It’s nearly impossible to hold the attention of a young teenager.
But one local nonprofit has attempted to do just that: For nearly 20 years, Champions for Tomorrow has been bringing former NFL players and other athletes to speak to elementary, junior high and high school students about life issues.
The topics are tailored to each school to be relevant and age-appropriate. Speakers may cover topics like peer pressure, character-building, drugs and alcohol, bullying, suicide prevention and positive decision-making.
On Aug. 2, the organization held a fundraiser at House of Juju in Old Town Clovis, where former NFL player Keith Davis and national champion football player Clarence Lee spoke.
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“Everybody is a volunteer — no one is on salary and no one takes bonuses,” said board member Susan Avery. “Every dime raised for Champions for Tomorrow goes into Champions for Tomorrow.”
Susan and her husband became involved with Champions for Tomorrow 15 years ago.
“Over the years, Keith Davis and Shawn Harper were the two guys that we started with and it’s gone from there,” Avery said. “Keith continues to bring in guys and train them and get them up and running.
“We’re now up to seven athletes,” Avery said. “We average getting in front of about 20,000 students every year.”
Davis and Lee have dedicated their lives to motivational speaking.
“[Lee] and I and many of the other speakers, this is what we do all the time.” Davis said, “So, even though we’re only here a week in Fresno, as soon as we leave here, we’ll be speaking somewhere else.”
Both Davis and Lee have spoken at thousands of schools in dozens of countries.
During their talks, they try to promote positive messages and use props to both entertain and teach. Davis often tears a phone book in half, as he did during his speech at House of Juju.
“Many, many pages of hopelessness — we want to fill their lives with new pages of hope,” Davis said, as he prepared to tear the phone book in half.
During Lee’s speeches, he often folds a frying pan in half.
“This represents changing the shape of a life,” Lee said.
The organization’s goal is to be able to raise enough money to bring athletes to the Central Valley to speak at schools while charging little or nothing to the schools.
“It’s a difficult economy out there,” Avery said. “Donations are down.
“We are going forward in faith that we are not going to have to drop an athlete or any schools,” she said. “So we’re just going to continue to believe that it’s going to continue to come in as the need is.”
Many, many pages of hopelessness — we want to fill their lives with new pages of hope.
Former NFL player Keith Davis
Because of the long-term relationships the organization has formed with various athletes, it is able to schedule athletes at reduced costs, which then helps budget-strapped schools have motivational speakers for their students.
“These guys speak all over the world and they are doing us a favor,” Avery said. “What they come in and speak here for us for is a fraction of what they could get speaking elsewhere.
“They come here out of long history with this area and also a love of the Valley. So they’re actually donating a lot of their time, in a way.”
A large event will happen in Clovis on the last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in September, during which all seven of the program’s athletes will be present, Avery said.
At that time, Champions for Tomorrow will schedule a minimum of 54 programs.
“Every year, I try to target a new area that we really haven’t been in and flooded,” Avery said. “Like, one year we did all Madera, then the next year we did all Sanger.”
Avery’s goal this year to get Davis and Shawn Harper in as many Clovis schools as she can.
As of Aug. 3, Avery has scheduled more than 60 percent of the 54 programs.
“This is our passion — we truly love this program, we’ve seen the effects of it, the benefits of it,” Avery said. “I’m just excited to bring it into Clovis.”
To donate to Champions for tomorrow, send a check to Champions for Tomorrow, c/o Brad Avery, 251 Cherry Lane, Clovis, CA 93612.