An All-Star Way of LifeBy: Yu Shing Ting
BY YU SHING TING AND LIANNE BIDAL THOMPSON
THEIR LIVES ARE THE STUFF OF FANTASY-no strangers to the roar of the crowds and fans clamoring for an autograph. However, for these athletes, success in the field of play comes from dedication, hard work and a commitment to giving back to the community.
“The inner city kids are the ones who don’t always have the role models … I feel I’m in a position to help,” says Miami Dolphins wide receiver and former UH Warrior Davone Bess.
With motivation deeply rooted in his own upbringing and experiences, the receiver’s Bess Route Foundation “is committed to making a difference in the lives of underprivileged youth in the communities.”
Bess credits his family for keeping him focused during his childhood; it is that type of support that he wants to pass on to other kids in order to maximize their potential.
One of the initiatives that the non-profit organization sponsors is the Bess Friends program that partners high school-aged students with younger, at-risk students in a mentoring program. It’s a two-pronged approach that empowers the kids while providing guidance.
Bess points out that the program was developed “pretty much to guide kids so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes that I did … that may lead them to going to jail or potentially losing their lives. That’s what we don’t want.”
Bess Route Foundation also provides other outreach programs such as sports camps, scholarship funds and team-building activities.
Bess recalls his time as a Warrior when the special needs of one little girl captured his attention. Hilina’i Heffernan (the daughter of Bess’ strength coach at UH) attends Variety School in order to receive developmental help. During Pro Bowl Week, he hosted The Bess Route Foundation’s Pro Bowl All-Star Basketball Jam. A team of NFL players, helmed by Bess and former quarterback Colt Brennan, took to the courts against a team of HPD and HFD players in a game that helped foster community spirit and goodwill.
“We knew how expensive her schooling was and how important it is for her,” Bess says. “It was definitely a cause we wanted to get involved in and try to make a difference.”
A gold medalist-who happens to be looking for a repeat decathalon triumph at this summer’s Olympic Games in London- Bryan Clay has found time to give back. In fact, his efforts earned Clay Visa’s Humanitarian of the Year award for 2011.
“Receiving this award is an honor and a source of encouragement for me to continue doing what we set out to do at the Bryan Clay Foundation starting in 2005,” Clay said upon receiving the award. “Like my coach once said to me, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’”
The mission of the foundation is to provide a platform for success to youths who would otherwise not have the opportunity. It also strives to build self-confidence in those youths and provide them with the tools to maximize their potential.
To that end, the foundation has sponsored several events such as Fit4all, KidFit Clinics and Walks for Wellness, which target two key issues: national budget cuts on education and unhealthy living. KidFit Clinics help young athletes develop their skills in agility, power, speed and more with celebrity athletes. Kids come away from the experience empowered and equipped with tools for the future.
In addition to these sports-related events, the foundation also awards Legacy Scholarships to deserving students and hosts Wine Walks (in partnership with local sponsors and vendors).
For his efforts, Oakland Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki was named co-recipient of the 2009 Dave Stewart Community Service Award presented annually to an A’s player for outstanding work in the community.
Last month, he hosted his first youth baseball clinic at the Iron Maehara Stadium on Maui in partnership with All Pono. The free clinic welcomed 220 youths between 8 and 18 years old, who practiced the fundamentals- hitting, throwing, base-running and catching-alongside Suzuki. Participants also received refreshments, prizes and a Nike gift bag.
“To be blessed to do what I do for a living and to give back to the community that supports you and that you grew up in, it’s definitely something that was always No. 1 on my priority list,” says Suzuki, a 2001 graduate of Baldwin High School. “The importance of community service is something my parents taught me at an early age. They brought me up to appreciate everything that is given to you.”
Suzuki and wife Renee, who live in Torrance, Calif., also are in the process of starting a foundation focusing on kidney disease.
“My sister-in-law grew up with kidney disease, my brother-in-law had kidney complications and my dad had kidney cancer, so it’s something that hits home,” explains Suzuki.
“It affected her family and my family, and we just want to try to do whatever we can to help out.”
After being left open for trade during the MLS expansion draft, Houston Dynamo soccer star-and Hale’iwa native-Brian Ching found himself a member of the Montreal Impact. While he may be leaving the city where he made a name for himself, there’s no denying the impact he made off the field in Houston as well, namely for Teresa Urbano and her family.
“The House that Ching Built” is a project that the soccer star founded by partnering with Habitat for Humanity. After appearing in a PSA for the group, Ching decided to help in a more hands-on manner.
“I was amazed at how much the homes really helped these families,” he says. “That’s when I decided that I wanted to try to help a family by raising $75,000 to build a house. I received lots of help from the Dynamo, the MLS, corporate support and individual donations.”
In true Habitat for Humanity fashion, Ching put in sweat equity to help build the house alongside other volunteers.
“Being able to actually cut the lumber and hammer the nails on the house was very fulfilling to me,” he explains. “I felt like I was really part of it. Lots of people got on board and we had more than 100 volunteers involved in the build, including several of my teammates … They’re just good guys who saw a opportunity to help.”
For Ching, the payoff came when he handed over the keys to the house to Urbano.
“It was amazing,” he says. “She was so happy to moving into a house for the first time in her life. He kids were thrilled to each have their own room for the first time. It was a very rewarding experience.”
Ching told us that he hopes to get involved with a Hawai’i charity this year.
In recent months, it seems that Shane Victorino has been receiving just as much attention for his generosity as he does for his job on the ball field.
The Wailuku, Maui, native, a two-time MLB All-Star and three-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, was recently presented the Branch Rickey Award and inducted as the 20th member of the Baseball Humanitarian’s Hall of Fame. In 2011, Victorino was named one of the “Top 10 Young Americans” by the U.S. Jaycees, and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.
“(Giving back) is something that I think was embedded in me as a kid,” says Victorino, a 1999 graduate of St. Anthony High School. “I remember watching my parents be involved in the community. When I was in elementary school, my dad was coaching soccer and sports, and my mom would help out at church. As a kid, it’s just something I saw.”
In 2010, Victorino and wife Melissa established the Shane Victorino Foundation to promote opportunities for underprivileged youth in Hawai’i and Philadelphia. For its first major project, the foundation pledged nearly $1 million to renovate the 105-year-old Nicetown Boys & Girls Club. The project was completed and opened in September in Philadelphia.
The Foundation also sponsors the Flyin’ Hawaiian All-Stars charity ticket program, which offers children’s groups hosted days at the ballpark.
“Kids are our future,” explains Victorino. “We all know that we’re not going to be on this earth someday, and if you can instill certain things in life in these kids and youth, hopefully they’ll follow in your footsteps and look up to you as a role model … For myself, it’s being able to not only give but being able to connect with the kids and the community.”
Back home, the foundation has supported after-school programming at the Boys & Girls Club of Maui, funded improvements to a public park in Waipio often used by Little League teams and created a tuition-assistance fund for students with financial need at St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School.
The foundation also supports Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike, Palama Settlement, Hawaii Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, Best Buddies Hawaii and Maui Family Support Services.
Victorino hosts an annual celebrity dinner and golf tournament at Wailea Golf Club, and for the last two years has organized an all-star celebrity fashion show in Philadelphia.
As for his next big project, Victorino hopes to open baseball fields in Hawai’i, starting with a complex on Maui.
“Nothing is in the works yet,” he says. “But it’s a dream of mine.”