Barefoot basketball and beyond, Panther sports tip off philanthropy

Through Panther Athletic Club, Joe Reinkemeyer finds reason to give

For Joe Reinkemeyer (B.B.A., 1981, M. Tx., 1987), participating at Georgia State – as a student, alumnus, leader and donor – always starts with asking, “Why?”

Answering that question led him to join the Panther Athletic Club and become its president. His curiosity has been further satisfied through other personally significant causes – including Samaritan’s Feet, a nonprofit that collects and distributes shoes for impoverished children around the world and is supported by GSU basketball coach Ron Hunter.

On Thursday, Jan. 12, Hunter will highlight this cause as the Panthers take on University of North Carolina–Wilmington at the GSU Sports Arena. Each season since 2008, Hunter has brought awareness to the mission of Samaritan’s Feet by coaching one game barefoot.

Watching from the stands will be Reinkemeyer, 53, who sees in Hunter an impressive reason for giving to GSU.

“What he’s doing is impacting the lives of people by providing shoes, and I also think the lives of the students at Georgia State,” said Reinkemeyer.

“They see someone who is not just passively involved with something, but someone who is passionate and really involved actively. He builds awareness for Samaritan’s Feet and Georgia State because anytime a coach does more than just coach a team, that says a lot.”

Back to why

Reinkemeyer, who grew up in Chamblee and now lives in Alpharetta, attended GSU when it was mainly a commuter school. He juggled classes with work at a firm that became PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he serves today as partner.

Reinkemeyer’s GSU education helped him hone his analytical viewpoint, which he applies to how he spends his time, energy and other resources. Before he commits, Reinkemeyer wants to know why he should.

“The more someone understands why an organization needs something, the easier it is to give,” he said. “You need to believe in why they need it. Once you understand and believe in the necessity, then that makes it easier to give.”

As an alumni association board member, Reinkemeyer did not see a need for GSU to expand its sports presence. He was not in favor of starting up football team. “A reasonable sports fan,” he calls himself.

The only recruiting he imagined at Georgia State was for business. “For accounting, Georgia State is right up there with the big schools in the Southeast,” he said. “I’ve hired quite a few graduates.”

When meeting fellow alumni, Reinkemeyer was used to finding a common ground outside of sports. He did not imagine he was missing anything without a football team at his alma mater.

Then Reinkemeyer heard from GSU President Mark Becker and his predecessor, Carl Patton. Former Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves also helped persuade Reinkemeyer to see what a higher athletics profile could do for GSU.

“I heard about the impact on students, that they would have a more complete college experience,” Reinkemeyer recalled. “It hit me more because of the timing. I had a son going to a college [Vanderbilt]with a traditional sports environment, and it was important to him. That’s when the idea started to sink in more and I felt like football could work at Georgia State.”

Reinkemeyer pointed out that a university athletic department has unique needs and a unique opportunity to bring together students, alumni and donors in support of the institution.

“Money doesn’t just come from allocations, and you can’t just offer all the scholarships and build all the buildings you want,” he said.

“The more people get to know Georgia State today and have the chance to hear about this vision, and why it is important for students and what’s in it for potential donors, the more they will see what a unique opportunity this is.”

Reinkemeyer could see helping write a new chapter for future GSU students that improved upon his past experience. His sole athletic endeavor was a year with the university bowling club.

“I was looking for something to do, and that was fun,” he said. “But the only time I stepped foot in the Sports Arena was to graduate. I went to school, to classes and then to work.

“I never really participated in anything at GSU, but my eyes were opened to how important this is for future students. They want to be proud of a school and part of that has to do with sports. For me, even though Georgia State didn’t have football when I went there, there’s no reason I can’t get excited now.”

Past giving to pay forward

Reinkemeyer, like Hunter, believes giving to GSU is important, as is giving to local and global causes. The greater his personal stake in the cause, the more satisfaction he derives.

For more than 20 years, Reinkemeyer has volunteered with Junior Achievement, a global organization that helps educate children and teenagers about economics and financial literacy.

“We help them learn entrepreneurship and make them workforce ready,” he said of the more than 150,000 students in Georgia who have access to Junior Achievement.

He currently serves as chair of the Georgia chapter. The group’s past president, Donna Buchanan, is a GSU alumna who recommended Reinkemeyer to serve on the Alumni Association Board. Buchanan is chief operating officer of the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta.

“It’s the old saying, ‘Give a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he can eat for the rest of his life.’ …When people understand how things work, they make better decisions.”

The barefoot game

Reinkemeyer looks forward to seeing Hunter leave behind his size 13 ½ shoes on Thursday night and see whether another Panthers’ win follows the longest basketball winning streak in school history.

Both men are motivated by a vision that the present circumstances can and will be greater – if others also pitch in.

Hunter usually picks a game near the birth date of his hero, Martin Luther King Jr. On Monday, the federal holiday celebrating King, Hunter plans to help distribute 200 pairs of shoes in GSU’s community and King’s hometown – Atlanta.

“I never get tired of making a child smile by giving them a new pair of shoes and socks,” said Hunter, who has helped deliver thousands of pairs of shoes in Peru, Nigeria and Costa Rica. “As much help as Samaritan’s Feet does around the world, we also cannot forget those living in our own communities.”

An estimated 300 million children in the world cannot afford shoes. Hunter’s goal is to raise $100,000 for the organization – 10,000 pairs of shoes.

For Hunter, each $10 pair of shoes symbolizes hope, a belief in the potential for change. “We can truly make a difference in the lives of children around the world,” Hunter told GSU Athletics. “One pair of shoes at a time.”

Likewise, Reinkemeyer stepped up to lead the support for an expanded presence for athletics at GSU.

“We have a long ways to go, but we’re going in the right direction,” he said.

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424