The Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation (LADF) is launching the rebrand of one of their tent-pole programs, Dodgers Dreamteam (formerly Dodgers RBI), with their continued commitment to bring barrier-free sports-based youth development programs– which are typically reserved for the elite– to communities of color across the greater Los Angeles area. The program, which launched nearly a decade ago by giving 2,000 kids in the city of L.A. the opportunity to play baseball and softball, now serves over 12,000 kids in 88 different locations across the region.
LADF C.E.O. Nichol Whiteman, who was responsible for founding the program back in 2013, tells L.A. Focus that Dodgers Dreamteam remains focused on bringing high-quality programming to the kids that is “bigger than baseball” and aims to provide an outlet for holistic self-improvement.
“We know that our families come to us because they want to play the game of baseball,” says Whiteman. “But also, changing the lives and the trajectory of the youth that we serve is most important to us and giving them access and opportunity so that they can thrive is our mission. We want to have an impact on a child by building self-confidence, giving them the opportunities to grow— it’s about creating the next generation of leaders, regardless of what zip code you live in.”
In order to accomplish their goals, Whiteman says they first had to assess the obstacles that typically plague lower-income urban families from playing baseball.
“We talked to coaches and people in the baseball world here in L.A. and found that there was a severe lack of coaches because volunteer coaching in our communities can look very different than in wealthy communities,” says Whiteman. “We heard baseball was a really expensive sport so a lot of kids did not play because they could not access the equipment. We heard that field space was a problem and there was a lack of quality baseball fields in the communities that we serve. So we had this long list of the impediments to entry for baseball in our communities and we came to the table and said, if we can be the big partner, the big sponsor, the big supporter, the big advocate, who removes all these barriers to a child playing sports, think about all of the social, emotional learning and just all of the skills they can gain from participating in sports that can help move them in a different direction.”
From the beginning Whiteman and LADF have been very intentional about bringing the game of baseball to black communities who have seen a waning of popularity for the sport in recent years.
“A lot of it has to do with access given the challenges that we found when we were launching Dodgers RBI in the first place,” says Whiteman. “A lot of it has to do with money, with exposure, with-seeing yourself in coaches. A lot has to do with the game historically not looking like it’s for us even as you watch it on TV, so a big part of our goals are increasing the percentage of black kids that come out for baseball,” says Whiteman.
“We have done that year over year with both black youth and with girls. We believe that if you can actually put it in front of a community that may not feel like it is for them, then you can change that, but the offering has to exist– and that’s our intention, especially as it relates to the black community.”
To help both help solve the coaching shortage issue and provide kids with the support they need, LADF is providing training for coaches to give them the skills they need to be not only a coach but a mentor.
“We have a very intense coaches training program whereby a lot of parents become coaches and a lot of coaches who formally were not adept to serve youth who are coming from situations of trauma formed backgrounds, things of that nature, can step up.” says Whiteman. “We’re certifying coaches to be able to not only coach kids with baseball and softball, but mentor them and be there for them, given what they may be going back home to.”
In the big picture, Whitman says LADF’s commitment to bringing the sport of baseball to underserved communities is only a jumping off point for bringing families in and helping them gain access to all the resources their partners provide.
“Once people dive deeper, they gain a better sense of all of the offerings that we can assist with, like education resources– whether that’s financial literacy, college access and success literacy. When we’re talking about health and wellness, we’re talking about dental vision and health screenings with our partners, as well as fitness and nutrition clinics. We’re talking about mental health. We have a parent workshop series, and so we’re very adamant about parents.”
Dodgers Dreamteam programs coast no more than $25 and are available all across the greater Los Angeles area. For a complete list of locations and more details, visit www.mlb.com/dodgers/community/foundation/impact/dreamteam.