REDWOOD CITY (KPIX 5) Children with a parent behind bars can face loneliness and pain others can’t begin to understand. But this week’s Jefferson Award winners give them hope with a special day designed to make them feel special.
About 200 boys learn football basics at a free day-long clinic in Redwood City each year. The annual Angel Tree Football Clinic reaches at-risk boys aged 7 to 13 who come from as far as Sacramento, Fresno, and Salinas. Many have incarcerated parents.
They get lessons from former football players and coaches including Northern California NFL Alumni, who volunteer to teach and mentor.
The 11-year-old clinic was co-founded by Billy Anderson and Joe Avila.
Anderson, a former Stanford football player, says the boys are the single focus.
“At least during this 5-6 hour stretch, they’re the most important people on the planet,” Anderson explained.
Avila is the Western Regional Director of Prison Fellowship, a faith-based nonprofit that ministers to inmates, former inmates, and their families. Angel Tree is one of the fellowship’s programs that serves incarcerated parents by supporting their children and families on the outside. Avila says the clinic’s goal is to encourage.
“These kids have been told all their lives they’ve been yelled at, everything else, if they do something wrong. So here, you don’t do anything wrong. What you do is you learn,” Avila said.
The kids come to learn about football, but many leave with a sense of confidence and self-esteem. How much difference does a day make? One year, one of the boys participating had a brother who was killed in a drive-by shooting. His mother says he barely spoke or smiled for months. Anderson says she saw him talk and laugh again at the football clinic.
Thirteen-year-old Elmer Ramirez of Salinas discovered anything is possible.
“You have to follow your dreams and even if you’re not the best, you could follow other things,” Ramirez concluded.
“We wanted to give these children an experience of a lifetime in one day,” Avila said.
“We want them simply to be uplifted,” Anderson added.
So for lifting up at-risk boys with the Angel Tree Football Clinic, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Billy Anderson and Joe Avila.