Category Archives: Nonprofits

Guest Post: Mercy Project

Chris Field is the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization Mercy Project. His claim to fame is that his first varsity hit was a three run homerun. Unfortunately, that was his only hit of the entire season (he finished 1 for 26 with a .038 BA). You can find him on Facebook and Twitter under mercyproject.

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This site has successfully established a rich and complex relationship between college sports and business. It’s fascinating for the sports nerds among us (and you probably qualify unless you ended up here by accident) to pore over the numbers game behind the teams and sports we love to watch and cheer on. Sports are indeed big business, and it’s riveting stuff.

But today, Alicia has graciously given me the chance to write about another part of the world of sports that I don’t think we talk about enough—the ways sports can bring us together and bring out our best.

This weekend, from Friday to Sunday, a group of 56 players from around Texas will play a non-stop, 49-hour baseball marathon that will land them in the Guinness Book of World Records. As the game is played none of the players involved will leave the playing area. Food, short naps, and bathroom breaks will all take place within a few hundred feet of the foul lines. To be clear, these are not All Star baseball players either. Just one of the players had a short stint playing college ball, and the rest of them would do well to look smooth in front of your typical freshman high school team. But what this group lacks in athleticism they more than make up for in sheer insanity.

How crazy are they? This will actually be their third world record in the last 24 months. First they played kickball for 50 hours, then flag football for 24 hours, and now baseball for 49 hours. So who are these people, and what do these world records have to do with the best of humanity? To answer that, we have to go back to August of 2009 when I found myself in a boat, in the middle of a huge lake, in Ghana, Africa. It was there that my life would be changed forever when I met a 9-year old boy named Tomas. It was there that I held the hand of a child slave.

One of the children Mercy Project founder, Chris Field, met in Ghana, Tomas.

Experts estimate that slavery is more prevalent in the world today than at any other point in history. That’s depressing to think about, isn’t it? It certainly is for me. I had heard snippets here and there about modern day slavery, but it all became a crushing reality the day I met Tomas. To actually hold the hand of a child who had been purchased for about $20, and was now owned by another human, was simultaneously shocking and heart wrenching.

I was even more shocked to find out that Tomas was just one of an estimated 7,000 children in Ghana who have been sold by their destitute parents to work in the labor intensive fishing industry. These children can be as young as five years old, and they work nearly 100 hours a week for their slave masters. To look into their eyes is to see the living dead as they convey an emptiness that still haunts me nearly 2 ½ years after first meeting Tomas.

 

One of the many children Field has met while on the lake in Ghana.

 

I’ve now been to Ghana 14 times, and my wife and I run a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children like Tomas to be rescued and brought new life. Our model involves teaching new methods of cage fishing (called aquaculture) so that the men who own the children will no longer have the need for this child labor.

Mercy Project founder Chris Field and a child in Ghana.

We are literally “teaching a man to fish” so that these children can be rescued and returned to their families.

So that these children can actually be kids again.

So that these children can run, and laugh, and play games like baseball.

That’s why we keep doing these crazy world records. Not for the chance to show our kids we made it into a fat book of records at their school library but so that we can tell our kids we really tried to make a difference. We saw something that was broken, and we tried to find creative ways to fix it.

These events have given us an outlet to do that. They are a way for the average person, athlete or far from it, to be a participant in a way that connects them to something bigger than themselves. Because that’s what sports do, isn’t it? Connect us to something bigger than ourselves? We become fans of a team and get the chance to live vicariously through their touchdowns, three pointers, and triple overtime wins. To feel like a part of an exclusive club because these are “our guys or girls” and “my team.” Sports does that in us.  It does that to us. It gives us a way to feel like we belong.

In the case of these ridiculous sports marathons, it gives us the chance to feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves. To play a kid’s game, for kids who don’t get to play, is fiercely symbolic and richly poignant. Playing baseball for 49 hours gives us an opportunity to say, “I’m doing this on your behalf, Tomas. Because every child should get to run and play games like this. I’m playing because you don’t get to, and I will keep playing until you get to sub in for me at one of these events.”

Participants enjoy a game of football to support Mercy Project.

But it’s not just symbolic. This game also gives us the chance to do something really tangible and significant. General donations (from people like you) and player sponsorships from this weekend’s game should total more than $30,000. That’s enough money to fund an entire village’s economic development project. That’s enough money to rescue an entire village of slave children. All from a simple baseball game.

The power of sports is broad, and it’s certainly big business. But it’s also world changing. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tomas in a few years.

