Big-name celebrities such as Denzel Washington, LeBron James, and director Ron Howard showed their support for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America by announcing a new public service announcement campaign Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
The Howard-directed spot features 21 notable Boys & Girls Clubs alumni, including Washington, Jennifer Lopez, Ashanti Douglas, New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, former NBA stars Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson, among others.
Washington said he realized earlier this year that celebrity alumni could shine a brighter light on the organization, which serves more than 4 million youth in nearly 4,000 clubs nationwide.
"We realized we had a tremendous asset—an untapped asset until now: our many successful alumni," he told a group of local Boys & Girls Club members and outside reporters.
Boys & Girls Clubs National Youth of the Year Nicholas Foley, Denzel Washington, Ashanti Douglas, Ron Howard, LeBron James
Boys & Girls Clubs of America President Roxanne Spillett said the new campaign, called "Great Futures Start Here," will focus on three main objectives: students' academic success; encouraging good citizenship; and encouraging healthy lifestyles. In addition to after-school homework help and tutoring, most Boys & Girls Clubs offer a program called Goals for Graduation, in which students set academic goals to graduate from their high schools.
[Learn how Boys & Girls Clubs help students leave gangs.]
One of the students Spillett recognized is Nicholas Foley, who was introduced as the organization's "National Youth of the Year." He said the club helped to give him stability and made him "feel new again" as he bounced around among six foster families.
Ron Howard said the organization was helping America put its "best team on the field."
"You win by educating the youth, by creating an environment where their character can develop in a way that we can all benefit for a long time," he said.
[Learn about game-design programs that take place at some Boys & Girls Clubs.]
Basketball superstar LeBron James said the mentors the organization provides can help change lives. The Akron, Ohio, native said that while growing up in an inner city, many people thought he'd fall through the system's cracks.
"They always expect you to be a statistic," he said. "The greatest reward that I got was these coaches; these role models; these people that helped me make my dreams become a reality."
James raised more than $3 million to renovate basketball gyms at Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide with his summer 2010 TV special The Decision, in which he announced he would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Miami Heat. James drew criticism from some, who said The Decision, which was broadcast from a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., was an overly harsh way of informing Cavaliers fans of his departure. Although many don't mention the money he raised, he says he doesn't regret making the announcement on live TV.
"It doesn't bother me," he says. "I know the reason I did it, I know that kids are benefitting from it. I'm excited about the opportunity that these kids get."
James, who spends time each offseason playing basketball with Boys & Girls Clubs youth, says it's important for him to show up at the clubs, as opposed to just donating money.
"It's more authentic," he says. "I want the kids to understand that I really mean what I'm doing and what I'm giving back to them. I'm not just giving them money or supplies; I'm seeing the transformations of these gyms. I want to see them being able to use the facilities."