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Former hoops star MacDonald '08 back in the community

Mark MacDonald '08 always knew he wanted to give back. But after trying out for a professional basketball team in Europe and then spending a year as a media consultant, he realized he did not want to wait to start his mission.

MacDonald, who was captain of the men's basketball team his senior year at Brown, is working at Up2Us as a yearlong volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA, a government-sponsored service program that matches civilians wanting to serve with nonprofits. Up2Us is a New York-based coalition of over 400 sports-based youth development organizations nationwide.

"I was always thinking about ways to give back," he said. "This was an opportunity where I could combine sports, service and business experience."

As outreach associate at Up2Us, MacDonald organizes regional conferences around the country at which leaders of youth sports groups can meet each other and learn how to expand and improve their programs.

"It's really helpful to have these conferences because a lot of the groups we work with have never networked before," he said.

MacDonald is also tasked with a variety of marketing and advocacy efforts, including using social media to spread the word about the importance of youth sports.

"Even in underserved communities, every kid deserves to be on a team and have a chance to play," he said. "Inner-city kids are struggling with so many issues, but playing sports after school helps them build self confidence."

MacDonald's selflessness is nothing new. As a teenager, he earned the "Junior Class Award for overall excellence in character, scholarship, athletics and service to others" at Lexington High School in Lexington, Mass., where he was a standout varsity athlete in three sports.

He also understood and appreciated the power of athletics from a young age, he said.
"I come from a single-parent household, and sports has been a big part of my life," he said. "My team has always been like my family."

MacDonald played forward all four years at Brown and cites then-Head Coach Craig Robinson as a major influence and mentor.

"He taught me that every practice is a teaching opportunity," MacDonald said. "I really grew so much as a person under him."

Upon graduating with a degree in political science, MacDonald traveled to Belgium and played in trials for the EuroBasket professional league. But he injured himself before he could sign a contract and returned to the U.S. to work as a consultant at the Fenton Group, a public relations firm in Providence.

After a couple years, MacDonald decided he wanted to focus on serving underprivileged communities and began exploring various AmeriCorps VISTA programs. He said he was drawn to Up2Us because of the possibility of combining his passions for sports and service.

"I really liked what this program stood for," he said. "It was a pretty easy decision."
Up2Us, meanwhile, was looking for someone with experience in both communications and sports, according to Director of Member Services Nick Beckman.

"I remember reading Mark's application and thinking to myself, ‘This guy is too good to be true,' " Beckman wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

"Mark, who grew up playing basketball, experienced first hand what Up2Us is all about: getting kids involved in sports so they can learn teamwork, leadership, discipline, perseverance and achieve on the field and in the classroom," Beckman wrote. "And he's more than made good on that application."

MacDonald, who joined Up2Us in September, has six months left. He said consulting is a possible next step when his program ends. But he said the business world would only be temporary, and he would like to come back to sports in the future, just like Robinson did.
Robinson, who played basketball at Princeton under legendary coach Pete Carril, spent a decade as a bond trader on Wall Street before turning to coaching.

Although Robinson left Brown for Oregon State University in 2008, he still keeps in touch with MacDonald, who saw him in New York last Monday. Robinson, who is the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, was in town for an interview with Time magazine. MacDonald was also in for a special treat: a chance to watch the live taping of his old coach on the Colbert Report.

MacDonald said he has found a lot of similarities between playing basketball and working at Up2Us.

"A lot of the people I work with are athletes," he explained. "Like being part of a team, we rely on each other and work together for a common goal."

Jesse Agel, Brown's current head coach and a former assistant under Robinson, had nothing but praise for MacDonald.

"He was an intense competitor, but more importantly, he was a great teammate," Agel said. "He was keenly aware of helping his young teammates out, and he always came with a great attitude."

"He was exactly what you want in a captain," he added.

Matthew Mullery '10 played with MacDonald for two years at Brown.

"Mark always has other people's interests at heart," Mullery said. "I get the sense that he gets a great deal of fulfillment in what he's doing right now."

He said MacDonald joined this year's graduating players and their families for dinner on senior night.

"He is a real class act and a great role model for the younger guys to look up to," Mullery said.

MacDonald said no matter what he does next, service will continue to be an integral part of his life.

"If you have the resources to give back to your country, you should because there are so many people in need," MacDonald said.

"I think he has the intelligence and charisma and skill set to exceed in any job at any company or organization," Beckman wrote.

"He really sees the big picture," Agel added. "It was an honor to have a coached a kid who just had a great perspective."

"For him now to go out and try to make the world a better place, that's not a surprise at all."


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