All-Stars Among Us creating change
Built around All-Star Game, MLB initiative gaining momentum
Kendra Robins is the founder of Project Night Night, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that provides free packages of books, security blankets and stuffed animals for the comfort of homeless children in every state in the contiguous U.S.
One year ago, she and her organization were honored by fellow citizens as the People All-Stars Among Us representative for the Giants. She was on the field that powerful night at Busch Stadium as Barack Obama and all living U.S. presidents recognized these everyday heroes in a ceremony before the All-Star Game. Then came even better news.
Someone in the St. Louis area wanted to bring Project Night Night there.
"We didn't have a presence there at that time, and we were contacted by an individual who was at the game. That was a direct result of All-Stars Among Us," Robins said on Monday. "She followed up with us, she brought Project Night Night to St. Louis, and we now support four or five shelters in that area. We're in every state except Alaska and Hawaii now.
"I am absolutely behind the vote for this year's finalists. People should feel compelled to vote, because the more they do, the more beneficial it is for all of these nonprofits and for the good deeds they are doing every day."
The fallout experienced by Robins and others in the inaugural class of All-Stars Among Us has been more important than simply being recognized for doing something close to your heart. Ask any of those winners, and they will tell you that it led to the kind of attention that enabled them to make even more impact. That is what awaits your 2010 class, as Major League Baseball fans vote among three finalists per club between now and 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The 30 winners will be honored during All-Star week next month in Anaheim, including participation in the Red Carpet Parade presented by Chevy and in the ceremony on the field before the 81st All-Star Game at Angel Stadium. Nearly 750,000 votes were cast for the finalists last year; expect that number to surge in the second year.
"The process of being nominated and ultimately selected as the 2009 All-Star Representative of the San Francisco Giants allowed Project Night Night to harness the passion of MLB fans toward our mission," Robins said. "In addition, the voting process gave us a unique and exciting opportunity to rally our existing supporters behind our founder and cause. With the support of MLB, Project Night Night distributed over 35,000 Night Night Packages to homeless children nationwide in 2009.
"I've actually already been contacted by one of the individuals selected as a candidate this year in our area -- Lisa Klein, representing the Oakland A's. We loosely knew each other before; she asked me for some advice. We discussed Facebook, Twitter, all the new media that is pretty powerful. It's great. Hopefully, every year this will continue to benefit other nonprofits strongly, get more publicity for it, prompt people to vote more. I'm sure every year all of that will grow."
If Klein does win, she will succeed Duane Silverstein, who e-mailed MLB.com on Monday night from London, where he was attending a board meeting. Silverstein wanted to urge all baseball fans back home to vote for this year's finalists so that 30 of them will experience the benefit that he and other winners experienced in the inaugural campaign last year.
"The nation here is in the midst of World Cup fever, which is exciting, but I am missing baseball," Silverstein said.
He was front and center within baseball last summer. His organization, Seacology, is an international environmental nonprofit that focuses on saving endangered species, habitats and cultures of islands throughout the world.
"Being elected an MLB All-Star Among Us enhanced the credibility of Seacology, the world's only nonprofit with the sole focus of preserving island environments," Silverstein said. "While it was a lot of fun being honored at last year's All-Star Game, the real importance of the recognition was the instant boost it still gives to our efforts when I mention that I was recognized by MLB. An additional benefit was meeting other All-Stars Among Us recipients, who are all dedicated and inspiring individuals."
Silverstein said he hopes MLB "will try to arrange a meeting in the White House between President Obama and the 2009 and '10 All Stars Among Us." While that remains to be seen, it is very apparent that a tradition has begun and that alumni are active supporters.
Betty Chinn of Eureka, Calif., is an example of one of this year's finalists who are now experiencing what Robins and others went through. Fans nominated the candidates in this campaign, and in typical cases, these are highly altruistic people who aren't in it for publicity.
"I didn't want to do it at first," Chinn said in an interview with her local Times-Standard newspaper. "I don't want too much attention."
Chinn is a Giants finalist now hoping to succeed Robins as that club's rep. Chinn was homeless for four years when she was a child in China. But for the past 20 years, she has risen at 4 a.m. each day to prepare meals to distribute twice a day to the hungry and needy of Eureka. She also collects and distributes clothing, all while working full-time.
Chinn had a change of heart after seeing the full significance of this opportunity.
"My goal is to get the community center for the homeless going," she said. "Maybe this will help me go forward."
Christine Shively of Newport Beach, Calif., found plenty of help. She was the winning representative of the Angels last year, and she said the recognition brought significant aid to her efforts this past year with Knots-of-Love -- an organization that makes warm caps for cancer patients.
"The People All-Stars program has had a tremendous impact on Knots-of-Love and subsequently thousands and thousands of people all over the world," Shively said. "Currently we donate caps to 253 treatment centers in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and Ireland. Prior to 'Going Beyond,' we donated caps to 140 treatment centers. We now donate over 3,000 caps per month. In July 2009, we were donating 1,800 caps per month. That's a 50-percent growth."
Shively said she had 102 active volunteers in July 2009 -- and that within two months 250 volunteers were added. More than 500 volunteers from all over the country have been added to her database since that All-Star Game. She said her website crashed after the All-Star Game due to the attention, calls and e-mails that poured in from people wanting to help make and receive caps, from individual cancer patients and their families, hospitals and oncologist offices.
"Prior to the national attention, our charity was restricted to word of mouth, Internet and any advertising and publicity that could be garnered," she said. "Since the game, inquiries have increased and cap donations have multiplied.
"Wearing the Angels jersey when delivering caps to the treatments centers has been an amazing experience. When people see me walk in with my basket of beautiful brightly colored caps, they smile. Then they see the Angels jersey, and it's as if their whole world brightens. It's as if I am giving them a huge hug from Knots-of-Love and the Angels' organization, too."
Last year's winner representing the Red Sox, Rob Dixon, had founded Project RISE, a non-profit organization that transforms at-risk youth into serious students. He said of the program:
"The exposure this recognition brought to Project RISE literally turned us from a small, local organization into one getting national and even international support. It was incredible to interact with so many others who have the same commitment level and passion for community service. There are so many people out there doing quality work in our communities who don't have the resources and don't get the recognition they deserve, so this is a great thing that Major League Baseball and People Magazine are doing."
Just recently, Barbara Palilis was profiled on NBC News with Brian Williams in the network's "Making A Difference" series. She was the Dodgers' winning representative last year as fans got behind her Circle of Friends program, which brings the understanding and acceptance of differences to high school and college campuses through a structured program of inclusion. Students with and without disabilities develop genuine friendships by sharing lunches on a daily basis and practice social skills.
A speech therapist, Palilis started Circle of Friends 11 years ago at Santa Monica High School with a handful of students. It grew to 29 chapters in two states, and thousands of participants. All-Stars Among Us expanded the visibility and reach.
Winning last year "is an honor and a thrill for me and for our organization, but more importantly, it shines a light on the work we are doing to include teens with disabilities into their schools and communities, as well as the tremendously positive impact it is having on the nondisabled student participants and, in fact, entire communities reached by Circle of Friends," Palilis said.
That is the kind of impact fans are having right now as voting continues.
"Honoring the All-Stars Among Us last year in St. Louis was truly a defining moment in a very memorable year for baseball, one in which we dedicated ourselves to recognizing baseball's role as a social institution and the importance of 'Going Beyond' by giving back to the community," Commissioner Bud Selig said.
"We have been so pleased to hear about the tremendous impact this recognition has had on the community organizations and programs run by last year's 30 winners, and we're proud to once again partner with People Magazine to recognize another deserving group of people who should be an inspiration to us all."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.