Every Christmas, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program delivers the Gospel message and gifts to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. But Angel Tree’s reach extends much farther than Christmastime. Prisoners’ children are experiencing God’s love all year long through Angel Tree summer camps, mentoring relationships, and an exciting annual event called the Angel Tree Football Clinic at Stanford.
Aug. 24 marked the eighth year that the Angel Tree Football Clinic has brought together high-caliber, Christian former college and professional football players and 7- to 13-year-old boys who have an incarcerated parent or face other significant risk factors. This year, about 320 boys from California enjoyed a free day of encouragement, physical engagement, and character development with 35 volunteer coaches who served as their positive male role models.
Joe Avila, a Prison Fellowship regional director and a co-creator of the Angel Tree Football Clinic, recalls the amazement on the boys’ faces as they stepped off the buses onto the Stanford fields.
“Their eyes were wide open,” he says.
The Stanford University football program, known nationally for its first-class facility, hosts the event each year a week before their opening game and invites their football alumni to coach at the camp.
“A lot of these guys … they all went to school, they got an education, probably through scholarship because they were football players, so this gives them a chance to give back,” says Joe. “They are proud to go back to their alma mater where they started their career.”
Former NFL players and coaches joined the ranks of Angel Tree coaches as well. John Choma, Emmanuel Awofadeju, Charles Anthony, and Ryan Allan, among others, volunteered their time to coach the clinic.
Coaches split the boys into three age groups and spent the day taking them through eight skill stations where they trained on different playing positions.
“The object is to give all these kids who come in … an experience of a lifetime,” says Joe. “This one thing will change their lives.”
As the clinic came to a close, the coaches selected several boys who demonstrated a high level of helpfulness, leadership, and teamwork throughout the day to be recognized at The Lift Them Up Ceremony. One by one, these boys received an award and the coaches lifted them up in the air as a symbol of their encouragement and support.
You can watch a clip of the ceremony in the video below.