Photo courtesy of Momentous Institute


By Patti Putnicki

When you think of sports sponsorships, you probably think of a big company writing a big check in exchange for naming rights, athlete appearances and a litany of “you will-we wills” negotiated into the contract. And all of that is true. It’s one of those rare times in sports competition when everybody wins. The sponsor gets publicity, the event gets funding, and everything pretty much chugs along from there.

Well, the AT&T Byron Nelson is a little bit different. This PGA tournament is the primary fundraiser for the Momentous Institute; an organization, owned and operated by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, which provides mental health and educational training to more than 6,000 at-risk children and their families each year. In short, it changes the odds for kids who came into the world with the odds stacked against them.

Now, here’s the cool thing. Although AT&T could have simply sponsored the Byron Nelson, helped fund the good work at the Momentous Institute, and given itself a corporate pat-on-the-back before getting on with its business, that’s not what happened. This telecommunications giant rolled up its collective sleeves, and found a way to expand this organization’s positive impact through technology.

One Class Act

The whole thing started when AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson visited the Momentous Institute for the first time.

“When Randall Stephenson came here and saw what we were doing, he said that he wanted to find a way for AT&T to be more than a typical title sponsor. He wanted to know what was making this school so great—why we have the success rates we do,” explained Heather Bryant, M.ED, director of innovation and impact at the Momentous Institute. “It’s because our main focus is social emotional health, not strictly academics. We’ve developed activities to help kids concentrate; to help them calm down and let go of worries so they can do their best thinking and their best learning.”

The question became, how could AT&T help the Momentous Institute scale up some of these classroom practices so they could reach more kids and do more good? The answer: Technology. More specifically, translating the physical practices and strategies used in the classroom into a portable, digital form.

“After spending some time here, AT&T connected us with Idean, a company out of Austin. Their developers came up and basically implanted themselves in the school, so they could see what we were doing,” Bryant said. “We teach our kids a lot of strategies on how to calm down and focus, and how to deal with emotions like anger or fear. The embedded team watched us, and came up with three activities that they thought could translate well digitally.”

Three Apps—Very Well Played

For example, Momentous Institute teachers and counselors often talk about the brain and what happens when someone is angry or upset.

“We talk a lot about calming down your amygdala and getting back to your prefrontal cortex. We do this with children as young as three years of age,” Bryant said.

In the classroom, children used glitter balls to understand the concept.

“The glitter ball is like your brain. When the ball isn’t moving, and the glitter is settled, you can see clearly through it. That’s when you’re in the prefrontal cortex,” Bryant said. “When you shake the ball and can’t see clearly, that’s when you’re in your amygdala. So, when kids are anxious or angry or scared, we use the exercise and have them ‘settle their glitter.’ For some, just watching the glitter physically settle is enough; other kids need the visual in combination with breathing techniques.”

Thanks to AT&T, through its Aspire program for educational program funding, that practice is now a free Settle Your Glitter app.

The team came up with two other applications, Breathing Bubbles and Pass the Drop, based on Momentous Institute methodologies as well.

Breathing Bubbles helps children focus on their good feelings and release their worries. Kids can use it to improve their mood on not-so-great days and, in the process, elevate their emotional well-being.

Pass the Drop helps teachers and counselors get a distracted group of students re-focused on the work in front of them. It’s a group activity, in which kids pass the same tablet from person-to-person while keeping the virtual drop in its circle. If someone loses concentration, and the drop rolls off, they all have to start over.

The apps are fun, and easy to use, with engaging characters like puffer fish that make them feel more like games than tools for social emotional well-being. Just as important, the apps are accessible, free-of-charge, to anyone with a mobile device.

“All of our apps are available for free on the Google Play store and iTunes,” Bryant said. “Offering them at no cost was important to us and to AT&T, because we want as many kids, clinicians, teachers and families to have access to these as possible.”

Again, not necessarily something you’d expect from a sports sponsorship.

“It’s been an interesting journey with AT&T. What we’ve learned is that they really care about kids and they really want kids to be successful. Through their Aspire initiative, they’re making that happen,” Bryant said. “They paid for the apps; they are helping us promote the apps—they’ve stayed actively involved from the beginning.“

So far, the new apps have been a raging success with the kids at the Momentous Institute, as well as their parents.

“Our kids transitioned to these apps seamlessly. They love them—and we know that they’re using the apps to talk to their parents, and help them control their emotions, too,” Bryant said. “I’ve had a number of parents tell me that their kid came home and told them that they needed to breathe, and used the app to show them how to do it.”

And if you think none of this ties into golf, I suggest you think again.

“Brendon Todd came to the Momentous Institute last March to see it in action,” Bryant said. “When we told him that we teach mindset, he said, “That’s what I’m working on, too.”

Luckily, there’s now an app for that, courtesy of the Momentous Institute and AT&T. Missed birdie putt? Just Settle Your Glitter and move on to the next hole.