Saturday, December 12, 2009

Giving Hope--4th Annual Boys & Girls Club Holiday Party

"This is John Lannan. You’ve gotten to know John. This is who he is," stated Israel Negron, The Director of Community Relations for Our Washington Nationals. "There is no pretence here, nothing. He is coming out here because he wants to. And Justin Maxwell is just as giving."

Yeah, there they were again--giving hope for the holidays. Mr. "Civic Duty" himself--John Lannan--along with local product Justin Maxwell this time, representing Our Washington Nationals. Has one player seemingly given up more of his personal time to benefit others locally than Our Number 31 lately? We doubt it. The man is omni-present this off-season. Today, both John and Justin attending and being major contributors to the 4th ESPN Zone Holiday Party for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. The yearly get together hosted by Washington's Major League Team and The Downtown D.C. Eatery whom have co-sponsored many different events since baseball returned to the nation's capital in 2005.

Most--not as important as this one.

On this Saturday, December 12th--125 children ages 5 through 12 years of age--were escorted from various Boys & Girls Clubs throughout the metropolitan, D.C. area to the ESPN Zone to not only Meet & Greet Lannan & Maxwell, but to receive age appropriate gifts, ham it up with SCREECH!!, enjoy a catered lunch and finish off the day with play time in the restaurant's lower level gaming areas.

“This effort is always important because for a lot of our kids this will be the best gifts that they will receive this Christmas Holiday," states Jim Almond, The Vice-President of Branch Operations for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. "The Boys & Girls Clubs provides opportunities as well, but this kicks off the holiday season. The Nationals help get these kids in the mood. They (the kids) look forward to meeting the players and they love coming to the ESPN Zone."

For two hours, Mr. "Civic Duty" and Justin Maxwell handed out toys, signed autographs and chatted with the children while ESPN Zone provided a buffet lunch for each and every child. Then, My Best Friend!! Screech!! sent the house into hyper-drive when he paraded out and began to hand out Build-A-Bear Screech Dolls to every child. Ask The African Queen or anyone else in attendance and they will tell you the noise inside the restaurant rose to an incredible decibel level once Screech made his appearance. Ear piecing is the best description. What a sight--followed by every single child joining Lannan, Maxwell and Screech down in the gaming room for more fun and play.

Pleasure that may lead to something even better down the road.

Jim Almond: “The Nationals have just given these kids hope. When you see these baseball players on TV, they are bigger than life. When these kids are given the opportunity to touch them; to get an autograph and you see the players hugging these kids and taking the time to talk to them—it helps to inspire them. Whether that inspiration is be a professional athlete or to do better in school and get that all-important education--events like this mean so much. If these kids did not get this chance to meet these professional athletes today, their dream might not come true. Thankfully, events like this help to keep their dreams alive. Staying in school is important and The Nationals have been great at lecturing these children on that need. All of this stuff impacts these kids.”

Israel Negron: "We want to make a real difference in the community and it is events like this that allow us to do that. We know we have touched a child because we see it in their faces. And when we are fortunate enough to have guys like John Lannan and Justin Maxwell (participating), this stuff is easy to do. They (the players) are the driving force for what we do. If they are not here, well—it’s a fun event for the kids—but it wouldn’t be the same."

Annual dues to participate in any Boys & Girls Club is just $25, but for many of these kids that cost can be too high for their parents. So in lieu of money, scholarships or other reward programs are provided to cover the costs. No child is ever turned away from any Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. You may also recall Our Washington Nationals have adopted The Hopkins Branch, The Boys & Girls Club closest to Nationals Park. Recurring annual funding by The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation has renovated the SE D.C. Facility, upgraded programs and provided staff for a full-time activities director.

“The Nationals have been outstanding for our community, just in the Hopkins Branch alone," proclaimed Mr. Almond. "They gave generous funding for programs and staff. They have been a Godsend for this particular community and the Hopkins Branch. Before The Nationals arrived, the kids would still be hanging around the club, but our programs would not be as conducive, or active, as they are today with The Nationals here.”

As for Washington's Baseball Team, efforts like this are a vital part of building a fan base for the future believes Mr. Negron: “There wasn’t baseball here for a long period of time. It is imperative that we (The Nationals) get out into the community and reach these young fans. In just about every other city there is a tradition of parents bringing their kids to a baseball game. We don’t have that here just yet in D.C. So, it is important for us to do these fun things so these kids get their parents to take them out to a ball game so the whole family becomes baseball fans. This (Holiday Party) is all apart of creating those traditions that The Nationals don’t have, but the other teams do. We are working on it one step at a time and one year at a time. We are building these traditions so that these kids will remember 20 years from now--and bring their own kids back to Nationals games and to this event.”

The small steps taken this weekend in finding and building a young baseball fan base thanks to the generous free time given by John Lannan--Mr. "Civic Duty" and his teammate Justin Maxwell today at the 4th Annual Holiday Party for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington hosted by Our Washington Nationals and the ESPN Zone.

“These players did this on their own," concluded Israel Negron. "We didn’t ask John or Justin or even Craig Stammen (who has posted up for numerous community events as well but was out of town today) to participate. We (The Nationals) also didn’t ask John or Craig to stay here during the off-season. They did it on their own because they want to be a part of this community. Justin happens to live in the area (University of Maryland product) already. Those guys have done so much this holiday season just to give back. It is their way of saying thank you to our fans.”

Jim Almond gets the final words: “What more can I really say. These kids are having a ball today and all because of The Washington Nationals. We can’t thank The Nationals enough for keeping their hopes alive.”

PS--You may notice in the photos that John Lannan is wearing glasses. He has ditched his contact lenses and in early January will have Lasik Surgery. We briefly chatted about the change and John seems very confident in the procedure.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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