Twelve years ago Van Brooks, then 16, broke his neck while playing football at Loyola Blakefield. In 2012, he founded the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education, Inc., which offers educational opportunities and community outreach to help kids thoughtfully and confidently prepare for their futures. The foundation will hold a fundraiser Sept. 25.
Twelve years ago Van Brooks, then 16, broke his neck while playing football at Loyola Blakefield. In 2012, he founded the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education, Inc., which offers educational opportunities and community outreach to help kids thoughtfully and confidently prepare for their futures. The foundation will hold a fundraiser Sept. 25. (Submitted photo)

Sept. 25 is a significant date for Van Brooks, as it will mark the 12th anniversary of the injury that changed his life. It will also be the date of a fundraising event that can help change many lives.

In 2004, when Van was 16 years old, the talented multi-sport student-athlete at Loyola Blakefield broke his neck while playing football. As a result of the injury, he was initially paralyzed from the neck down. Determined to succeed, Van went on to graduate from Loyola Blakefield and later from Towson University, all the while working hard at his recovery and therapies.

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In 2012, Van founded the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education Inc., with a mission to inform others about the importance of obtaining an education, and to "always have a Plan B in an event that Plan A is altered." The program offers educational opportunities and community outreach to help kids thoughtfully and confidently prepare for their futures, come what may.

The SAFE Center, an education-based facility that opened in Baltimore last year, is a key component of the foundation's mission and vision. SAFE Center provides youth with free after-school and summer learning opportunities to boost literacy, health and fitness, self-esteem, vocational training, along with communications, math, engineering, computer coding and robotics skills and more. The center has even been able to help send a student to a private school, a major accomplishment in its first year!

Funding the SAFE Center is a priority for Van. This year, on Sunday, Sept. 25, a bull roast for SAFE Alternative will be held at Loyola Blakefield, in Towson, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Coinciding with the date of Van's injury, the event highlights how much this remarkable young man has accomplished in the past 12 years. The bull roast will feature great food, music, games and a silent auction. Proceeds will benefit the SAFE Center. Tickets are $45 and are available at www.safealternative.org. In addition to the bull roast, Safe Alternative has numerous speaking engagements and fundraisers throughout the year, and is always appreciative of volunteers and donations. Visit the website to learn more about the foundation and ways to get involved.

Van is incredibly humble, but I am compelled to share a few of his many accolades here because they are quite impressive. He has been awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award, the Loyola Blakefield "For Others" Award, and is the youngest recipient of the Living Legends Award for Service to Humanity. Additionally, Van is slated to receive the Young Philanthropist Alumni Award from Towson University on Oct. 7.

Van Brooks endured an unforeseen tragedy in his youth and transformed it into something powerful and extraordinary. His story and his work are truly inspiring. This young man is moving mountains. He is enhancing young lives and setting kids on a positive path to success every day. Let's show him some support!

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