“You gotta meet Rob. He’s so great!”

This is usually how Jesse Loewen, assistant director of the academic success center, describes Robert Sanders to those who have never met him.

“He’s a perfect example of a student-athlete who knows they are more than just that,” he said.

Sanders is a fifth-year sports management major with a minor in psychology who launched his new organization, Vessel of Honor, in September.

“Our mission and vision is to equip, prepare and motivate the youth to do whatever they want to do with character, honor and integrity,” Sanders said.

He founded the idea in June 2020, gaining inspiration from the Bible verse 2 Timothy 2:20-21: “Useful to God, prepared for every good work.” 

Sanders began to craft his goals, but due to responses received from others, he put his vision on pause.

“The excitement that I had towards it, they didn’t have it,” he said. “I wasn’t confident in it yet, so if I were to [advise] anyone with a vision or idea — protect it.”

Despite this, he explained, these moments build character and a “testimony that could go towards it later.”

Vessel of Honor’s first event, “The Harvest Initiative,” served to form relationships in the community. Twenty-five harvest goody bags were created and donated to The Post Youth Center in Goshen, Indiana. 

“I was able to express my vision [to the executive director], and now we have a connection with [them],” said Sanders. “It was the first small step to something that could be great.”

The next event is “Faith Over Fear Night,” which will take place in November in the RFC (Recreation Fitness Center), where students will discuss what character means. After, they will participate in basketball games with prizes awarded.

As for the people who were integral in getting him so far, Sanders stressed that it took a “village.” 

“You know, I couldn’t just put it on one person, because I’ll be leaving everybody else outside,” he said. 

An essential aspect of Sander’s journey is his trip to Naples, Maine this summer to work as a sports instructor and camp counselor.

“I had a set schedule, I was able to think and be with God by myself, and he revealed to me … a lot of things … that made me miserable,” he said.

Sanders recalls a time when he “suffered in silence”  because he had “superficial standards” for himself.

“A lot of the reason is that my identity was in basketball, I wanted to be known as somebody with a good reputation and I wanted to be perceived as a good Christian,” he said.

“When I was putting the ball in the rim, when people thought I was nice, [or] knew I was doing Christian stuff on campus, everything was great,” he added. 

One reason his mental health shifted was due to the relationships he built with youth at the camp.

“They reinforced the concept of how I was valuable by myself,” he said. “I didn’t touch a basketball for about the first month … Once I started shooting basketballs, they were like, ‘Rob, you can dunk!’”

Sanders planned on finishing his 2022-2023 GC basketball season, but due to personal reasons, will  “cheer on and watch our team’s success from a distance.”

He does not intend to continue with basketball after graduation, noting, “playing basketball was a means to an end and not the end for me. Which was a big sacrifice, but I know it’ll be worth it in the long run.” 

“The Fruitful First,” event will take place on Apr. 7, 2023 as Vessel of Honor’s largest occasion. There will be inflatables, food, barbecue, prizes and more.

Sanders says that people can support his organization through testimonials that can add to his portfolio.

“You can write those out, whether it be a few sentences, three paragraphs, or stories and send it to my email, rksanders@goshen.edu,” he said. 

Sanders said wristbands are also available that people can wear, show others, or give them to another person. People can make a purchase through his Instagram page: @vessel.honor_

Sander’s long-term goal is to spread the message of Vessel of Honor to a national level while showing youth “you have a purpose outside [of] what you do.”

Loewen knows where Sanders is coming from, recalling his experiences from childhood.  

“It’s important that Black youth are given other outlets, that they are told by others who look like them that they are more than just a stereotype,” he said. “We never encourage growth if we only say what they can and can’t do.”