***To make a donation for this event and the kids in Ghana, you can go here.***

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His Best Foot Forward: Olympic Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson’s Legacy

In 1945, a young man’s family moved from the segregated farming town of Hillsboro, Texas to a land of new opportunities found in central California.

In the central California town of Kingsburg, a principal at Roosevelt Elementary School handed students a two-inch by three-inch paper called the “Roosevelt R,” which was meant to remind them to be the best they could be wherever they went in the world.

Upon leaving the halls of Roosevelt Elementary School, the young man, Rafer Johnson, eventually found himself attending Kingsburg Joint Union High School.  There, Merrill Dodson, a social studies teacher who doubled as a track and field coach, instilled a sentiment in his track and field prodigy which would become Johnson’s mantra:  Be the best you can be.

In an effort to encourage Johnson to become the best he could be athletically and take up the decathlon, Coach Dodson drove the incoming high school junior to Tulare, California to watch Bob Mathias, then the holder of the decathlon world record, compete in the Olympic decathlon trials.

The decathlon is such an extreme series of physical challenges that its ten events span the course of two days.  To prepare mentally and physically for the challenges faced in the decathlon and to compete against the likes of Bob Mathias, Johnson knew he would have to be the best he could be.

“When we moved to Kingsburg, the people in that town gave all their kids the most optimistic outlook they could possibly have.  My social studies teacher and my track coach was Merrill Dodson.  Nobody knows who Merrill Dodson is except for in that little town.  But he put a positive spin on everything we did.  It was the first time I ever heard someone say, “All I want you to be, is the best you can be.”  So I’ve always just followed that—“be the best you can be,” said Johnson.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court, in an effort to further the United States of America on its path to becoming the best it could be, ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

That fall, Johnson enrolled at UCLA.  At UCLA, Johnson found a legacy of other athletes who subscribed to the notion of being the best they could be.  These athletes included the likes of Jackie Robinson who, after leaving UCLA, broke professional baseball’s color barrier, and Ralph Bunche, the former UCLA athlete whose role as a United Nations mediator between Israel and Palestine earned him the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.

With a legacy of student-athletes committed to being the best they could be preceding him, Johnson quickly found coaches who motivated him to be his best.  At UCLA, Johnson performed under track coach Elvin “Ducky” Drake.  During Johnson’s recruiting trip to UCLA, Coach Drake implied that he would help Johnson become the best he could be at track and field, by telling Johnson he believed he could earn a spot on the next Olympic team.

Under Coach Drake’s guidance, Johnson participated in the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City.  Johnson not only brought home an American decathlon victory in those games, but a new Pan American decathlon record.  Johnson set this record during the event dreaded by every decathlete:  the 1,500 meters.

Johnson described a decathlete’s distaste toward the 1,500 meters by explaining,

“I would suggest that there probably isn’t a decathlete anywhere in the world who loves the 1,500 meters.  It’s the tenth event, the last event of two days’ of competition and by that time you’re tired.  I don’t care how good of shape you’re in, how prepared you were—at that point, you’re tired.”

Although his closest competitor at the 1955 Pan American Games sat out the 1,500 meters event–meaning that Johnson could have won the gold medal without completing the event–Johnson knew that he would not be the best he could be if he did not run the 1,500 meters.

Johnson’s best that night turned out to be good enough to break the Pan American decathlon record.

Johnson’s training and dedication toward becoming the best decathlete he could be allowed him to secure his place on the 1956 U.S. Olympic roster.  Although battling a knee injury and torn stomach muscle, Johnson won the silver medal for the decathlon in the 1956 Olympics.

While Johnson’s injuries during the 1956 Olympics acted as a setback to his earning an Olympic gold medal, Johnson never backed down from challenges in the face of adversity.

“Adversity. . . is just temporary.  The next event or opportunity is coming along.  Everyday, we face obstacles that we may or may not think are going to be difficult.  They turn out to be one or the other.  What you do, is learn from it, but always look at it as a temporary setback,” noted Johnson.

Alicia and Rafer Johnson in Hermosa Beach, CA

Returning to UCLA in the fall of 1956, Johnson conditioned for the track and field season by playing basketball at UCLA.  On the basketball court, Johnson encountered another influential force whose coaching method mirrored Johnson’s adopted motto of being  “the best you can be.”

By the fall of 1956, the man who would become known to the world as the “Wizard of Westwood” had racked up 184 of his 620 wins at UCLA.  Later, Coach John Wooden’s popular Pyramid of Success featured a top block declaring, “Perform at your best when your best is required.  Your best is required each day.”

