While there have been many good books written about baseball, books and baseballs do not normally mix at school.
Books are for inside the classroom. Baseballs outside at recess.
But at three San Francisco schools lately, books and baseball have been combined with a singular goal: teaching underserved children how to read.
It is all thanks to a former professional athlete-turned Silicon Valley CEO who is taking a new approach to the nonprofit sector, applying his years of business experience with a cause close to his heart.
Jim Messemer, the chairman, founder and executive director of San Francisco’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (SF RBI), found success working in the life science industry before taking a break from the corporate world to run SF RBI five years ago. Utilizing the skills he learned over the course of his career, he has created a model he believes is suited for running a successful nonprofit.
“I decided to get off the proverbial treadmill in Silicon Valley, but take some of those skill sets that I had developed down there and looked at an opportunity to take those skill sets and create a solution,” Messemer says.
Messemer says over the past five years SF RBI has worked with more than one thousand students, both in the classroom and on the ball-field, totaling more than 20,000 volunteer hours.
Messemer says the organization is about to embark on a capital campaign hoping to raise money to serve more students.
A native of New Jersey, Messemer starting playing sports at a young age. But he says that in his house, participating in athletics was a privilege earned by doing well in school.
“There was an expression in my home growing up, if you don't perform in the classroom, you don't perform on the athletic field.”
Following college, Messemer competed both in Major League Soccer and the NFL. Once his professional sports career was over, he began to pursue a career in the life science industry where he started in sales and eventually worked his way into upper level management. Used to the high pressure environment of professional sports, running a company was no different.
Later in life after Messemer and his wife Debbie found out that they could not have children and after two attempts at adoption fell through, he says he opted to see the challenges they faced in a more positive light. Again bringing in his solution-oriented philosophy, Messemer seized an opportunity to do good.
“It was not our lot in life to look inwardly at one or two children, it was to create a ubiquitous solution for a large group of children,” he says.
With the help of dedicated volunteers working in San Francisco schools, they strive to increase literacy and ensure that their children are reading at grade level. Going beyond just increasing literacy rates, they also promote wellness by incorporating the game of baseball into their programming.
Messemer is passionate about working towards closing the economic divide in the community. He believes that the core of education is being able to read and each child should be given the opportunity to learn.
“We have such wealth here and you shouldn't be able to tell by a child's zip code who's getting great opportunities because every child deserves the opportunity to be every everything they wanna be,” he says.
Currently in three schools and looking to expand to more, Messemer continues to infuse his business background into the daily operations of SF RBI. He stresses the importance of measuring quantitative data and critically analyzing their reach in order to successfully scale their organization for expansion.
The decision to align with Major League Baseball also has also served as a special connection for Messemer. Not only was his grandfather, a Polish immigrant, an avid Yankees fan, but Messemer also says he has fond memories tossing playing baseball with his dad as a child.
“Everything has kind of come full circle for me, which is exciting,” he said, continuing, “I almost think subconsciously it all came together when the founding of San Francisco RBI came in place and then as I had these epiphanies as the thing was evolving that maybe I was reliving my childhood.”