When Jolene Nagel took over as Duke’s volleyball coach in 1999, she had heard a thing or two about the TROSA program in Durham.
TROSA – Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers – is a multi-year residential program that helps people turn their lives around through rehabilitation, vocational training and education.
But it wasn’t until TROSA founder and CEO Kevin McDonald gave her a tour of the facilities that Nagel understood the extent and depth of the challenges that residents battle for a second chance at life.
That’s when she knew she had to get involved.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “The time and commitment” for the residents “to get here and the hard work they put in was really empowering to see.
“We knew they had just built this great gym. If we could find them some equipment, we wanted to teach them how to play the game and then enjoy it on their own time.”
Thus began a relationship that has grown into one of mutual respect and admiration.
The Blue Devils began holding instructional clinics at the gymnasium twice a year. For many participants, it was their first time picking up a ball let alone playing the sport.
Nagel wasn’t content to just leave it at that.
Residents are bussed to Duke games throughout the season and have become some of the Blue Devils’ biggest fans.
“It’s so awesome to have them at our games,” said senior Chelsea Cook, who helped lead Duke to a 28-5 record and 11th ACC championship, and a second round NCAA Tournament appearance. “They sit in the same spot, and they cheer the loudest. They are so eager to learn.”
Tamika Watts entered TROSA with her boyfriend of two-and-a-half years. He left the program; she stayed for the sake of her 14-year-old. That was 11 months ago.
Watts had never played nor attended a volleyball game until she came to TROSA. And just like the program, the experience has given her “self-confidence and self-esteem.”
“Going to the games has been amazing,” she said. “Jolene is a great coach to bring the game to us, and the girls come here and are so supportive. It makes us feel special.”
It even became a family affair.
Genna Vega enrolled at TROSA after hearing about it from her niece, a Duke player. The two even got to play together at one of the clinics.
“The excitement of playing with athletes of this caliber is phenomenal,” Vega said. “These women, aside from being tremendous athletes, care very much and are very supportive of us getting clean and staying sober.”
For Nagel, it’s about learning lessons that no amount of classroom time can teach.
“This opens their eyes to what’s out there in the world,” she said. “They need to be able to show compassion and understanding when people are trying to straighten out their lives. It makes them aware that ‘This could be my sister’ or “This could be my mother.’ “