Johnson Uses Volleyball to Mentor Youth
Bluefield College student-athlete Ellen Johnson (back left) is making a difference in more than just her play on the court for the Lady Rams volleyball team. Johnson is using her volleyball gifts to serve and mentor youth with Beyond Sports.

Johnson Uses Volleyball to Mentor Youth

By Student Marketing Associate Mikaela Hurst | September 22, 2017 | RSS

Bluefield College student-athlete Ellen Johnson is making a difference in more than just her play on the court for the Lady Rams volleyball team. Johnson is using her volleyball gifts to serve and mentor youth with Beyond Sports, a world leader in international sports tours that took Johnson and other college athletes to Cosa Rica this past summer to offer service-learning volleyball clinics to local youth.

Ellen Johnson
Ellen Johnson

Already known around campus for her leadership, Johnson has served as vice president of BC’s Student Government Association, treasurer of Alpha Delta sorority, a member of the Honors Program, a study leader for Pursuit Women’s Ministry, and a member of Psi Chi and Alpha Chi national honor societies. On the court, she is co-captain of the Lady Rams volleyball team, a three-time National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) First Team All-Mideast Region selection, a two-time NCCAA Scholar-Athlete, a two-time Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) All-Academic Team member, and a Second Team All-Conference choice.

“Ellen’s very encouraging, and she also pushes you to the best of your ability,” said Lady Rams teammate Victoria Chapman. “Her belief in Christ and her quotes before the game really encourage us to be better as athletes and people. She is very reliable and very consistent. I don’t think there’s any better person we could have chosen to be our captain.”

However, it was Johnson’s trip abroad this summer that showed as much about her servant leadership as anything. While in San Jose, Costa Rica, with Beyond Sports, a company of former college athletes, educators, coaches and international adventurers, Johnson competed in three volleyball matches against a university team, a semi-pro squad, and a Costa Rican national team, but more importantly she helped lead two volleyball clinics – one sponsored by Special Olympics for special needs children and another for at-risk kids from the inner cities of Panama.

“The clinics were undoubtedly my favorite part of the trip,” said Johnson, a rising senior triple-majoring in criminal justice, psychology, and forensic science. “There are few things that bring more joy to one’s heart than seeing a smile light up a child’s face. To hold a small role in brightening those children’s days is something for which I am grateful. Having to overcome a language barrier and still be able to communicate enough to play with each other made the experience all the more rewarding.”

Johnson’s Beyond Sports volleyball team traveled with a soccer group on the tour, and during the clinics the teams would divide the children into two groups to work with them on each sport. The first clinic, she said, they worked with special needs kids who were interested in athletics.

“I think the kids benefitted the most from these clinics because it allowed them to be kids and to enjoy being carefree, if only for a short time,” said Johnson, a native of Little River, South Carolina. “Special needs and at-risk children don’t have the luxury of being able to fit in with other people their age, and they are all too often pushed to the wayside in society.”

During the second clinic, Johnson said they worked with children who grew up in broken homes, surrounded by drugs and violence, and with little to no access to opportunities for success.

“It was part of the mission of Beyond Sports to invest in these kids and let them know that they are just as important as everyone else,” said Johnson. “We were given the most wonderful platform, through the sports for which we are passionate, to show that love knows no boundaries -- not geographic, socioeconomic, or linguistic. I hope that (the kids) felt special for knowing that college athletes from the United States cared enough to invest time in them and encourage them to strive to do their best in every endeavor.”

With a mission to graduate servant leaders who understand their life calling and transform the world, Bluefield College, Johnson said, has helped her appreciate the importance of service above self. Through experiences like this, she said, she is not only able to demonstrate God’s love to others, but also be reminded of how truly blessed she is.

“Ellen basically embodies [servant leadership], and I think that she is a wonderful example to everyone around her on what a servant leader is,” said BC classmate Jacquelyn Chick. “Whether it’s staying up late studying, being part of the women’s ministry Bible study, or giving it her all on the athletic court, I think she does a great job of just living out her faith.”

When not working with the kids in the clinics in San Jose, Johnson said she enjoyed “the best attractions Costa Rica has to offer,” including downtown San Jose, zip-lining, and Manuel Antonio National Park. Her favorite attraction, she added: viewing her first volcano, which had only been a vision in books and movies before her trip to Costa Rica, and swimming in natural springs heated by the volcano.

“Being a student at Bluefield College, I am constantly reminded of the importance of servant leadership,” said Johnson. “Jesus gave us the ultimate example of putting others’ needs before our own, and it is clear that so many people in this world could benefit from a fraction of our time. On a trip that involved so many exciting events and exotic sightseeing, it would have been easy to be self-centered and focus on our own desires, but it had been engrained in me to think otherwise. I have had so many professors and peers invest in my own life at BC that I want to share that love with others.”

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Student Marketing Associate Mikaela Hurst