“People wonder how he was able to win.  To me, it was very simple.  That’s all he asked of his boys [to be their best], and he got them ready to play the game, physically and mentally.  Being the best you can be is what I think of all the time, whether I’m on the field of competition or not,” explained Johnson.

Johnson’s dedication to becoming the best he could be ultimately granted him a second chance at earning Olympic gold in the decathlon.

At the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, Johnson was named the captain of the American contingent, which was composed of athletes including an eighteen-year old boxer named Cassius Clay and a pioneer in women’s sports named Wilma Rudolph.

Over the course of two hot and humid days in Rome, where temperatures reached up to 90 degrees, Johnson’s chance at Olympic gold came down to the decathlon’s final event:  the 1,500 meters.

Ahead of his UCLA classmate and track and field teammate, C.K. Yang, by only sixty-seven points going into the event, Johnson knew that he could not let Yang win the 1,500 meters by more than ten seconds.  Johnson also knew that Yang’s 1,500 meters best was fifteen seconds better than his personal best.

“I was up against one of the best athletes I’ve ever known in C.K. Yang, my friend and classmate.  My coach Ducky Drake, gave us specific instructions as to how we were each to run that race,” said Johnson.

In that moment, Johnson knew that he had to be the best he could be.

Finishing 1.2 seconds behind Yang, Johnson gave the event his best, as he ran the 1,500 meters in the fastest amount of time he ever had.

“Each of us did exactly what [Drake] told us to do,” noted Johnson.

In recognition of being the best he could be, after completing the 1,500 meters, Johnson stood on a podium in Rome when a ribbon laced with a gold medal was placed around his neck.

“One of us finished first and one finished second.  I believe that’s why he [Yang] and I have remained friends all these years, because he knew he was the best he could be and I felt I had my best performance, as well.  That’s really what it’s all about.  Yes, I wanted to win gold, but I would have been a lot more disappointed winning gold, or any other medal, knowing that I hadn’t brought everything I could to that competition,” said Johnson.

In explaining how he achieved Olympic gold medal success, Johnson emphasizes the importance of one being his best in every moment:

“The way I did my decathlon is, I did one event at a time.  I did the best I could do at that event.  The second event, I didn’t look back at the first thinking, “Oh, I could have done that better,” or “that was a great event for me.”  I tried to be my best in the second event.  And I didn’t look forward to the third event when I was doing the second event. I went through ten events.  That’s all I wanted to do, was be the best I can be.  Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t.  But what I wanted at the end of ten events, was for it to add up to be my best ten events,” explained Johnson.

Johnson’s lifetime personal commitment to being the best he could be allowed him to cross paths with a family recognized by most Americans as exuding excellence.

In 1961, Johnson was awarded the Athlete of the Year award by People to People.  The keynote speaker of the event was United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.  After the ceremony, Kennedy invited Johnson to Washington, D.C., as Johnson expressed interest in international relations and foreign exchange programs.  Johnson accepted the offer and subsequently formed a lasting friendship with the Kennedy family.

Through his friendship with Robert F. Kennedy, Johnson became familiar with Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Shriver.  During the period in which they became friends, Shriver was organizing day camps for individuals with intellectual disabilities at her home.  In 1968, Shriver’s efforts culminated in the first-ever International Special Olympics Summer Games, during which 1,000 athletes competed in various events in Chicago.

While previously involved in community service projects, Johnson’s friendship with the Kennedy’s allowed him to become intimately involved with the Special Olympics and exercise his personal best to support the needs of others.  Since 1966, Johnson has committed himself to giving his best to ensure the success and development of the Special Olympics.

“I was involved in the Robert Kennedy Presidential Campaign in 1968 and I had been involved with the Special Olympics just prior to that in 1966.  Eunice Shriver, Bobby’s sister, started the Special Olympics  because she wanted to involve her sister [Rosemary], who had an intellectual disability and at that point, wasn’t getting any recreation or exercise activities.  Eunice thought life could be better for her.  So she worked on this program,” said Johnson.

At the 1968 International Special Olympics Summer Games, Johnson led 40 California athletes to Chicago to encourage them to be the best they could be.

In 1969, Johnson served as the co-founder of the California Special Olympics by organizing the first annual Western Regional Special Olympics, at which 900 individuals from seven states participated in five athletic events.  In 1995, the California Special Olympics divided into Special Olympics Southern California and Special Olympics Northern California.  Today, 9,000 athletes participate in the Special Olympics Southern California, which hosts a two-season sports calendar during which athletes are given the opportunity to participate in twelve events.

