How play provides community, connection
A red rubber ball changed Kevin Carroll’s life.
Kevin Carroll endured a difficult start to his childhood. Monday at the 2022 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, he shared that story and how, with inspiration found through a red rubber ball, he turned his life around.
Abandoned by his parents, who were haunted by drug addiction, Carroll and his two siblings found themselves alone in a trailer park in Virginia hundreds of miles from their home in Philadelphia when Carroll was just 6 years old.
Through the assistance of a stranger, they boarded a bus back to Philadelphia where their grandparents took them in.
When they arrived in Philadelphia, the first thing young Carroll did was find a park to work off his pent-up frustration. He found a red ball—the inflatable rubber kind that virtually every kid who played kickball or dodgeball growing up is familiar with.
He repeatedly kicked the ball into the air in anger, screaming to no one in particular, “Why me?” or “What’s going to happen to us?” and similar unanswerable questions.
Soon, unbeknownst to Carroll, a group of kids had gathered. One of them asked, “Hey kid, you want to play with us?”
“That question provided me with five hours of belonging, five hours of community, and five hours of connection,” Carroll says. “Isn’t that what all us need? Isn’t that what we’re all yearning for?"
Carroll took the red ball home that day, and it set in motion a series of events that changed his life.
Among his mentors was Mrs. Lane, the mother of one of his friends. Mrs. Lane taught him the importance of the words “Why not?” or believing in your dreams, ideas, and aspirations.
“She’d always follow that up with, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it, Kevin. There’s lots of talkers and few doers. Which one are you?’”
Carroll was doer. He served in the U.S. Air Force, where he became a language interpreter and translator, fluent in five languages.
After serving in the Air Force for 10 years, he landed a job as a trainer for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA. His unique approach to training caught the attention of Nike, which created a job specifically for him as a change agent called Chief Katalyst (the K is for Kevin).
After seven years, Carroll started his own company to share the power of play with others around the world.
Credit unions resonate with Carroll’s worldview. He’s been a credit union member since 1980, and two Paycheck Protection Program loans helped him navigate the financial uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But most importantly, credit unions are about more than dollars and cents, he says. “Humanity will always be the most important thing for credit unions.”
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