HOUSTON – During a time when it can seem to be all about the shopping and finances, time can be the most precious gift of all. A group of local athletes and celebrities stepped up in a major way to "gift" themselves to under-served children in the community.
"Holiday Hoopla" is the first event hosted in Houston by the Dwight D. and Sheryl H. Howard Foundation, an organization founded by the parents of eight-time NBA All Star Houston Rockets center, Dwight Howard Jr. The Howards host youth mini-basketball camps in their home state of Georgia, but decided to bring their goodwill to Houston to give back to the city that has so lovingly embraced their son.
"Sheryl and I are honored to bring the works of our organization to Houston," said Dwight D. Howard Sr. "For us, it is all about the well-being of the kids, so we are happy and thankful to God for blessing us with this opportunity."
"Superman" and his family held a weekend of activities for young boys and girls, and there was no shortage of help from Houston A-listers serving as mentors.
Kicking off Holiday Hoopla was a free mini-basketball camp on Saturday morning at Crossover Athletics in Stafford, Texas. Fifty lucky boys and girls who exhibited academic excellence with a love for athleticism attended. Crossover Athletics is owned and operated by Tanesha "Coach Tee" Barefield, a two-time MVP, first team all-district player.
"I'm proud to be a part of this event because so many times you have people wanting to help these kids for their talent only," Barefield said. "Sometimes they are not concerned with whether or not the kid has any character; all that matters to them is that they are good on the court."
Dwight Howard Sr. led the camp on with help from his youngest son, Jahaziel Howard, another star basketball player, and Coach Tee's staff members.
The volunteers not only taught the kids basketball fundamentals, but they also educated them on important life skills, ranging from handling finances to respecting peers, and learning how to cope with difficult situations when life throws a curve ball.
Tim Carter, founder of Carter's Kids, brought more than a dozen foster children from the facility to the event. Carter and his brother, Patrick Carter, are both former NFL players, and know how positive interaction can change the lives of the youths.
"This camp is very beneficial for our children. Our children come from a background of instability and no parental guidance so having someone who is willing to reach out and pour into their lives and introduce that leadership and spiritual aspect by using athletics is tremendous. So I am blessed and happy to be able to bring them to this event and it is going to be great in the future and their development," said Patrick Carter. "Our kids love it, they love being able to spend time with professional athletes and pick their brains."
Carter's Kids helps rehabilitate kids in the foster care system and provide a stable setting for them as they grow up.
"They have no one to lean on so we are their foundation and we try to create an infrastructure so when they do 'age out' at 18, they can contribute to society. There is a statistic out there that says over 80 percent of foster children are incarcerated two years after being out of the system. Our goal is to get all of our kids in college. So far we have a 90 percent success rate."
The selected boys and girls had to send in essays saying why they should be chosen, and many also provided letters of recommendation from parents, school administrators, church or group leaders, etc. Each child was awarded a Certificate of Sportsmanship at the end of the camp. Some students were also awarded funds to be used toward their college education.
The two-day event ended on Sunday with "Mentorship Between the Lanes" at Lucky Strike bowling alley in downtown Houston. On that night, 13 boys (ages 7 -14)were paired with athletes or entertainers who spent one-on-one time with them for a night of bowling.
Heading the all-star lineup with Dwight Howard Jr. was D.J. Swearinger of the Houston Texans.
Swearinger showed up one hour early, ready to be paired with his little "bowl buddy," and Dwight Howard Jr., the big man with an even bigger heart, had two children keeping him busy for most of the night.
Other mentors paired with children were Jahaziel Howard, Slim Thug (a hip-hop artist), J Mac (97.9 The Box Personality), DJ J Que (97.9 The Box Personality), Chris "Mean" Green (celebrity fitness trainer), Shawn Maldonado (Professional Bowling Association- PBA- Player of the Year), Rodney S. Green ("Most Wanted" championship bowling team) Caz Fontenot ("Most Wanted" championship bowling team) and Jermell & Jermall Charlo (Super Welterweight class professional boxers).
The Charlo twins autographed boxing gloves for the children, which the children used to beat up JMac at the end of the night -- but it was all in fun.
The 97.9 The Box crew kept the energy high throughout the evening, prompting rap battles, bowling for bragging rights and encouraging the kids to have fun while being competitive.
The mentors were given gift bags sponsored by Presidential Wear as a show of gratitude. The apparel line reflects leadership, and the founder says all people should feel "presidential."
The Howards said they were blown away by the support of Houston, and were overwhelmed with pride by the turnout.
"We have been doing this camp for a while now and they are all a success when you are helping kids," said Jahaziel Howard. "But I would have to say that this one is the best yet!"
Nathaniel Greene, 10, was bowl buddy with Dwight Howard Jr. He says meeting his hero was a dream come true and he has high hopes for the future.
"I felt like it was an honor to meet him, it was a great experience and I really had fun. In the future and today, and this day forward, I am going to do my push-ups and do exercises so I can hop high and get big muscles like Dwight," Nathaniel said. "I am going to keep making good grades so I can be anything I want to be. I hope to be a basketball player, but if I don't make it to the NBA, I would like to be news anchor."
Dwight Howard Jr. closed out the event, leaving the kids with words of encouragement.
"Each one of you are special, you guys are blessed," he said. "You need to know that each one of these mentors here, including myself, will always be here for you, so always go for your dreams."
Dwight D. and Sheryl H. Howard say this event was the first in Houston, but definitely not the last. They are already hard at work planning an even bigger event for the spring and summer.