‘JAMAL CLAUS’ HELPS FAMILIES HAVE SPECIAL CHRISTMAS

Jamal Crawford is used to the flashes from cameras on the basketball court. But Friday evening at Barack Obama Charter School in Compton, the flashes were from the eager parents of more than 300 children taking photos as Crawford gave their kids a very special Christmas.

It was part of Crawford’s “Jamal Claus” event, where the Clippers’ star guard, in partnership with Elite Youth Camps and World Vision, provided toys, clothes and other gifts for unprivileged school-age children.

There were stuffed bears, dolls, board games, Spiderman action figures, Disney Enchanted Princess sets, Xbox games, a giant box of basketballs, clothes and much more staged throughout a small cafeteria at the carter school, located in the heart of one of the most impoverished areas of Los Angeles.

“Every student from the school gets something,” said Reed Slattery, who is the Pacific Northwest Site Director for World Vision. “They’re all going home with a gift. They have helpers and they’ll go around and get to pick whatever item they like. At the end they’ll get to take a picture with Jamal, get some autographs, and hopefully have some long lasting memories.”

Crawford greeted everyone, helped kids choose their toys, and signed autographs or posed for pictures with anyone who asked. He was accessible to any of the children, who would show off their dribbling moves with one of the dozens of basketballs that were given away or merely run up and wrap their arms around Crawford’s leg to give him a hug.

And even though the school was already on winter break, hundreds of families lined up in the courtyard with the line wrapping around the west side of the building. Crawford said interacting with families and kids, especially those in need, was something that he’s long believed should be a staple for any professional athlete.

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“For me, that’s what I was looking for when I was a kid,” Crawford said. “I had a vision of how I wanted a pro athlete to be and I’m trying to fulfill those standards. Growing up I had the opportunity to be around pro athletes and some of them were good and some of them weren’t so good. I was like, ‘If I’m ever in that position I want to treat kids with respect, I want look them in the eye, I want to make them think they’re the most important thing.’ Because they are. They’re our future and I want to make sure they have a special Christmas.”

If the flashes of not just cell phone cameras but smiling faces were any indication, it certainly was special. According to Anthony Gil, an office administrator at the school who helped coordinate the event, it was also needed.

“We are in a socioeconomically low or disadvantaged area,” Gil said. “About 95 percent of our students are considered low economically, which qualifies for free or reduced lunch. For most schools that’s what qualifies as a lower income area.”

Gil said the planning started in August when Crawford and World Vision distributed more than 500 backpacks filled with supplies at the school. And for Slattery, who has worked with Crawford more than three years on events in Los Angeles as well as Crawford’s hometown of Seattle, it was important to make a positive impact in the area.

“We knew that this area in Compton has a lot of need,” Slattery said. Some families are just trying to make ends meet. It’s the second event we’ve done down here with Jamal and we’re really just trying to support these families and help get through some of these times and really make an impact here.”

And Crawford, who has done everything from help rebuild a library when he played for the Knicks to help get difibulators in Seattle high schools, was the perfect person to help make a differenc.

“Jamal is amazing,” Slattery said. “He’s so cool. He’s the most down to earth guy I’ve ever met. He does a lot in Seattle, really gives back to the community. We’ve partnered a lot in Seattle. Every year he does a back to school event. Every year in his home neighborhood of Rainier Valley 500-1,000 people show up and get backpacks, school supplies, free haircuts and make sure they go back to school on the right note.”

And a few days before Christmas, Crawford made sure a segment of the community also got the holiday season started on the right note as well.