Players and coaches host an unforgettable day for kids .
To Joe Avila, the national director of event and sports clinic at Prison Fellowship®, the children playing alongside burly football players represent hope for a better future. "I call them my children of promise," he says. "We're changing lives here. I really, really believe that."
At their training facility at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, the Los Angeles Rams hosted an Angel Tree Sports Clinic™ on June 2, Prison Fellowship staff, volunteers, and NFL football players and coaches who came together to give kids an unforgettable day.
Across the country, Angel Tree® hosts sports clinics where children of prisoners gain skills in various sports and learn about God's love. Through lessons, drills, and fun competition, kids who might not otherwise have a chance to attend a day camp are treated like champions. First held in 2005, today sports clinics are hosted across the country and cover a wide variety of sports, like football, basketball, and ice skating.
A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE
More than 100 children from all over the region showed up for a unique opportunity to learn football skills from pro players Clay Matthews, Kendall Blanton, Matt Kaskey, and others. While most of the kids hailed from the greater LA area, other traveled from as far away as Bakersfield and Fresno.
"Friday, I fielded 38 phone calls from caregivers wanting to bring their kids here," Joe shares. "They drove them here—it's a struggle for them, getting here, but they wanted their kids to experience this."
April brought her son and nephew. April's brother is incarcerated, and his absence has been deeply felt by both boys. "With everything that has gone on in their personal life, just to get a day off to do what they love, or what they like or what they are interested in, gives them more motivation throughout their life," Aprils says.
Her nephew, especially, is an avid football fan. "This is awesome to have them come and spend time with not only the LA Rams but also Angel Tree."
Sports has a unique way of reaching kids. It teaches discipline and integrity in a fun way. Many Angel Tree kids don't have a stable home life, but sports provide the structure they need.
"Every time I stepped on the field with all of these coaches, they just pushed me and taught me right from wrong," recalls Joseph, a former Angel Tree Sports Clinic attendee and current volunteer leader. "I really appreciate this program because without them then I wouldn't be standing right here. … They've been by my side, telling me 'good job' every step of the way."
Kristen Lee, who works in administration and operations with the LA Rams, says, "I think everyone loves the chance to come out here and give back and see a lot of kids. That's where we all started, too. We all started as kids wanting to … work in sports or play football at a higher level."
LA Rams offensive lineman Matt Kaskey has witnessed the power of sports in his own life. "The guidance that coaches have given me throughout the years—how to be on time, how to be accountable, how to do all this stuff the right way, which is going to help you later in life—a lot of these skills I learned through football and football coaches," he shares. "I think it's important to teach these kids, some of them who are maybe missing a role model, to come out here and help them and show them how to do things right; how to have a good time, but also how to live a good life."
IN THE NEWS
- [Video] Los Angeles Rams Hosted Community Event for Children of Incarcerated Parents (NFL Total Access)
- Rams assist volunteer coaches in clinic for children of incarcerated parents (Los Angeles Times, 6/2/19)
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews agrees. "Football is so much more than just running and jumping and hitting and catching," he says. "We're obviously here first and foremost to have fun but also to teach these lessons. ... It's just discipline, hard work, dedication, I think—things that allow you to be a successful member of society when you grow up."
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Joe and his team have high hopes for the future of Angel Tree Sports Clinic. There is already talk of further partnerships with the LA Rams, and Joe knows there will be more pro football teams to work with in the future. "The more people experience [Angel Tree], the more people we get going on the right path," he says.
It's that desire to see America's vulnerable children succeed in life that drives Joe. Crime and incarceration have touched so many across the nation, in a variety of traumatic ways.
"We hear stories about kids here, day in and day out, but one story that I've always remember is, we had an event, and we had two kids show up to the event about the same age," Joe remembers. "They lived 200 miles apart. Both kids had their older brothers gunned down—killed—in their front yard a week ahead of that event. … These kids didn't even know each other. … This is why we're doing this. We don't want these kids ending up like their older brothers. We want these kids making a difference for good."
"That's what keeps me going in the morning," he says. "We need to change these lives."
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