It’s the time of year when our social media feeds are full of “back to school” pics: kids wearing their new school clothes armed with bulging backpacks, brandishing lunchboxes stuffed with healthy snacks. But for the 20% of children in this country who live in poverty, back-to-school time means families stressing over long lists of supplies, secondhand clothes and free school lunch, which often makes poorer kids a target for bullying. Research conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that children are over-represented in poverty statistics: they make up just a quarter of the U.S. population, but over a third of the nation’s poorest residents. Among children living in poverty, children in single-parent households are hit the hardest: 69% of children who live with one parent are considered low-income, and 41% are considered poor.
The Denard Span Foundation has worked to serve single-parent families in an official capacity since 2014, although Denard, who was raised in a single-parent household himself, has been working on behalf of families since he first arrived in the league in 2008. In the beginning, Span did what he could as a single man while balancing a busy baseball schedule: one-off events, holiday dinners and gift-giving coordinated through his mother’s church. As Span’s career lengthened in MLB, he realized he had the resources to touch even more lives, which led to the creation of the Denard Span Foundation in 2014.
But he was still just one man, and tied to a baseball schedule that kept him on the opposite coast from his hometown of Tampa Bay for months at a time. His mother Wanda helped out, but her job running a daycare kept her busy, as well. Things changed when Denard met Anne Schleper at a gym in Tampa where he was working out after offseason hip surgery. Denard describes Anne as “the real athlete in the family” and he may have a point: a college standout in hockey at Minnesota, Anne was selected for the women’s national team in 2011. She possesses no less than five medals, including a silver won at the Sochi Olympics.
And while their shared profession connects them—Anne understands the ups and downs of the life of an athlete and the mental toll it can take—the two have much more in common, including a deep faith and a belief that they are called to serve others. Under Anne’s guidance, the Foundation has grown to have a crystallized, three-pronged vision: serving single-parent families in the areas of food, education, and transportation. Beginning in 2017, the Foundation began to be more active in fundraising to increase its outreach in the Tampa community, starting with a holiday dinner—the Span family’s first major public appearance featuring baby DJ—where Denard first articulated the Foundation’s vision.
What makes the Denard Span Foundation special is the aid they provide isn’t a one-time band-aid; it’s focused on giving families a leg up and then the support to create a sustainable lifestyle. Families are identified for the Foundation by the partner organizations they work with, like Habitat for Humanity or RBI Baseball, who, along with Denard and Anne themselves, check back with the families to see how things are going. For example, in the transportation initiative the Foundation ran earlier in the summer, the Foundation works with their partner Ferman Motors, who provides a steep discount on a car that fits the family’s needs, plus a service plan. The Foundation then puts down a significant down payment on the car and works with the family to create a sustainable payment plan that accounts for additional expenses and allows them to have a safe, reliable form of transportation that’s not subject to predatory lending, which disproportionately target low-income people. For Denard and Anne, the families served by the Foundation are more than just recipients of charity; they consider them part of their extended family, and focus on extending a hand to families that might otherwise be isolated from support networks.
Being traded from his hometown team, where his charity efforts are based, all the way across the country came as a shock to Denard initially, but since his arrival in Seattle, he’s embraced the opportunity to give on both coasts. Seattle fans and the LL community helped the Foundation reach their $10,000 goal to provide a car to a family, which will be happen at his next holiday fundraiser. Christal Kotchman-Giardina, who manages the Foundation, says they were “humbled by the [LL] community’s response, and the generosity with which Denard was embraced.” Now, the Foundation wants to serve Seattle families headed back to school, and we’re hoping the LL community can come through again. From today until Sunday, make a donation to the Foundation’s back to school drive to provide some Seattle families in need an opportunity to come to the ballpark and be presented with a backpack stuffed with school supplies and a grocery gift card. The more we donate, the more families we can help. And to thank the LL community for all that they’ve done, the Foundation will be raffling away two pairs of tickets to Monday’s (Labor Day) game. A ten dollar donation enters your name once, $25 enters your name five times, and $50 enters your name 15 times. We’ll draw names at 8 PM PT on Sunday and notify the winners immediately. If you want to enter the raffle, make sure to donate using this link, and not the regular Denard Span Foundation one (although you’re certainly welcome to donate there as well—use the grocery button to donate to the gift card fund that provides food and necessities to families).
|| OUR VISION || Our vision is to see communities where single parents are empowered educationally and financially creating a strong foundation for their children to enjoy active lifestyles and experience academic as well as long-term success❤️ #denardspanfoundation #vision #nonprofit #helpingothers #community #philanthropy