Throughout the 42  year history of what became the Special Olympics Southern California, Johnson has served as a member and president of the board of directors.  Today, Johnson’s commitment to giving his best to supporting Special Olympics Southern California’s athletes is as strong as ever, as he attends every Special Olympics Southern California event.

“I’ll never forget what Mrs. Shriver said [at the 1968 International Special Olympics Summer Games] that, “every athlete here today deserves our attention and deserves this opportunity.”  I remember those words and I think I’ll always be involved with the program, because I came up as a youngster in a very small town in central California and that’s what I think provided the basis for the rest of my career—that somebody helped me be the best that I could be.  That’s what Mrs. Shriver was doing with her inception of Special Olympics and what the Special Olympics program has done ever since.  It has helped special athletes be the best that they can be,” said Johnson.

In a room in a house in Los Angeles, there lies a gold medal that was won by a young man who put forth his best effort on a hot summer night in Rome.

Next to that gold medal, is a crinkled up “R” that his elementary school principal gave him.

Rafer Johnson has never forgotten what it takes to be the best that he can be.

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San Diego Padres Pitcher Luke Gregerson’s Strikes for Foster Care Youth Event

The first steps from adolescence to adulthood are challenging for most.

With adulthood comes new struggles:  Earning enough income to support daily necessities, balancing a budget for the first time, finding furnishings for a new apartment, and maintaining balance upon being granted a significant amount of freedom.

Most young adults stumble a bit as they begin their journeys down adulthood’s path.  For most of these young adults, if they trip and stumble, they can return home to their parents and receive assistance to get back on their feet.

However, in the transitioning stages from adolescence to adulthood, a significant portion of American teenagers do not have a parental support system to help them regain their footing when their path to adulthood becomes rough.

In September 2008, 463,000 children were living in the foster care system in the United States.  While most children in the United States’ foster care system exit the system to either a biological parent, adoptive parent or guardian, many foster children transition out of the system without ever reuniting with a parental figure.  In 2008, 29,000 American children left the foster care system without a permanent place to call home.  These young men and women were placed in a situation where they were forced to wade through the struggles of being a young adult without the assistance of a parental figure.

Luke Gregerson, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, understands the plight of foster care children.  Gregerson grew up in what he describes as a “tight-knit” family.  “I have a lot of cousins and a lot of aunts and uncles and we’re all very, very close,” said Gregerson.  One aunt, Patricia Obosla Katz, opened up her home to numerous children in the community needing a place to stay.  One of those children was Antwan Turpeau.  Katz ultimately adopted Turpeau and Gregerson and Turpeau have been close since.

Turpeau’s years in the foster care system prompted him to use his experiences to take action to better the lives other young adults in the foster care system.  With two others, Turpeau co-founded the Illinois nonprofit organization Struggling Youth Equals Successful Adults (“SYESA”) to provide young adults in the foster care system with the tools necessary to overcome their past obstacles.

“I grew up in foster care the majority of my life.  I used all of the things I struggled with while being in foster care to motivate me to become as successful as possible, to get as much education as possible, and to achieve as much as I can professionally.  My foster-mother was very instrumental in me getting to where I am today, from having a graduate degree—a Master’s in Social Work—to having my own nonprofit,” Turpeau explained.

Through SYESA, Turpeau is able to ensure that children in Illinois’ foster care system receive the mentoring necessary to assist them in furthering their lives to overcome their past obstacles.

“What we do is provide individual life coaches who have also grown up in foster care and have overcome those struggles by going to college and finding a great job to demonstrate [to the foster care children] that they can live on their own.  Life coaches come back and mentor other youth that are in the system now.  We want to show them that you can make it; it’s possible.  The best way to do that is to have individuals who have made it come back and help youth in that situation do the same thing,” said Turpeau.

When forming the board of directors for SYESA, the name of one board member was clear to Turpeau: Gregerson.

“He watched me go through[the foster care] process and we were very close when we were younger.  We got closer when my aunt [and Gregerson's aunt] passed away three years ago.  We wanted to make sure we developed a good organization to help youth the same way that [Gregerson’s] aunt and my mother helped me,” said Turpeau.

Gregerson is enthusiastic about his role as a SYESA board member.  “I became a board member after its first year.  Since then, I’ve been doing everything I can to help them out because, like I said, he’s my cousin, we’re family and we’re a tight-knit group,” said Gregerson.

On Thursday, September 22, 2011, after returning to San Diego from a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies and on the Padres’ only day off during a 13-day period, Gregerson hosted the Luke Gregerson Charity Bowling Event at East Village Tavern + Bowl in San Diego.

