The Trojans Huddle Up in L.A.'s Public Housing Communities

    May 14, 2015

    Chris Willson used roughly one tenth of his strength to prop a toddler up toward the basket. The young boy smiled as wide as the basketball he clenched in his hands, then tossed the ball toward the rim with all his might.

    The prop up to the basket was a nice gesture from the Trojan tight end. But in a more holistic sense, Willson was showing the young kid a vision, showing him the possibilities after receiving a little push.

    Fifteen other USC student-athletes joined Chris over two weekend visits to Ramona Gardens and Nickerson Gardens public housing communities in Los Angeles.

    "I feel like it's tough sometimes because you get attached to these kids," Willson said. "You don't want to leave. Just being there for them with a little of our time makes a huge difference."

    The minute the Trojans stepped into the Ramona and Nickerson Garden gyms, it was time to play. With footballs, basketballs and soccer balls at the ready, it didn't take much to get the kids excited about the day.

    As the kids introduced themselves to their new mentors, football players J.R. Tavai and Richie Wenzel discussed what it means to be a team player and to respect one another on and off the field.

    "I grew up in these project complexes. My generation raised ourselves," one Ramona Gardens parent said. "To have this for our kids, it means a lot because it's an opportunity for them to see that there's hope out there."

    These sports days are as much about understanding another's perspective as they are about teaching sports.

    That's what Karen Jaffe hoped for when she and her husband, Jon, endowed a football scholarship award for community service.

    "Participating in community service improves the community being served and helps the student-athletes learn empathy and compassion," Mrs. Jaffe said. "They learn that they are part of a bigger community and why it's important to help others."



    After practicing receiver patterns and tackling form, the kids solicited each and every student-athlete's autograph on USC posters.

    Willson, who organized the day with money received as part of the Jaffe's grant, never hesitated to interact with the youth, especially those who wanted to learn more about how Trojans achieve their academic and athletic goals.

    "If a kid's coming up to you and wanting attention, the best thing we can do is give them that attention," Willson said.