Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation Transforms Local Neighborhoods
September 27, 2018
Baseball is alive and well in the City of Angels thanks to the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation (LADF). On September 22nd, the LADF unveiled the 50th Dodgers Dreamfield at Algin Sutton Recreation Center in South Los Angeles. The monumental accomplishment brought out a bevy of Dodger royalty including three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, former All-Star Yaisel Puig, 2016 Manager of the Year Dave Roberts and President and CEO Stan Kasten. But at the center of it all was the architect of the Dreamfield project, Executive Director Nichol Whiteman.
We sat down with Whiteman to understand the size and scope of the LADF’s impact on Los Angeles and where they’re headed in the future.
What was the origin story of the LADF?
The Dodgers Foundation was established in 1995 when Peter O’Malley owned the Dodgers. We needed a vehicle that could stand on its own and provide an opportunity for fans, donors, and citizens of Los Angeles to band together to help the youth in our area. We focused on underserved and challenged neighborhoods throughout our city. The pillars have always been sports, health, and education. Our two main activities are direct programming and grant making. We provide monetary awards to a number of nonprofits throughout Los Angeles, who we believe reflect our values and are doing outstanding work moving our youth forward in the community. We have always fundraised to support our programs and our grants, which gives our fans and donors an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than the game.
What does the fulfillment of the 50 Dreamfield commitment mean to you and the foundation?
Being able to provide 50 fields in 15 years, it’s truly a promise realized. When we set out on this path, yes, we intended to build 50 fields. But beyond that, just in the last five years, we’ve spent a lot of time with community stakeholders conducting interviews and focus groups, meeting 1-on-1 to get a sense of what these fields truly mean. The outpouring of positivity surrounding these fields, and the impact that they’ve made on the community and the families that reside within that community, has been astonishing. What is striking to me is that these fields serve as an example of the power of partnerships. The sponsors and municipalities working together reflect the “secret sauce,” so to speak. The fields have become a rallying point and that’s awesome to see.
How has LeagueApps positively impacted the Dodgers Foundation?
How does the Dodgers Foundation transcend sports?
For us, sports, health, and education are one entity. While we want to provide the athletic opportunity to as many kids as possible, particularly those who wouldn’t otherwise be granted that chance, we know that the health and education component are also missing from these communities in many cases. We provide college tours, financial literacy courses, a literacy reading program, and fitness clinics in such a way that they are weaved into our sports programming. Families can tell that we care beyond the baseball/softball piece, and truly I think that’s why we’ve been successful and received buy-in from these communities.
What advice would you give to organizations looking to grow?
First I’d like to say that I’m surrounded by a great team. We know that partnerships are the key to our success and we operate with well-defined, specific goals in mind for our programs, both the Dodgers Dreamfields and Dodgers RBI. We’re fortunate that there are so many great organizations in LA, but to stay true to our mission and to our donors we want to align with the partners that absolutely can get things done. Additionally, organizations that want to grow with us are very attractive to us. Organizations that truly care for the kids and communities that we serve are ideal partners. So that means sometimes, even if an organization is recommended to us as a good fit, we might turn them down. We want to make sure we’re completely aligned from a mission perspective before we join forces because those are the kinds of partnerships that continually provide value.
What’s next for the Dodgers Foundation?
We are looking to develop a deep leadership program that allows us to provide significant mentoring to the students that we serve. Partnering with an expert organization is one of the first steps in the process. Designing a college preparation curriculum would be at the heart of this initiative. Our coaches are also an instrumental part of our organization. To that end, we want to expand and improve our coaching training and programs. In youth sports, a coach can make or break an experience for a child. As it relates to parents, we want to mobilize and incorporate our parental advisory team into more of what we do. Finally, we want to expand our player development capabilities. We’ll be working with strategic partners to help our players develop their skills, particularly those looking to reach the next level and potentially secure a collegiate scholarship.
Major League Baseball leads the way. In recent years, the build-out of their youth initiatives has been amazing to watch. From a Dodgers Foundation perspective, we partner with MLB when it comes to the RBI program. MLB’s “Play Ball” initiative has been phenomenal because we’ve been able to go beyond our core programming. We’ve also been able to reach new partners with the help of “Play Ball” including the mayor Los Angeles. Connections to clubs and other nonprofits, also give us access to kids who wouldn’t be exposed to baseball otherwise. At the core of “Play Ball” is the idea that you don’t need a baseball field to play. This spirit of playing and being active really resonates with us. MLB has given us the tools and resources to share that message, and through their guidance, we understand the best ways to reach the families in our communities.
One of the greatest examples of partnering with MLB came two years ago when we opened a Dodgers Dreamfield at the Boys & Girls Club of Ramona Gardens. Together with Commissioner Manfred, the Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten, we opened this Dreamfield in a neighborhood where most kids are afraid to leave their homes or that particular community. That Boys & Girls Club provides a safe haven, and now that Dodgers Dreamfield does the same thing. Being able to do that with MLB shows that we’re all on the same page.