Last Month, Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw signed a $215 million dollar contract to become the highest paid pitcher in Major League Baseball history. A product of Highland Park High School, Kershaw has amassed quite a resume during his first six seasons in the league. Debuting on the mound at the age of twenty is quite an eye-opener with a club as historic as the Los Angeles Dodgers, but far from taking his time to warm up in the big leagues, Kershaw has quickly become the gold standard for pitchers by the age of twenty-five: he has already amassed 1 pitching Triple Crown and 2 Cy Young Awards. Sandy Koufax didn’t win either until he was twenty-seven-years-old.
But among a sea of high-paid, incredibly talented athletes in the United States, Kershaw stands out for his public commitment to faith and the importance of giving back – at home and abroad.
In the last two years, Kershaw has been selected for both the Roberto Clemente and the Branch Rickey Awards, designations given to major league players for their service to team, community, and public service.
In 2011, Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, started Kershaw’s Challenge to help children in Zambia. Since then the Challenge has built the Arise Home for orphans that are impoverished, neglected, and often times suffering from HIV or AIDS, and just this past year they began working towards adding-on to the Destiny Community School in an effort to provide better conditions for students to learn; this includes extra classrooms so that students are not crammed into the same space, reserve funds to hire more experienced educators, and an effort to bring in fresh water.
“In a season, we have about 150 donors or so,” Ann Higginbottom, the organization’s Executive Director, said. “We have a handful of donors who create their own challenges (that we know of). These challenges include people giving for every mile they run, for every domino game they win, strike out they throw, etc.”
On top of these donations, Kershaw donates $500 dollars of his own money every time he strikes a batter out – he struck out a National League leading 709 batters in the last three seasons; it would be similar to LeBron James donating $500 for every jump shot he makes this season.
The original Arise Home in Africa received such a response that Kershaw and his wife decided to start two charities in the two places they recognize as home: Los Angeles and Dallas. In Dallas, the Mercy Street organization of West Dallas was chosen to expand upon the efforts of combining community improvement, childhood development, and faith-based relationships.
25% of the donations Kershaw’s Challenge raises will go to Mercy Street, an organization that is working to transform West Dallas through faith-based mentoring relationships and safe recreational outlets.
Over the past ten years, Mercy Street has worked towards matching fourth graders with mentors that will walk with them to school until they graduate the twelfth grade, an important factor for students that don’t always get the academic encouragement or guidance that children need.
Studies suggest that close mentoring relationships significantly improve academic outcomes, especially for underserved students. And Sam Flores, the Assistant Director of Development at Mercy Street, signals a similar tone when he talks about the program. “In short, we want to raise up leaders that will be the change agents of West Dallas and we do that through one-on-one long term mentoring relationships, our sports program and the leadership institute.”
And this couldn’t be more important in West Dallas where many kids attend Pinkston High School, which has been ranked as “failing” by the Texas Education Agency.
While mentoring is a key to helping disadvantaged students succeed, a safe place for kids to learn teamwork, sacrifice, and dedication after school and during the weekends is just as important.
2010 saw the completion of the “Field of Dreams,” a baseball field that has been utilized by the West Dallas Little League. The field has also provided the Pinkston High School baseball team with the opportunity to play home games for the first time in its history.
But Mercy Street doesn’t want to simply stop at the “Field of Dreams.” They envision a state-of-the-art sports complex covering 17 acres of West Dallas to provide kids with a safe recreational space in their community, and they have already completed a new soccer field with the help of the FC Dallas Foundation. Mercy Street hopes they are able to build upon the success of their mentoring program and their partnership with Kershaw. “We believe athletics are an invaluable tool to reach the community of West Dallas with the Gospel. Our goal is to provide our kids with another positive influence and role model through our coaches and a healthy, safe environment to compete in individual and team sports.”
In 2012 the partnership between Kershaw’s Challenge and Mercy Street produced 300 gloves for the little leaguers that often cannot afford equipment and so far has raised $173,984.31 towards expansion of the sports complex. Due to these efforts, nearly 300 kids will be playing Little League baseball again come March 22nd.
It is one thing for a charity such as Kershaw’s Challenge to focus on a specific cause or issue, but to be able to span continents and pinpoint specific needs in pragmatic and successful ways is quite an accomplishment.
Eventually, Kershaw may surpass the names of Koufax, Drysdale, and Sutton in the eyes of baseball fans, but more importantly, Kershaw’s name will be more widely known for his charitable work off the field with disadvantaged students at home and abroad.
From Mercy Street:
Mercy Street Sports is a natural complement to our Mentoring program.
We believe athletics are an invaluable tool to reach the community of West Dallas with the Gospel. Our goal is to provide our kids with another positive influence and role model through our coaches and a healthy, safe environment to compete in individual and team sports. Through our various programs, we weave biblical values through our coaching in an effort to build godly character as well as athletic ability.
If you are interested in coaching, please fill out the Volunteer Application found here. Please contact Lee Jackson, Director of Sports at 214-450-4395c with any sports questions.