In 2006, Danielle Thomas went on her first SportQuest PWP Project shortly after graduating from high school. During the project, she discovered her passion for sports could be used to proclaim the Gospel. Danielle attended Milligan College in Tennessee between 2006-2010, where she used her classroom studies, study abroad trips, and summer projects with SportQuest to prepare for what she thought would be a career in overseas missions. Instead, in 2010, God took her on what felt like a frustrating detour to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to work on a Masters and PhD in Sociology at LSU. God showed Danielle that missions is about making disciples wherever God puts you — whether overseas or at home. In 2011, she began serving with her church in Gardere, a low-income community a few miles away from the LSU campus. The first time she was in the park in Gardere, playing pick-up soccer with some kids, God immediately confirmed to her that this is where she was called to be. The following summer, in 2012, Danielle coordinated the first SportQuest Baton Rouge project with the help of Debbie Cutshall. Debbie also serves in sport ministry where she lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, but she has felt called to come to Baton Rouge each summer since 2012 to help Danielle coordinate the summer project. Together these two make a great team!
SQ Baton Rouge Co-Coordinator
Danielle shifted her studies at LSU to emphasize racial inequality, poverty, and community development through sports. She finished her PhD in 2016 and decided to stay in Baton Rouge. God made it clear that Baton Rouge is home, and it is also the mission field she is called to serve. Gardere is perceived as a high crime, high poverty neighborhood. In the words of one local leader, “People think nothing good comes from Gardere.” However, this has begun to change. A coalition of Christian churches and organizations, including SportQuest, serves year-round in Gardere, using Gospel-driven programs to strive for community-wide transformation. Danielle assists with after-school soccer, basketball, and football programs for young people ages 6-17. She has also established a weekly “Community Youth Group” that brings together middle and high school students for games and Bible study. Currently, Danielle is developing a partnership with Young Life and will be leading a group of college students, who are interested in urban ministry, into Gardere to serve as a ministry team and expand Christian programs for Gardere youth. On any given weeknight or weekend, Danielle can be found serving in a variety of ways, from leading sports programs or coaching teams, to providing transportation, taking pictures of events, and serving as a one-on-one mentor for teenagers. Most of the kids Danielle works with throughout the year also attend the summer PWP Project, which greatly increases Danielle’s platform to reach more kids with the Gospel.
The greatest resource the Lord has provided in Gardere is large numbers of talented young people who are open to the Gospel and who love sports. It is not an accident that God sent Danielle, and SportQuest, to Baton Rouge and specifically to Gardere. In the next season of ministry, Danielle will be working to cultivate a strong partnership with Young Life and to disciple college student leaders with a passion for urban ministry. She is excited to see how the Lord will use this team to make disciples in Gardere and help them grow in their faith. Danielle will also host several training opportunities for Christians in Baton Rouge with the goal of equipping coaches and other local volunteers in whole-life coaching. Finally, Danielle plans to coach a girl’s soccer team in Gardere and develop new ways to reach girls in the neighborhood, who are currently less engaged in youth programs in Gardere than boys. The big, long-term vision the Lord has given Danielle for Gardere is to build a community center that could house several organizations and provide a safe place for young people and their families. This center would serve as an academic and athletic hub for the community and as a “home base” for Christian outreach in Gardere.