It certainly has been a topsy-turvy week for sports; from the Derek Jeter swan song and Rutgers starting their Big 10 life to the off-field mess that continues to plague the NFL, both good and bad have taken over the headlines in various degrees.
So into that mix in the Garden State this past week on the good side was the official 10 year announcement of the winners of the Steve Patterson Award by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Patterson Award was established in 2005 by the RWJF in honor of the late Steve Patterson, the former UCLA basketball star, NBA player and Arizona State basketball coach. Patterson’s belief in the practice of using the power of sports philanthropy to make a difference in various communities inspired the creation of this award.
This year’s winners were the Tiger Woods Foundation, Jays Care Foundation and Harlem RBI and were honored at a September 18 ceremony at RWJF in Princeton, N.J. With the two baseball-related winners in Jays Care Foundation and Harlem RBI, no other sport has received more Patterson Awards than baseball.
Some facts on the three winners:
The Jays Care Foundation is the charitable arm of Canada’s only MLB team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Established in 1992, the foundation has grown exponentially from a regional focus in Toronto to investing in children and communities from coast-to-coast. Their mission is to create equal opportunities for kids in need across Canada by removing barriers to sport and education. Foundation programs such as Field of Dreams and Grand Slam Grant provide funds to children and their communities to learn and play in a safe environment as well lead happy and healthy lives. Other foundation programs include Rookie League, Home Run Scholars and Jays Care Community Clubhouse.
Harlem RBI: Harlem RBI’s goal is to provide inner-city youth with opportunities to play, learn and grow. They use the influence of teams to impact and inspire children to recognize their potential and realize their dreams. Harlem RBI has grown to aid more than 1,500 boys and girls annually since its founding in 1991. The program provides youth with year-round sports, educational and enrichment activities. Youth are first exposed to Harlem RBI through its summer baseball program. Program components include Rookie League, REAL Kids, TeamBuilders, TeamWorks, Legends and Social Work. When they graduate from the program, Harlem RBI youth are expected to be resilient young adults and embody DreamList attributes, which include being physically healthy, high school graduates, college graduates, work-ready, teammates and more. Since 2005, 97 percent of Harlem RBI seniors have graduated high school and 94 percent have matriculated at college.
The Tiger Woods Foundation : Founded by Tiger Woods and his father, Earl, the Tiger Woods Foundation has affected millions of students by providing advanced educational opportunities with a focus on STEM education. Of the foundation’s numerous initiatives, one of its flagship programs, the Tiger Woods Learning Center, provides scholars in grades 5-12 with college-access programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Interactive classes allow these students to identify the importance of attending college and exploring potential careers. Through the Earl Woods Scholarship Program, students receive a $5,000 scholarship, which is renewable for up to four years, as well as a dedicated mentor. Specialized internships are available to students in the program, which help prepare them for life after college. Since 2005, the foundation has distributed more than $80 million and an astounding 100 percent of Earl Woods scholars have graduated with a bachelor’s degree.
While other years have shown maybe a little more diversity in winners, pairing groups like Tony Hawk and the San Francisco 49ers, the results do not diminish with baseball leading the way for the 10th year of the awards. All have the same focus; use sport as a tool to better society, no matter what the price tag. That message is amplified even more by the dollars that RWJF puts behind the program annually, a key part of giving back not just to sport but to the positive messages it sends across the state in calls home. After all that is probably the best way philanthropy can be used tied to sport, an overlay of international, national and local partnerships, marrying legacy programs to those that youth can relate to today. All those efforts were summed up on a nice September day in the heart of Big Pharma country, with the results resonating far beyond Princeton. Beautiful program, beautiful effort, beautiful rewards, and a beautiful legacy for all involved to show how winning in sport goes way beyond the playing field. Role models like these are the ones we need.