what it looks like to beat the odds. Some of our QBOLs are Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton, four-time Super Bowl Champion Rocky Bleier, Miracle in the Making Adam Taliaferro, former NASA astronaut Scott Altman, The Blind Side actor Quinton Aaron, actor James Earl Jones, President George H.W. Bush, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and many others. Through these stories, students can visualize that ANYTHING is possible, and they can “beat the odds.”
Kars4Kids: Have you had any feedback from parents or kids about the impact of your programs? What about the “Quarterbacks of Life” who have participated in your work? Do they tell you how they feel about working with QBOL?
Rocco Scalzi: We receive a lot of positive feedback from students and teachers. The programs and experiential learning opportunities really excite, inspire, and motivate. As one student participant put it, “Quarterbacks of Life led me to my dream. When asked about why I wanted to pursue this career path, it will not be because, “I always knew.” I will think back to an auditorium in Washington, D.C., where I heard the stories that set my future, revealed my passion, and changed my life. The QBOLs really enjoy sharing their stories and when they get the chance to speak to students directly, it motivates them as well and they want to do more.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Beating the Odds?
Rocco Scalzi: We want to continue with our mission and inspire as many students as possible. We need to continually seek donors and funds to continue offering our programs. The positive impact makes our mission so worthwhile. So, we continue on.