As an adult student at Anderson University, a part of the Marine Corps Reserves, a chemical manager at Wesco Aircraft and the founder and president of Athletes Volunteer for Life, Pedro Vidal balances a plethora of passions and responsibilities.
When Vidal returned home from a Marine Special Operations deployment in 2013, he began coaching baseball at Carolina High School in Greenville. Vidal became invested in his players while spending time with them in the dust of the baseball field. He was overwhelmed by the burdens many of the students were facing at home.
“Some of the kids showed up with bullet holes from a drive by. Some had to get jobs to support their families and pay bills,” he said. “I had a better life than that.”
He continued coaching for a few years and imagined a way he could make a difference in students’ lives.
In 2015, Vidal chose to continue his education. He enrolled in the adult accelerated program at Anderson University, with a dual major in supply chain management and business. He used the business principles he learned in his classes to formulate his ideas to help local high school students living in brokenness.
In 2017, Vidal established Athletes Volunteer for Life (AVFL), a program that provides student athletes with opportunities to serve the community by volunteering for local nonprofit organizations.
Vidal’s vision is to get his students involved in a community and let them know that they are not alone. By serving, they can help others, many in situations similar to their own. It’s an effective way to combat poverty, he said.
“We want to take students from different schools and come together in the community to strengthen the relationships between schools that compete against each other athletically,” Vidal said. “We seek to strengthen the students, the community and the schools themselves through that relationship.”
AVFL partners with nonprofits including Rebuild Upstate, Harvest Food Bank, The Salvation Army, Serenity House and more. Last year, AVFL logged nearly 800 volunteer hours in the wider Greenville community.
“AVFL does a fantastic job engaging high school students with their communities,” said Chris Manley, president and CEO of Rebuild Upstate. “Volunteers with AVFL work on Rebuild Upstate projects throughout the year, helping to make homes safe, healthy and livable. All of that is made possible because of Pedro’s persistence and passion for engaging young people in service.”
Instead of building its own nonprofit, AVFL finds organizations whose mission they believe in and then meet their needs for personnel.
“Our mission is really focused on what their missions are when we are filling in their needs,” Vidal said. “I didn’t want to create a nonprofit that has a specific requirement. I wanted to focus on a more general, broad base so that we could help as many as possible.”
Vidal said that he has seen the impact AVFL has made on the community by experiencing the gratitude of the homeowners they have helped. AVFL’s projects have included building a handicap ramp, doing roof and floor repairs and replacing beams under a house.
Those projects also teach students who volunteer important life skills. Vidal is committed to ensuring that the students who dedicate their time to volunteering are also benefiting from the program.
“They are learning life skills, like how do flooring or construction, that they would never learn in their current environment,” Vidal said.
He and the AVFL staff are all unpaid volunteers, meaning that the proceeds that AVFL earns directly benefit the program to cover costs, including T-shirts and food for volunteers while they work.
AVFL will also offer a $1000 scholarship to a high school student this year.
Further, Vidal invited one of his finance professors at Anderson University, Dr. Ross Walters, to speak to a group of students about financial management at a high school level.
Vidal said that everyone at Anderson University has been supportive of his program, and he especially appreciates his professors.
Anderson University students have offered their own time to support AVFL. Some of Vidal’s peers volunteered for two recent AVFL events.
“Working with Athletes Volunteer for Life as a college student has been a great experience for me. Pedro is a great communicator and has provided awesome opportunities to serve,” said Jackson Yearick, a senior at Anderson University. “I am honored to volunteer at such a caring organization.”
Vidal is enthusiastic about the future of AVFL. His plans include establishing a committee of college students to contribute to AVFL’s leadership. He said college students play an important role in AVFL’s mission because they serve as mentors for the high school students and motivate them to pursue a college education.
Though AVFL primarily focuses on high school students, Vidal plans to implement the program in elementary and middle schools too. He seeks to instill values of service in students as early as possible.