Paying it Forward

Hundreds if not thousands of the world’s professional athletes have used their fame and fortune to draw attention and resources to many worthy causes, helping countless people in need across the globe.  Taking a much needed step away from the acrimony and vitriol filling the traditional and social media spaces these days (34 days to election day!), here are a few athletes, and one group of non-athletes, and their causes which resonate with me:

Shane (and Heidi) Battier, The Battier Take Charge Foundation

More famous for his two NBA championships, and sweeping the 2001 NCAA awards, including Academic All-American of the Year on his way to picking up his degree in comparative religion from Duke, it is true that Shane Battier was also inducted into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 2015.  That fact makes it far less surprising that in his life after basketball Shane has dedicated a significant portion of himself to providing educational opportunities and leadership skills to youth in Miami, Detroit and Houston.  In his words from a recent blog post, “I promised myself in high school that if I ever made it to “the big time” that I would dedicate my life, my resources and my energies to helping those who need assistance in reaching their dreams through a college education.”  He is delivering on that and then some.  Since its inception, the foundation has delivered more than $400,000 in college scholarships to students who have the dedication and academic promise to achieve a secondary education, but have “fallen through the gaps” in the financial aid system.  Further, the Battiers have created additional programming for their scholars to develop leadership skills and experiences beyond the classroom.

Warrick Dunn Charities and Homes for the Holidays

Since his first year in the NFL 19 years ago, Warrick Dunn has been making his mother’s dream of owning her own home come true for other single moms, even though he was never able to do it for her.  Raised by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Warrick lost his mom to a line of duty shooting before she could make that dream a reality for her own family.  Right from his award-winning 1997 rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dunn set out to honor his mother, Betty Smothers, and the most important gift she had given him: the belief that a better future starts with hope.  Today, Dunn’s charities are on the verge of celebrating their 150th family acquire their new home.  Their commitment extends beyond the front door, offering financial literacy education and new homeowner support, secondary education scholarships to children across Florida, Louisiana and Georgia as part of the Hearts for Community Service scholarship program, and wellness and other resources for parents and children. WDC also provides educational and leadership opportunities to college students through their internship program.

MLB Umpires, UMPS CARE Charities

Most people only pay attention to umpires when they think the guys in blue got it wrong.  However, there are a whole lot of kids who pay attention to those umpires every time they turn on a game.  That is because in one way or another one or more of those guys in blue made life just a little bit better for those kids.  Throughout the year, the Major League Baseball Umpires invite at risk kids in mentoring programs and foster kids awaiting adoption to ballparks across the country through their BLUE Crew tickets program, they visit children with life-threatening illnesses in hospitals and bring unique BLUE for Kids experiences right to their bedsides.  The umpires have also created an All-Star Scholarship program for children who were adopted after the age of 10 and are heading off to college.  So the next time you are winding up to give that ump a piece of your mind, remember that he is probably a really good guy…and he probably got the call right to boot.

Anne (and Terry) Guerrant, Guerrant Foundation, Inc.

Anne Guerrant was once ranked as high as the 11th best tennis player in the world, and had her share of matches against perhaps more recognizable contemporaries as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.  Deeply contrasting the well-appointed tennis clubs in which she played tournaments around the globe, Anne and her husband Terry bore witness to communities of extreme poverty in a number of the countries to which they traveled.  It was in these communities that they learned of the tenacity and initiative of women who could turn loans as little as $40 into tremendous opportunities for their families by starting businesses in their villages.  In 2006, the Guerrants launched their foundation to make micro loans to women and families in impoverished communities in order to improve their lives.  The Guerrant Foundation, Inc. works with three efficient and well vetted global organizations to manage the loan process, and during the last decade has helped over 35,000 of the world’s poorest people create their own business opportunities.

Andre Agassi, Andre Agassi Foundation for Education

For a person whose own formal education ended at the age of 14, it is astonishing that Andre Agassi has spearheaded the raising of more than $180 million for children’s education since 1994.  Initially a foundation that supported and funded various community educational initiatives, the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education opened its own charter school, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, in 2001 and has refocused its mission there.  The three school campus educates students K-12, at no cost to the students’ families and is located in Las Vegas, “in the heart of one of our city’s most historically under-served and economically challenged neighborhoods.”  This foundation is driven to do more than educate the students who win the lottery to attend its Academy, it is also committed to reform public education policy, particularly for under-served youth, and is leading by example.  As Agassi has stated, “if we can achieve a 100% graduation and college acceptance rate among our senior class, imagine what we can accomplish in Clark County, Nevada – one of the largest, yet overall lowest performing school districts in the country – we must be on to something.”

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