For the sixth year running, Zalgiris Kaunas played an active role in supporting One Team, Euroleague Basketball's social responsibility program, throughout the 2018-19 campaign.
As the season comes to a finish, Marius Grigonis, the club's One Team Ambassador, has reflected on the successes of the program by encouraging more people to take part in social action, which he believes plays a major role in the growth of communities and entire societies.
"With this chance to join the Euroleague Basketball One Team program, I have understood that we're all living in closed circles of people. Not only do we do little to help local communities, but we don't even understand what problems people face in their day-to-day lives," the swingman said.
"It's like we're inside an aquarium and anything that's outside of it has no meaning to us. We don't understand that the kids who grow up in struggling families have limited opportunities to reach something in life. Perhaps no role models, nobody to look up to, no encouragement to aim for something higher."
During the last six years, Zalgiris and One Team have methodically worked with troubled young people to address exactly the issues described by Grigonis. The participants have usually been those who were likely to resort to crime, those who have learning disabilities or simply those experiencing troubles as they mature into adulthood.
The standard structure of the program is a 12-week cycle during which the youngsters develop a value system through the sport of basketball.
A questionnaire after this season's program reveals a clear positive impact: 95% of the participants said they learned something new that will help them in life, and 84% revealed that the initiative helped them set a future goal, such as finishing school, graduating college or trying out new hobbies.
This year's activities were brightened by visits from ambassadors such as Grigonis and opportunities to try out other sporting activities (soccer, rugby and American football), as well as a meeting with wheelchair basketball athletes.
The program coordinator, Zalgiris communications director Akvile Dagilyte, shared her insights on what One Team achieves:
"We've noticed that meetings with handicapped sports athletes leave the largest mark on the participants. Having heard their stories, they understand how important it is not to give up after losses and to cling on tightly to life. They also see how much easier it is to aim for their own goals when they are healthy. Once they understand that, it's a motivation to act here and now, to set a goal and methodically aim for it."
Most of the participants don't have a stable social standing and the One Team program allows them to expand their horizons, communicate and learn from people in different environments. Zalgiris has been working with the Kaunas reformatory, Kaunas regional probation service, Kaunas boys' socialization center and the center for psychological support, while socially responsible company Ramirent has been working alongside Zalgiris for the second year now, helping the program achieve even better results.
One Team, supported by Turkish Airlines as the One Team Founding Patron and with the collaboration of Special Olympics as Proud Partner, uses basketball to achieve meaningful social impact in our communities across Europe and is supported by every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup.
Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already helped more than 16,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.