The event supported SYESA as well as Just in Time for Foster Youth, a San Diego organization which according to board of directors member Richard Richison “helps transitioning foster youth who are aged out of the system” by doing such things as providing mentoring, financial education and ensuring that transitioning foster youth have the tools necessary to start adulthood on the right foot.

Although the night was the Padres’ only off-night in two weeks, players came out in full force to support their teammate, community and foster youth.  Players mixed and mingled with the event’s guests and were gracious in granting every autograph and photograph request.  Most importantly though, there was a general excitement amongst the Padres players over their ability to give back to their community and support organizations which Gregerson is passionate about.

“We have most of the guys here from the team and it looks like we got the rest of San Diego out here in great numbers.   It means a lot to show that as players, we’re able to make a difference and support the work that Luke put in to put this together while benefitting the kids,” said Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer.

Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin was quick to describe the Padres’ desire to give back to the San Diego community.

“In this city, these people really get behind us and support us.  It’s our way of giving back.  You have to appreciate the people who make it all possible and these guys who come out to support us at our games, those are the ones that make it possible.  So it’s fun to get out and get to know the people who come out and support you,” said Maybin.

Turpeau voiced appreciation for the support the Padres organization and in particular, his cousin, Gregerson, have lent to SYESA.

“To have his support is really great.  He’s a very down to earth guy.  For him to stay grounded and make sure that he gives back, I love it.  It means a whole lot to me, a whole lot to our family and it means a whole lot to our youth, for them to see that people at this level professionally really care about these kids,” said Turpeau.

Gregerson, however, points out that one does not have to be a professional athlete to support their community.

“I think everyone should [give back to their community] , whether you’re a professional athlete or just an everyday, normal person.  Everyone should, because it’s beneficial to society in general when you have not just professional athletes helping out, but everyday people,” commented Gregerson.

With the leadership of Turpeau, the dedication of Just in Time for Foster Youth and the support of Gregerson and the Padres organization, transitioning foster youth are on better footing to take their first steps into adulthood.

To support or learn more about SYESA and Just in Time for Foster Youth, click the following links:

SYESA

Just in Time for Foster Youth

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Championing a Promise: We Will Never Forget

At 10:29 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001–the minute after the final of four planes which crashed that day fell into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania–Americans made a pledge to those who perished:

To never forget.

Actions by wicked terrorists tore the beacon of our country’s financial success–the Twin Towers–down.  Terrible men used their callous efforts to smash into the symbol of our country’s defense against its enemies.  Cowards battled with the brave on a plane which eventually crashed into an open expanse in Pennsylvania.

2,977 innocent people who went to work, were headed to vacations, or stopped to help a stranger, lost their lives that day.

Mothers and fathers were faced with the unimaginable feeling of surviving a child in life.  Wives and husbands faced the reality of “til death do us part.”  Babies and children had the precious time of knowing and loving a parent stripped from them.

As much as was taken from our country and its citizens that day, the ugly face of terrorism could not steal everything.

In the moments following September 11, 2001, the common thread which has tied Americans together since that July 4th in 1776 when 56 men signed their names to a document recognizing the “unalienable Rights” of Americans to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” was only strengthened.

Some of the first responders to the cause to ensure that Americans never forgot the lives of the innocent lost on September 11, 2001 were athletes, teams and sports leagues.

In the early hours of September 11, 2001, the New York Giants landed at Newark International Airport, returning from a Monday Night Football match-up against the Denver Broncos.  The tarmac they passed across held United Airlines Flight 93, which terrorists would later cause to fall out of the sky and land in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board.

To say that New York sports teams, like the Giants, and their athletes were touched by the events of 9/11 would be an understatement.  “This was their backyard.  These were their fans.  These were their family members, too,” said Amy Wright, the Director of Development for Tuesday’s Children.

Tuesday’s Children is an organization founded after 9/11 to provide support to children who lost a parent in the attacks, along with those affected by global acts of terrorism.  The importance of an organization like Tuesday’s Children in serving the needs of children affected by 9/11 becomes clear upon learning that 49 percent of the children Tuesday’s Children serves are under the age of 18.  This means, that 49 percent of the children Tuesday’s Children supports were under the age of eight when at least one of their parents’ lives was taken on 9/11.  In fact, the youngest children who lost a parent on 9/11 were not even alive on that day, but instead were being carried inside of their mother’s wombs.

“Some of these kids are ten years old.  It’s so impactful when you think about it in terms of those years.  We serve thousands of children who lost a parent on 9/11.  There are a lot of little children out there who still need Tuesday’s Children’s programs,” said Wright.

