LOS ANGELES — Dodger Stadium is packed.
No game is scheduled this Saturday morning. The Dodgers are in Denver playing a game against the Colorado Rockies.
Still, families pile into the stadium with foam fingers, blue and white jerseys and baseball gloves for the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation’s annual Dodgers RBI Playerfest.
Members of the Dodgers RBI youth development program from communities in Compton, Inglewood, Watts and more have been invited for a youth baseball clinic, in addition to appearances by Dodger alumni, dental and eye screenings, games, the chance to run the bases on the field and to take tours of the stadium.
— Dodgers Foundation (@DodgersFdn) June 29, 2019
Nakeia Sykes watches MaKayla Jacobs play basketball, baseball and spin-the-wheel. It’s their first time attending the Playerfest.
“I love it,” Sykes says. “Kids having fun, good sportsmanship … [MaKayla]’s softball, so it’s so cute just to see the little girls all playing together. It’s a pretty neat experience.”
Sykes hopes Dodger RBI leads to more opportunities for Jacobs, who’s been in the program for three years.
“It’s inspirational ... It makes her want to play softball a little longer,” Sykes says. “And hopefully, this is her ticket to college, and so forth and so forth.”
Creating opportunities for youth is part of the identity that the Dodgers have built through the Dodgers Foundation. The work of the 2019 ESPN Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year Finalists on the field has been a major resource for Los Angeles communities.
The Dodgers RBI program’s aim to use sports participation as an engagement tool is seen in the families at the Playerfest, many of whom are making their first trip to Dodger Stadium.
“It’s a Dodger Stadium takeover for kids in our youth program who otherwise may not ever be coming here,” says Nichol Whiteman, CEO of the Dodgers Foundation. “ … Today, they come to Dodger Stadium, but the norm for us is actually to go to the communities that we serve. And so we’re bringing education resources. We’re taking kids on college tours. We’re giving families financial literacy … everything we think they need to be able to thrive.”
The foundation rebranded six years ago to deepen its commitment to the community by increasing fundraising, concentrating its grant-making programs and making sure people understand its purpose as the official charity of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Whiteman explains.
“Clarifying that message has been a huge part of the first five years of our work,” she says, “and then showing people, frankly. Because I think we strongly believe here that actions speak louder than words.”
In the past year, those actions have included fulfilling its commitment to build and refurbish 50 baseball and softball fields through its Dodgers Dreamfields program.
After the foundation opened its 50th Dodger Dreamfield last September at in South Los Angeles, it launched a new initiative to build 25 more fields by 2033 — the 75th anniversary of the Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles.
And they’ve already gotten started.
Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly and third base coach Dino Ebel helped unveil the 51st Dodgers Dreamfield in June at Jack Bulik Park in Fontana, California — the second universally accessible field the foundation has opened.
An additional part of the Dodgers’ brand includes promoting academic success for Los Angeles youth, Whiteman says.
The foundation’s LA Reads program, a literacy campaign that aims to increase the motivation to read for students and improve overall reading frequency, had over 5,000 registrants in LA County in 2018, per the foundation’s website.
Players and other members of the foundation all get involved, and the organization hosted 17 literacy events at schools, local libraries, and literacy festivals last year.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 2, 2019
“As the Dodgers foundation, we believe that we can be a champion for kids in underserved communities,” Whiteman explains. “And we also believe that we have a voice in this community. So by using this massive brand, we have an opportunity to create big impact and bring big partners to the table to do that with us.”
Those efforts are directed toward youth like 16-year-old Jayvelle Davis, who plays baseball at one of the Dodgers Dreamfields locations.
“This park is like our second home,” says his father, Jeffrey, via the Dodgers Foundation. “This is our safe haven, because the more the kids have fun here, the less the streets will know about them.”
Davis has been a member of the program for five years, Whiteman says.
“His dad actually was someone who fell to gangs and to prison,” she said. “And his father tells an amazing story about how baseball, the sport, his inclusion in a team has helped Jayvelle on the field and off the field.
“So he’s built himself through our program as a leader. He’s excelling in the classroom. He’s excelling at home. He’s a big brother to younger siblings. He sees something for himself different than what his dad’s experience may have been. He has another option.”
The Dodgers Foundation has poured $25 million into its work, Whiteman says. And $3 million is directed toward its community youth programs each year in order to fulfill three fundamental pillars: education, sports and health.
Those pillars working together is the epitome of what the foundation stands for, Whiteman says.
“When those things collide, when those things come together, it can change somebody’s life,” she adds. “And we’re focused on that. We’re bigger than baseball … because we have big ambitions on deck.”
A smile pokes at the corners of Whiteman’s mouth at the mention of the Dodgers being a finalist for Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year. Not at the thought of winning, but at what it means for the organization.
“While being named a finalist,” Whiteman says, “I feel like we’re already winners. I think we’re winners because we’re creating winners.
“When we say champions off the field, champions on the field, we mean it.”
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