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Servant Leadership: How the Jaguars and OL Ben Bartch create change through giving back

Ben Bartch is using his platform to help others.

Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

It takes a village to raise a child, and that mindset of building, helping, mentoring, and nourishing young people to see them prosper later in life is instilled in Jaguars offensive lineman Ben Bartch.

For Bartch, a second-year player out of Saint Johns (Minnesota), a Division III level school, getting out in the community comes naturally. He doesn’t need any extra motivation to do it, and it doesn’t matter that he’s an NFL athlete.

Even when he was younger, through high school, and at a small school in the middle of nowhere, he made the most of his opportunities and free time, going to assist people in any way he could.

“I think it’s a responsibility,” Bartch told Big Cat Country last week. “And it’s a way to give back. It’s something fulfilling and meaningful and well, ultimately, it’s just part of who I am and what I believe in, my values.”

Bartch has bought into that mentality completely and has been one of the most active members of the Jaguars organization out in the community, even while the world deals with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The young offensive lineman’s latest opportunity to give back has come in the form of mentorship. Through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, Bartch has already begun mentoring young people, even meeting his “little” at TIAA Bank Field over the offseason.

The ability to impact a young person’s life in a meaningful way is “awesome,” Bartch said. It’s another way to exercise the responsibility he believes people have in making a difference in any way they can.

A young person growing up without a positive role model in their life can impact them negatively down the road.

“I had a lot of good role models as a young kid and I was very fortunate,” said Bartch of his upbringing. “Some people blame people or young adults for things, and they don’t really look at their context or their history or that they don’t have a good role model sometimes.

“If I can give a little bit of my time and be a good mentor to somebody, that’s pretty special.”

That type of mindset resonates through many within the Jaguars community, but especially Bartch. For two straight years, the young offensive lineman participated in a community Virtual Walk to School Day, teaching children about the safety of walking to school and listening to the crossing guards.

Since last season, the Jaguars haven’t been able to get out in the community as much.

No, with the coronavirus pandemic and the attention to detail necessary to protect the safety of its players in full effect, NFL franchises, including Jacksonville, haven’t had the opportunities they’ve had in the past.

Bartch has been one of the exceptions of the group of current players. While typically a Jaguars PR rep would set up a meeting for their players to go to a particular event, that cannot happen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bartch, however, would take it upon himself, showing up to Big Brothers unannounced — something that doesn’t ever happen.

Being a bachelor, without a wife or kids or even a dog, Bartch had plenty of free time and chose to utilize that free time to give back.

“I think that we all have a responsibility in this life to serve other people,” said Bartch. “And my parents were big teachers of servant leadership and putting others before yourself.”

Even without much ability to have their active players out and about in the community this year or last, the Jaguars have made the most of it, working with several members of the Jaguars’ alumni group to give back instead.

On Sept. 14, the Jaguars Foundation joined Feeding Northeast Florida during Hunger Action Month to distribute food to more than 150 families in the Jacksonville area. On Sept. 28, Jaguars legend Kevin Hardy spoke to players from the Arlington Seminoles team, surprising them with new helmets.

Finally, on Oct. 5, former Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny surprised the Moncrief Broncos and 8U team with helmets. Teaming up with the Florida Department of Health, the kids received bike helmets along with their football helmets.

Below you can view images from the aforementioned events:

These seemingly small acts of kindness have gone a long way through the years and have given the community something to look forward to. While, sure, the Jaguars and the NFL aren’t the only businesses that have given back to the community, but they have been front and center of many efforts, and it's been instilled in the team’s bloodline for a while now.

“The First Coast is our home, and the Jaguars recognize the responsibility we have to make a positive impact on the lives of our fans and neighbors,” Adriel Rocha, Director, Jaguars Foundation and Community Impact said in a statement to Big Cat Country recently.

“Our players, coaches and alumni in particular embrace any chance to provide mentorship to local youth, both on and off the field. Whether it’s a helmet donation, tackling advice or just someone to play catch with, they know it could be a spark in the life of a child.”

For Bartch, being with an organization that wants to enact change, or give back, and having this ability to go out and make a difference with the platform he’s earned is a powerful thing, he said.

“We have some resources and tools that some people don’t get to have or don’t have,” said Bartch. “But ultimately, I think everybody has the ability and the choice and the power to serve others and be a servant leader and help. And people happen to pay attention because we play a sport and get paid money.”

Celebrities and athletes are put under the spotlight when giving back. They’re at the focal point of most initiatives and for good reason.

When people see athletes giving back, or when people in powerful places are shown to be giving back, that can perhaps inspire others or kids when they’re younger to do the same thing later in life.

When offered that perspective, Bartch agreed that perhaps when kids do see famous people giving back, and that it is a norm, they can inspect their behavior. Perhaps, Bartch says, he could be in a way inspiring others to do the same, which is an “awesome” thing, he says.

Bartch’s worth with Big Brothers or other charities and efforts in Minnesota or Jacksonville isn’t the only stop he’s made. The 23-year-old spent four months in a township called New Brighton in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where he ran a computer lab, teaching mathematics and English.

Bartch was a student at Nelson Mandela University as well at the time, working with children from kindergarten through sixth grade. Bartch says the experience was very impactful for him.

“I think South Africa is a really complex country, is very misunderstood,” Bartch said. “And you know, there’s a lot of different kinds of poverty there that are different from the United States and all sorts of problems.

“But there’s also a lot of beautiful things, and going into a country and looking at it through its own perspective and lens rather than our own ethnocentric United States view of it. That was a big learning experience and understanding someone’s culture and meeting them there. And their language and stuff is is really cool.”

Gaining the various perspectives in history has always been something Bartch was fond of growing up, able to travel with his parents as a kid, fortunate enough to learn the history of the world at a young age.

Now, he can continue to do that, just on a bigger scale and as a starting NFL offensive lineman, giving him a bigger platform than he ever could imagine growing up.

The urge and need to make a difference lives inside of him, and he’s shown through the years that regardless of the circumstances, he’s going to do everything possible to make the most of it.