SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — As a child, she was inspired by the encouraging words of a pro football quarterback who took the time to chat with her. Today, she harnesses athletes’ star power to encourage underserved children to believe in themselves.
Amy Wender-Hoch has touched the lives of 50,000 kids through the Wender Weis Foundation for Children. She founded the Palo Alto-based nonprofit to boost self-esteem and confidence among underserved kids.
From Santas to s’mores, eight-year-old Laila and her father, Michael Williams, soaked up the celebration during a party last month for more than 500 underserved kids who enjoyed the free admission to Holiday Heroes at Oracle Park.
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The event is an annual holiday party and fundraiser that includes sports clinics, organized by Wender-Hoch through her foundation.
Despite the rain on this day, they connected with several team mascots and professional athletes who volunteer, like former San Francisco 49er and Oakland Raider Barry Sims.
“It just warms your heart to see them go, ‘Whoa, whoa’ at every turn, so it’s been great,” Sims said.
“Wender Weis creates moments of wonder that spark a lifetime of possibility,” said Wender-Hoch.
Through annual fundraisers like Holiday Heroes, Wender Weis has donated more than $2 million to Bay Area youth programs.
Some of the beneficiaries include Team IMPACT, and the 49ers and Golden State Warriors foundations.
When Wender-Hoch launched her nonprofit 25 years ago, the San Francisco Giants and 49er great Joe Montana and his wife Jennifer were first to jump on board.
She’d sent letters out to potential supporters and got an unexpected response.
“I thought I was being pranked because it was Jennifer Montana who called and said she received my letter and would love to be involved,” Wender-Hoch said.
So Joe Montana volunteered at Amy’s first Halloween event dressed as Darth Vader.
And over the years, 500 more star athletes have given their time.
Board director Joanne Pasternak credits Amy’s commitment.
“She rolls up her sleeves and gets to work because to her this is a calling,” Pasternak said. “It’s a passion and she’s just incredible.”
The Wender Weis Foundation also hosts an annual spring fitness event, called Children’s Champions. It’s set for East Palo Alto in May.
Stanford University athletes volunteer for sports drills and clinics for the kids.
Wender-Hoch lives by the wisdom star athletes often share at her events.
“You can make anything happen in your life if you just take a chance,” Wender-Hoch said.