Love, peace, patience and humility. Those are the four pillars of the Ron Burton Training Village \[RBTV\]. As campers returned this week for the first time since 2019, those four pillars were at the forefront.
To celebrate the return of campers to RBTV for an abbreviated summer program, supporters gathered on the campus in Hubbardston, Mass., on July 14, and that included a strong showing from the Patriots. Robert Kraft, Matthew Slater and former Patriot Nate Solder all were on hand, only furthering a bond between the organization and RBTV.
RBTV was founded by the Patriots first draft pick, Ron Burton Sr. He had a vision for an oasis for kids who grew up like he did. In the years since it opened, thousands of young boys (and starting in 2019, girls), have found themselves by exploring the tenants Burton built his life around. Though Burton passed away in 2003, his family has ensured his legacy lives on in them and all who step foot on the campus.
"Man, you talk about a man with a dream that was willing to pursue it," Slater said. "When so many people told him not to and said this won't work, to stand here all these years later and see what it's become, it speaks volumes to his legacy."
A large part of that for Slater is the emphasis the camp puts on faith. Before an organized dinner, Slater and Solder spoke to campers about their own trials and how they have remained humble as professional athletes. For both, the answer was found in their practice of Christianity.
"For my family and I, we truly believe in pouring into the next generation. Our young people, as many positive influences they can have in their lives the better. It's going to make a big, big difference," Slater said. "The fact that here at RBTV, there's a conscious effort to incorporate faith into everything they do is important because we really believe that gives children the best foundation to work from."
After taking their turn addressing the campers, the tables were turned, as the visitors sat in on a public speaking class. One camper quoted Mr. Kraft about perseverance. This is an idea that Mr. Kraft returned to when addressing the campers later in the afternoon.
"The story of my life, when things don't go your way and you're dreaming big and you fail, you don't give up," Mr. Kraft said. "You keep coming back. Every one of you has the chance to do the same thing, and I think Ron Burton is the perfect example of what that means."
In addition to never giving up, those who attend RBTV learn what it means to be a leader and how to be confident in themselves. Jude Gonzales is in his fourth year of attending, and he really learned what it means to be a hard worker and a leader. After a year away, Gonzales was excited to be back.
"It just feels like home," he said. "It's like you've been on a long vacation and you finally came back home."
Daunte Pean is in his freshman year at Northeastern University, where he is studying to be a mechanical engineer. Though he's been out of the RBTV program for two years now, he has taken lessons he's learned with him and applied them to his collegiate journey.
"I would say [I've grown to be] a lot more of a leader and a lot more of a team player. I definitely take into account everyone else around me," Pean said. "They told me to stay humble and stay polite. I'm super appreciative of that."
As Slater met with campers on this visit and in his previous visits, he was struck by how present they are, how they introduce themselves and make it a point to start conversations with visitors.
"That's a skill that I feel like we're starting to lose. With social media and technology, it almost feels like we're less connected. Now, we're even less equipped to have those types of interactions," Slater said. "The intentionality with which the works with to try and get these kids headed down that track is fantastic. I'm so impressed with the young men I've interacted with here over the years."
Slater, who visited the RBTV on Wednesday, with his wife, Shahrzad, and their three children, said he hopes one day his own kids will be able to join the program when they're old enough.
The Burtons make it clear that when you step foot on the grounds of the RBTV, you are a part of the family. Pean said this isn't just hyperbole.
"I know this journey is more or less lifelong," he said. "I'm happy to spend it with them."