In athletes, teams and sports leagues, Tuesday’s Children and other charities formed in response to the September 11th attacks have found the perfect team of responders to champion our nation’s promise to never forget.

“I can tell you specifically, the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New York Knicks, New York Giants, New York Jets, New York Mets, and New York Yankees really were there [providing support], very close to the inception of the organization.  They took their roles and responsibilities very seriously after September 11th and made a long-term commitment to help these families, as well as the first responders, ” said Wright.

These teams’ support of Tuesday’s Children is expansive.  It ranges from providing up to 500 tickets for any one game for victims’ families.  Wright estimates that over the past ten years, teams have donated “thousands and thousands” of tickets to Tuesday’s Children.  Teams have granted meet-and-greet opportunities, with the New York Knicks going so far as giving children the opportunity to do something Spike Lee pays massive amounts of money for–to watch the Knicks from courtside.  Tuesday’s Children’s participants have also received opportunities to ride the Zamboni at New York Rangers games.  They have thrown out the first pitch at New York Mets games.  The Mets and New York Giants have flown Tuesday’s Children families to various cities to watch each team’s respective games.

Then there are the monetary donations made by athletes and teams.  The New York Mets Foundation has financially underwritten numerous programs for Tuesday’s Children, including a mentoring program for first responders.  Along with the Mets, Major League Baseball players John Franco, Mike Piazza and Tom Glavine financially backed Tuesday’s Children’s Career Paths program, which provides career assistance to children graduating from college and others left behind by a family member after 9/11 who find themselves re-entering the workforce.

Ten years after terrorists attempted to strike a fatal blow to the ideals and values our country has successfully built itself upon, citizens nationwide will come together to participate in the “.  . . single largest day of charitable service in United States history.”  The development of this day of service can be traced back to the generous charitable efforts of New York Mets players in the days following 9/11.

On September 21, 2001–ten days after the 9/11 attacks–the New York Mets took the field for the first sporting event held in New York City after the attacks.  They not only beat the Atlanta Braves that night, but each player also donated a day’s salary to the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children’s Benefit Fund Foundation.

The actions of the New York Mets that night spurred an idea in the head of David Paine, a New York native who describes himself as “. . .a very optimistic person” and believes that “you can accomplish anything if you’re just not willing to give up.”

Paine’s friend, Jay Winuk, lost his brother Glenn in the September 11th attacks.  Glenn Winuk was a partner in the New York City law office of Holland & Knight LLP, which was located one block away from Ground Zero.  Glenn was also a volunteer firefighter and EMT.  After the World Trade Center was attacked, Glenn led others out of his office and then “. . . raced into the WTC’s South Tower to participate in the rescue efforts.”  Glenn lost his life while working to save that of his fellow-man.

Paine and Winuk discussed ways they could “best pay tribute to Glenn and honor all of the other victims,” according to Paine.  Their talks and ultimate decision turned back to the Mets players’ donation of a day’s salary.

“I had read a story in a local New York newspaper about how the New York Mets players and staff had pledged to donate a day’s wages to the 9/11 relief effort.  Mike Piazza’s salary on that day was $68,000.00.  It inspired me and I thought, we can all do that.  We can all donate a day’s pay or a day’s worth of service.  So we set up our first website called OnDaysPay.org.  Then Jay and I formed the nonprofit group One Day’s Pay, which later became the organization we are today, MyGoodDeed,” explained Paine.

In the years since Paine and Winuk founded MyGoodDeed, the organization has become a force in American charitable efforts.

“We wanted to make sure to create a meaningful way for the entire nation to remember the victims who were lost and those who rose in service in response to the attacks and provide a constructive way in which they could pay tribute.  Having witnessed the remarkable way that the country came together in response to the 9/11 attacks in terms of service, it seemed logical that the best possible legacy or gift to the victims would be that if we all pledged to gift to 9/11, for now and ever, in engaging in good deeds,” noted Paine.

Ultimately, the efforts of Paine and Winuk, along with “22 other leaders in the 9/11 community,” prompted Congress to enact legislation “. . . that formally recognized and led to the official establishment of September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance under federal law and Presidential Proclamation.”

MyGoodDeed and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance have received significant support from athletes and teams.  “Many teams have activities they’re designing [to participate in the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance].  The Miami Dolphins and NFL are tweeting and posting messages about our initiative through their own Twitter accounts.  The New York Mets are dedicating their September 9, 2011 home game to remember the events of 9/11 and to support the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance,” said Paine.

