Before each American championship-winning sports team visits President Obama at the White House, they are enlisted to do a service event as part of the President’s “United We Serve” campaign that encourages everyone to give back to the community on a year-round basis.
For the Lakers, that time came on Monday morning at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center – prior to the team’s afternoon visit to the White House – when the Lakers put on a fitness and basketball clinic for 31 fifth graders from Southeast D.C.’s Stanton Elementary School.
As the Purple and Gold’s Community Relations Director Eugenia Chow explained, the Lakers used the opportunity to partner with City Year, an organization that places students or college graduates with schools.
“City Year is a wonderful organization,” said Chow, who also works with City Year’s L.A. branch. “The Washington D.C. branch has 100 corps members that are 17-to-24 year olds who commit to a year of full-time service.”
Executive Director of City Year Washington D.C. Jeffrey Franco explained that City Year’s corps members act as tutors, mentors and role models to kids such as those gathered with the Lakers.
“They help the kids with one-on-one tutoring, group tutoring, in-class support and creating a positive climate at the schools they’re at,” he said. “They’re generally in schools that are high-need schools, and our members are in the school every day from the morning bell through the after school program.”
Part of the mission for both City Year and the Lakers is to create opportunities for kids that they might not otherwise get.
“Following along with the theme of a mentor and a role model, these kids see the basketball players as role models, so when they do something with them in the community, it also creates a very positive impression upon the kids,” said Franco.
Luke Walton would agree.
“It’s always great to get the kids having fun playing basketball, and hopefully you can encourage them to exercise more, be more active and that kind of thing,” said the Lakers forward. “And if you talk to most guys on (the Lakers), we grew up having to do well in school before being rewarded with basketball, so we want to use it as motivation.”
It certainly seemed to be working on Monday, as fifth grade teacher Lora King noticed immediately.
“This is definitely motivational for our students,” she said. “They’re excited to meet the players, they’re excited to get their shirts and I think this is something that can help them stay motivated because we’re going to start a basketball team at Stanton.”
King said that Stanton is trying to create positive opportunities for the students that make them excited both about health and fitness and about going to school, and having the Lakers join that cause is very exciting.
“It’s just nice to see smiles on their faces,” concluded Walton. “We had a great time with the kids, and I hope they can take some of these lessons back to Stanton.”