"Before anyone cared where I would play basketball, I was just a kid from Northeast Ohio," LeBron James wrote in his July 2014 letter to Sports Illustrated, I'm Coming Home. "My relationship with Northeastern Ohio is more than just basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."
Nearly two years after writing the letter that gave the Cleveland community hope, LeBron James fulfilled his promise of bringing a championship back home to Cleveland. To many, this just means parties and celebrations throughout the city. To the community, and the children of Akron, it means so much more.
Wheels for Education
The LeBron James Family Foundation saw its first major breakthrough in 2011, when James was the face of a State Farm campaign, specifically targeting the national dropout rate. From there, armed with an idea, the Wheels for Education program was formed.
Wheels for Education is a program aimed at teaching the children of Akron the importance of education on all levels and striving to do their best throughout middle school, high school and into college. According to the foundation's website, "it's more than just a program; it's a commitment."
The way WFE works is simple: Third grade students in the Akron public school system are selected to participate in the program, which begins with a 2 week technology camp hosted by the LJFF and it's local partners. This introduces the students to forms of education they may not be aware of, which can spark interests and create a desire to learn more.
From there, the elementary students are fully immersed in support given by the LAB, or the LeBron Advisory Board. The LAB is made up of teachers, principals, counselors and administrators at partnering schools, who volunteer to invest in the lives of the WFE participants, as well as the community. The LAB offers much more than just support. This team meets regularly to plan events, communicate needs and provide incentives for the kids involved, so that they stay committed throughout their Wheels for Education experience.
Essentially, LeBron James is helping give children the desire to go to school.
A promise fulfilled
As the inaugural Wheels For Education classes continued to progress throughout elementary school and into middle school, the Advisory Board members started to realize something. The incentives and events that were fun for WFE students were no longer cool anymore for older kids. Luckily, with some help from LeBron himself, the volunteers were able to act quickly, and thus the Akron I PROMISE Network was born.
The Akron I Promise Network is founded on the same principals as Wheels for Education, simply targeting an older age group. By the time a student is in 6th and 7th grade, interests are turning from after-school hobbies to goals and aspirations. Because of this, LeBron and company reached out to the local university, partnering to guarantee college scholarships to every participant that completes the program and attends the University of Akron.
Now, five years since it's founding, the program has over 1,000 participants - and still growing. That's 1,000 students who have a guaranteed opportunity to attend the University of Akron on an academic scholarship, thanks to LeBron James. The program has since begun highlighting different participants each week, partnering with a local news station for press-releases and interviews.
The Akron I Promise program is helping families of kids like Jamil, whose love for robotics sparked through participation the WFE program, and has dreams of becoming an engineer after college. It's also reaching out to those like Brett, who although faces a minor developmental impairment, is overcoming daily obstacles on his quest to be an Orthodontist through the hope that he's received through LeBron James.
While the foundation of these programs is a PROMISE, the fuel that ignites it is HOPE. In 2014, the letter that James wrote to the city of Cleveland contained a PROMISE that he would bring home an NBA Championship. Less than 2 years later, he fulfilled that promise. In 2011, he created the Wheels for Education program, promising a commitment to every child's future. He is fulfilling that promise. While the fans were given hope of a Larry O'Brien trophy, local children are consistently given hope for a successful future.
To learn more about the LeBron James Family Foundation, including ways to get involved and opportunities to give, visit www.lebronjamesfamilyfoundation.com.