NASCAR has also been a supportive partner of MyGoodDeed and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance.  “They are our lead national volunteer activation partner.  They’re responsible for mobilizing hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country,” said Paine.

While both Tuesday’s Children and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance have received significant support from countless athletes and teams, arguably the largest monetary pledge made to both organizations as of late came from the NFL.

On August 30, 2011, the NFL announced that it will donate $1 million collectively to three 9/11 memorials, along with Tuesday’s Children and MyGoodDeed.  “We are so honored.  The NFL is an unbelievable entity and organization.  It is a true honor to be in their fold,” stated Wright.

The donations the NFL will make to MyGoodDeed and Tuesday’s Children will come from proceeds raised from items auctioned at http://www.NFL.com/Auction.  NFL players will wear commemorative jerseys at games over the weekend, which will be signed and auctioned.  “Believe me, I’m buying one of those jerseys.  It’s probably going to be Eli Manning’s, because I’m a Giants fan,” noted Paine.

While the efforts of athletes, teams and leagues have gracefully furthered our nation’s promise to never forget, those who don’t make millions of dollars are just as able to hold onto the oath we all made at 10:29 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

“You don’t have to be a superstar to make a difference.  You can make a difference in your community simply by trying to make a difference,” said Paine.

The need for our country’s citizens to come together and support those affected by 9/11, and stand in support amongst other citizens finding themselves in need, has not been extinguished.  “We still have a lot of work to do, and we need people to walk with us in our commitment to never forget and never forget our promise to be there for these families,” said Wright.

In the moments, days, months and ten years following 9/11, our nation’s athletes, teams, leagues and citizens have bravely and boldly held onto a most important promise.

And we will never forget.

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C.J. Stewart and L.E.A.D.

(Today’s piece is the first of Ruling Sports’ “Pro Bono” series.  To learn more about “Pro Bono,” click here).

Jason Heyward.  Andruw Jones.  Dexter Fowler.

As a former professional baseball player with the Chicago Cubs organization and current CEO of Diamond Directors, C.J. Stewart has helped develop some of today’s biggest names and brightest young talent in Major League Baseball.

However, if anyone, Stewart recognizes that the fees associated with the services he provides to clients through Diamond Directors are unable to be paid by the large majority of the inner-city youth in Atlanta, where Stewart and Diamond Directors are based.

Growing up in the Hollywood Courts housing project in Atlanta, Stewart was a talented baseball player.  However, for financial reasons, his only opportunity to be exposed to the sport was through his high school team.

Then, T.J. Wilson entered the picture.

Wilson, a former Atlanta Police Officer with a passion for baseball, had children who attended high school with Stewart.  Wilson’s love for baseball drove him to spend many days at the high school’s baseball field.  Struck by Stewart’s talent, Wilson ended up taking the young Stewart under his wing and fully exposed him to all of the sport’s opportunities.

Stewart explained the lengths Wilson went to ensure that Stewart’s talents were perfected and shown to the world:  “He picked me up from school, fed me, made sure I did my homework, drove me 45 minutes to an hour away to a training facility and brought me home three days a week.”  Not only did Wilson give Stewart the gift of his time and dedication, but according to Stewart, he “spent thousands per year, out of his pocket,” to make sure that Stewart received thorough player development training and outside opportunities necessary to cultivate and expose his talent.

The story of Wilson taking action to develop the baseball talents and character of a young man is one shared by many in the Atlanta community.  Stewart estimates that Wilson helped 300 young men in Atlanta realize their possibilities through baseball.  However, one story stands out in particular to Stewart.

As a former Atlanta Police Officer, Wilson often drove through various Atlanta neighborhoods to speak to kids.  One night, during a drive through the Red Oak housing project, he stopped and talked to a group of kids.  After leaving, he had driven a fair distance away from the group of kids, when his back windshield was shattered by a rock thrown at it.

Wilson’s first instinct was to do what anyone else would:  drive back to the group of kids and find out who threw the rock that just shattered his windshield.  However, Wilson had a motive other than finding someone to reimburse him for his windshield.  Wilson recognized that the kid who threw the rock far enough to hit his windshield and hard enough to break it, had a serious arm and could be developed as a baseball player.

The kid who threw the rock would go on to play in the Major Leagues.  He would win four Gold Gloves and the World Series.

His name?

Marquis Grissom.

Like Grissom, the time, energy and funds Wilson and others invested into player and character development for Stewart, paid off.  Stewart would eventually attend Georgia State University and play in the Chicago Cubs organization.

However, despite the accolades Stewart achieved as a baseball player, it would be a safe bet that Stewart’s current endeavour would be the achievement making his former mentor the proudest.

