From Illinois to Idaho: How Mario Donaldson found his place at NNU (#GoNNUCrusaders)

May 29, 2014

When Illinois native Mario Donaldson began looking for a place to finish out his college basketball career, he had little notion of coming west to play for a school in Nampa, Idaho.

"I went to a community college for two years; I had a very successful basketball season there where I was an All-American," says Mario. "At that point I was only looking at Division I schools, but God seemed to close every door. One evening my dad got a call from an Idaho number and it was the coach here at NNU. He used to play with my dad with Athletes In Action. He told my dad he worked for a Christian school and wanted me here in Idaho. The next day I flew out on a visit and signed within two days."

"Even though I come from a different culture and I'm a totally different ethnicity from the majority at NNU, there is no doubt we are all family."
It was quite a change of scenery for Mario, who hails from Rockton, a small town in northern Illinois about 90 minutes outside Chicago. He credits the community at NNU for being the reason that he felt comfortable here.

"The strong community of believers at NNU—from students to coaches and even staff all being Christ-like examples—is something that I had never experienced before. Even though I come from a different culture and I'm a totally different ethnicity from the majority at NNU, there is no doubt we are all family."

Mario also got plugged in to a local church in town, and decided to stay for his first summer to help with a growing children's ministry there. "[It was a tough decision] because I am very close to my family. We talk daily! But I knew that the things that God was doing in me would affect my life forever... I was blessed with the great opportunity to connect with the amazing youth and children at our church. God is definitely calling me to do ministry work in some capacity in the future."

Now, Mario has graduated, and he plans to travel this summer with Witness, NNU's student travel group that serves at youth camps around the Northwest. At the end of the summer, he plans to return to Illinois to pursue a new job opportunity, but he will always treasure the relationships that he made in his temporary Idaho home.

"I have a group of friends that I share every detail of my life with who help me stay on target to become the man I want to be. They hold me accountable by telling me when I'm wrong. Picking me up when I'm down. All-in-all, they are passengers in my journey with Christ and they assist whenever they feel it is applicable. They just continually help me in my daily pursuit of becoming more like Christ."

[Update 6/15/2015] Mario is currently attending Illinois State University where he's pursuing a master's degree in sport management and working as a graduate assistant academic coordinator. After graduation next May, Mario plans to pursue a career at a nonprofit organization where he can use his life experiences to inspire youth.

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