Two Valparaiso University graduates have found their way of making the world a better place through their nonprofit organization, A Greater Good Foundation.
Former Valpo football players Chuck Carter ’15 and Cody Cotton ’16 co-founded A Greater Good Foundation in June 2016. The organization educates communities and mentors youth with a key focus on holistic self-awareness in addition to educating and connecting diverse communities through community service and events. A Greater Good Foundation also educates and houses young men in Gary, Indiana in a wrap-around support Residential Extended Learning Community.
“It’s been an amazing experience because we get to see young people look up to us for doing the right things,” Cotton said. “It’s rewarding because of our reach one, teach one philosophy. Your impact doesn’t stop with one person because that person becomes motivated to become a light in someone else’s life in the same way. When you’re able to be an example for someone else, that person has the courage to stand up and be a leader themselves.”
The wheels were put in motion for the foundation when Carter and Cotton worked with a network marketing company during their time at Valpo.
“They instilled in us that to grow any assets in your life, you must first grow yourself as a person,” said Cotton, a Maywood, Illinois native. “We dove into personal development, and when we left that business, the concept never left us. We learned that information changes situations, and we knew that same information could impact the communities that we were from and help build a bridge from our communities to others.”
Born on the south side of Chicago and raised in Gary, Indiana, Carter overcame a troubled childhood to develop his sincere passion for providing other misguided youth with a second chance at discovering their greatness.
“I have a very intimate relationship with the demographic that the students we work with come from,” Carter said. “I know what it’s like to come from a lower-income, underserved and under-resourced area. Even more personally, I was a troubled kid myself. I went to 15 different schools before college. I understand what it’s like to have made poor decisions and want to do better but not know how to get there. Once God blessed me with the resources and guidance to navigate out of that situation, I believed I had a responsibility to help others in similar situations do the same.”
A Greater Good Foundation is committed to teaching youth how to become conscious of their thoughts, emotions and habits while building the faculties of the mind. The nonprofit also focuses on the importance of proper exercise and nutrition while using gratitude as a starting block to build its students’ faith and relationship with God.
The organization has provided young men and women with numerous life experiences, including a trip out of the country that featured a stop at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, on an all-expenses-paid, five-day journey.
“A child can’t be what a child can’t see,” Cotton said. “It was a life-changing experience that altered the beliefs of 14 young men and women. Being able to take them out of the country was a huge achievement for our organization. It showed us that whatever impact we want to create for our youth, we can do it. We just have to have faith.”
Valpo played a key role in helping shape the life paths of Carter and Cotton.
“My biggest takeaway was all the people I met,” Cotton said. “As a football player or as an athlete, it’s not always common to get out of that circle and make friends with people who aren’t athletes, but that’s what I was able to do at Valpo. I loved being able to talk with students from Latin America, the Middle East and China. Building relationships with people who didn’t look like me or come from the same socioeconomic community helped me gain perspective on how to relate to and connect with other people.”
Carter played two years of football, while Cotton spent all four years of his undergraduate career competing for the Valpo football program.
“Valpo created an environment that values service,” Cotton said. “Valpo football did so much for me. It allowed me to be a leader and create perseverance. I had coaches who wanted to see us win outside of football. They wanted to see us win at life. I also had excellent professors and the best advisor anyone could ask for, Danielle Lavin-Loucks. Sometimes you have preconceived notions about people outside of your community, and she’s the type of person who changes how you view the world.”
The respect developed between Lavin-Loucks and Cotton during his time on campus is mutual.
“If you know Cody, then you likely know that almost everything about him ‘stands out,’” Lavin-Loucks said. “He is larger than life, with a charismatic yet genuine demeanor, a penchant for creativity, an empathetic and generous disposition and above all, a determination that is quite rare. I watched Cody grow immensely during his time at Valpo, and I consider myself fortunate to have been part of his journey.”
Lavin-Loucks and Cotton remain in touch to this day.
“During his final year at Valpo, it became clear that Cody had found his vocation, or at least a clear vision, not for what he wanted to choose as a career path, but for what he wanted to change about the world,” Lavin-Loucks said. “I remember that big question, the one he posed almost nonchalantly: How do you change social institutions? Characteristically, he was able to start answering this question and manifest his vision of inspiring youth and building communities shortly after graduation in the founding of A Greater Good Foundation. And I could not be any prouder of his efforts at changing those institutions, one kid at a time.”
After spending his first two undergraduate years at a school with a larger enrollment, Carter enjoyed his time on a campus where seemingly everyone knew one another.
“It was a breath of fresh air to build such lasting and strong relationships,” Carter said. “I wanted to play college football at the Division-I level. Valpo provided my first-ever plane ride when we went to North Dakota for a football game. The University holds a special place in my heart as a student and as an athlete. Valpo offered me the opportunity to understand people who I would never have engaged with otherwise. I would advise any current or future student or athlete at Valparaiso take advantage of the opportunity to engage with people, groups and organizations from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
A Greater Good Foundation’s goal is to build Chicago’s first residential high school for high-risk youth. Over the last three years, members of the nonprofit have traveled the country, visiting some of the top boarding schools to study enrollment, curriculum and operations.