"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they can understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair." -- Nelson
"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they can understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair." -- Nelson Mandela
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Three organizations that speak to youth in a language they understand were recipients of the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award on Wednesday morning, including the Giants Community Fund, The Moyer Foundation and PeacePlayers International.
The three recipients were selected for their innovative and influential approaches to using sports to improve the culture of health in their communities. Approaches include: using baseball as a forum to encourage education, health and violence prevention; utilizing physical activity and sports to provide comfort, hope and healing to children and families affected by grief and addiction; and using basketball as a vehicle to unite divided communities.
The Giants were honored in the category of professional sports team community relations department or foundation, giving Major League Baseball its latest such representative in the 13-year history of the award, and the first since it was renamed in 2015. The Giants Community Fund supports Junior Giants leagues throughout Northern California, Nevada and Oregon, and it provides assistance to targeted community initiatives in the areas of education, health and violence prevention. It is a free, noncompetitive, coed baseball program that served more than 400 cities and 25,000 children this summer and offers youth a chance to learn the basics of baseball, while also discovering the importance of essential life skills.
"Sports and sports teams have a unique power to galvanize communities and to serve as a gathering point, in good times and in times that aren't so good, as well," said Sue Petersen, executive director of the Giants Community Fund. "We are deeply touched and honored to receive the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award. I want to give a 3,000-mile shoutout to our management and our ownership for making the community a priority in our mission statement. That's for the organization, for the team. That certainly provides us with firm footing for the foundation, for our fund to do our work.
"Together with experts in the fields of youth development and education and health, we created a curriculum that emphasizes the value of good character, health, education and violence prevention. After more than 20 years of gathering input and making program improvements, we are very proud to say that we have helped to change habits and attitudes. For many of these children, they are learning about some of these concepts for the very first time."
In her acceptance speech, Petersen relayed something that was expressed to her by one Junior Giants coach.
"When you teach a 9-year-old what integrity means, the impact is not always visible. But when they take that home, when they take that into the school and their community, there is a ripple," she said. "So on behalf of the Giants Community Fund, I can say that we are really honored to be part of that ripple effect, and we are also very fortunate to do the work that we do every day."
There was a stark contrast between the powerful videos that were shown to the audience by the Giants Community Fund and the one shown by The Moyer Foundation. In the latter case, the 2014 hit song "Human" by Christina Perri accompanied somber portraits of children who face difficult circumstances.
The Moyer Foundation, founded by Karen Moyer and her husband, 25-year MLB veteran Jamie, provides comfort, hope and healing to children and families affected by grief and addiction. Physical activity and sports are a crucial element of TMF's two programs -- Camp Erin and Camp Mariposa -- offering youth a safe and healthy environment with activities that build trust, self-esteem and life-changing social connections.
Since 2002, The Moyer Foundation has impacted more than 34,000 kids by helping them learn how to cope with grief or addiction in their families across 50 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Sadly, Karen revealed in her speech that the director of that video suddenly died from cancer this summer, meaning his 9-year-old child now goes to the camp she founded.
"So it's real, and I'm really happy that the camps exist," she said. "In the area of grief and addiction, we are saving lives, and I am so grateful to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for being the leader for us on a national level, and allowing us to be a part of that, and we'll continue to advocate for children, for families and for communities."
Mary FitzGerald, CEO of The Moyer Foundation, read that aforementioned quote from Nelson Mandela to the audience. She added: "Seeing these kids when you come to camp, and the transformation that happens in a weekend, it's so uplifting, and it's such a great resource for us. Sometimes it's hard, but it's great to get out with the kids and see what's happening.
PeacePlayers International is a global nonprofit organization that uses basketball as a vehicle to unite divided communities, and it was recognized as "an organization that is an influential leader and model for others." Since its inception in 2001, PPI has impacted more than 75,000 youth and trained more than 2,000 coaches from 15 countries. It has brought together kids who live in conflict in South Africa, the Middle East, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and now in the U.S., specifically in an effort to bridge the societal gap between police departments and the communities they serve.
"When you look at what factors lead people to lead healthy lives, people think about going to the doctor and following those practices," said Richard Besser, RWJF president and CEO. "But health is about a lot more than that, and we are well aware of the role sport plays in health. As a pediatrician and as a parent, I know the value that sport can give to kids' lives. ... Something like Junior Giants, it's an amazing kind of program, because it instills some of those values in children who may have no other opportunity to get that kind of experience."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.