Stewart currently serves as the C.E.O. for L.E.A.D., a nonprofit organization in Atlanta, Georgia founded by Stewart and his wife, Kelli, to “. . . impact. . .the number of inner city middle and high school student-athletes playing competitive baseball to prepare them to compete for college baseball scholarships.”  Recognizing the need for player development outside of high school baseball in order for players to compete at higher levels of the sport, along with the inability of inner-city youth to afford such player development opportunities, Stewart created L.E.A.D. to do what Wilson did for him years before:  mentor young men and develop their baseball talent.  “This is the best way to say ‘thank you,’” Stewart said.

Stewart explains L.E.A.D., which stands for “Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct” as being “an opportunity for the Atlanta community to invest in student-athletes who have a passion for baseball.”   Currently, L.E.A.D. grants 60 scholarships to inner-city youth in Atlanta to become “Ambassadors” of the organization.  These Ambassadors are not only given extensive baseball training, but also engage in leadership opportunities, educational and career development, and community outreach projects.

L.E.A.D.’s impact on the Atlanta community is nothing short of impressive.

The high school graduation rate in Atlanta was 69 percent in 2009.  L.E.A.D. boasts a 100 percent graduation rate.

One recent high school graduation success story stands out to Stewart.

Two years ago, a young man tried out to be a L.E.A.D. Ambassador.  However, at the time, he did not make the cut, because Stewart did not feel that the young man was ready for the “mental responsibility” involved with being an Ambassador.  L.E.A.D. Ambassadors are not selected for the program solely for their baseball talent.  Stewart constantly stresses that his main purpose in founding L.E.A.D. was to help young men attain a college education.  Thus, L.E.A.D. requires its students to maintain a “C” average in school, attend all classes, and participate in numerous leadership and community activities.

Although the young man did not become an Ambassador the first go-around, he tried out again this past year and became an Ambassador.  Stewart later learned that this young man was homeless.  His attendance at L.E.A.D. tryouts twice, coupled with his homelessness demonstrate this young man’s resilience.  That resilience was further demonstrated this Spring, when without a home to call his own, the young man graduated from high school.

L.E.A.D. graduates 100 percent of its student-athletes from high school.

Not impressed yet?

100 percent of the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors go on to college.  87 percent of those Ambassadors are at college on a baseball scholarship.  The first L.E.A.D. Ambassador will graduate from college this upcoming school year.  It’s safe to say that Stewart and others involved with L.E.A.D. will be at his graduation ceremony.

The young man discussed above, who was homeless when he became an Ambassador?  He’ll be attending college this Fall, too.

L.E.A.D. sends 100 percent of its Ambassadors to college.

When asked what he envisions for L.E.A.D. over the next five years, it becomes clear that Stewart’s true mission with L.E.A.D. is to provide  young men with educational opportunities which will provide for them later in life.  While many of these opportunities come on a baseball diamond, Stewart clearly understands the importance of formal education in bettering the lives of individuals.

Stewart notes that his main goal is ensuring that 100 percent of L.E.A.D. Ambassadors continue to graduate from high school and go on to college.

He also wants all former L.E.A.D. Ambassadors to be working in the career field of their choice.  L.E.A.D. makes this a possibility by granting the young men career training and networking opportunities.

Stewart also hopes that the young men will follow his example, and after graduating from high school or college, come back and mentor other young men in the Atlanta community.

And finally, like a true athlete, Stewart says that he hopes that a high school baseball championship in the State of Georgia is won by a team in Atlanta over the next five years.

If you are interested in supporting L.E.A.D., there are several ways you can become involved:

1.  Become a member of the L.E.A.D. Tailgate Club.  Through the Tailgate Club, you can give financially to L.E.A.D.  According to Stewart, providing 60 young men with scholarships to participate as Ambassadors of L.E.A.D. costs $50,000.00.  Neither Stewart nor his wife take a salary from the foundation.

2.  Through the L.E.A.D. Tailgate Club, you can also find ways to volunteer with L.E.A.D.  Perhaps you can mentor a young man interested in your career field.  Or, you can host a baseball clinic.  Maybe, you can just get out and support these young men from the stands.  Stewart noted that many of the young men’s parents work long hours and are unable to attend their son’s games.  It’d be great to get a big crowd behind these young men, cheering them on the baseball diamond and as they march through life.

3.  Mentor someone in your own community.  While L.E.A.D. is currently only located in Atlanta, there are opportunities to mentor in every community in the United States.  Take an active interest in the life of a young person and help guide them down the path that got you to where you are today.

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