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Frontier alumni launch nonprofit to help people struggling with mental health find an outlet

Frontier alumni launch nonprofit to help people struggling with mental health find an outlet

Mark Gray had been trying for a while to get his brother, Nate Gray, to practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu to help with his anxiety.

Nate has been learning recently. While he still gets anxious before he trains, any of his stressors melt away when he's on the mat because the martial art requires so much concentration.

The Gray brothers are using jiu-jitsu to help heal others as well. They founded a nonprofit called Rollshop in January that partners with gyms and organizations to increase access to jiu-jitsu for people of all ages struggling with mental health issues.

They host free clinics and help finance the ongoing jiu-jitsu journeys of those who are interested, since the sport can be expensive, according to Nate Gray.

It all started when Mark Gray, an elementary school principal and father of four children who lives in Long Island, received $10,000 from his school district to pilot a jiu-jitsu program for students. A black belt himself, he taught students the fundamentals and basics and tracked the progress of each student.

Gray found that teachers reported improved attendance, patience and general behavior in students over the course of the program.

After launching a couple of successful clinics in Long Island, they’re bringing the nonprofit to Western New York. Both Gray brothers are Hamburg natives and Frontier graduates. Nate Gray has spent time working and living in both New York City and Buffalo, and currently resides in North Buffalo.

They have partnered with Buffalo-based nonprofit 26Shirts to raise funding through a T-shirt campaign. The money will stay in the Buffalo area to fund clinics and jiu-jitsu classes. Their first clinic starts in September at WNY MMA.

"There is no place for your mind to go when you’re on the mat," Nate Gray said. "You can’t think about the bills you might not be able to pay. You can't think about the relationships you might need to repair. You can’t think about any other struggle going on with your life. The only struggle you have in that 60 minutes, or 90 minutes, is the person in front of you."

- By Francesca Bond, Sun reporter

July 9, 2021