Sasha promotes acts of kindness

Tuesday night was opening night for Sasha and the Lakers and it was time for them to get their long-awaited rings. The Lakers hosted their cross-town rivals, the Clippers on their home turf and got their first victory of the season.

However, it was also a very special night for a group of 32 kids and their chaperones. These kids won the ticket contest placed on Sasha’s site to attend the first Laker game in a series of 82 games.

It wasn’t an easy task for these kids to win the tickets. They had to perform acts of kindness for others in order to be considered. The kids did various tasks such as going green, volunteering in the community, and fundraising for school unity, like what Jina Yoo, Sean Leston, Jung Hur, Andres Flores, Aimee Berrios, and Ericka Jones of Los Angeles Center of Enriched Studies (LACES) students did.

Others simply helped out at home. Halldale Avenue School student Bryan Urquilla made a cane for his mother when she was having trouble getting up. When he grows up, he wants to get her a better one.

Some of the kids also give back to other kids. Normandie Avenue School student Ariana Amaya wants to help a children’s orphanage by organizing a toy drive, making flyers, writing letters to major companies asking for donations, and planning a party for the kids.

Garey High School student Angel Gerardo tutors Daniel Flores, a 6th grader who was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, a neurological disorder in which the brain has problems with sensory processing. Daniel is a huge Lakers fan and teachers call him a “Walking Sports Dictionary.” Angel’s act of kindness was to give his ticket to Daniel because he learned a lot from Daniel. Daniel attended the game and was tested on his Lakers knowledge. Needless to say, he did a pretty good job.

When the kids arrived at the game, they were really excited to be there. Several of them had colorful posters for Sasha and the Lakers. They would scream when a Laker made a shot and they were shown on the Jumbotron, flashing their signs proclaiming their love and appreciation for Sasha and the Lakers. During the game, I overheard them discussing the game and speculating what would happen next. They were very enthusiastic about the game, cheering on their favorite team.

After the game was the most exciting. The winners got to meet Sasha himself. When Sasha came in, all the kids were excited to see him. Before talking to them as a group, Sasha approached each and every one of them. He introduced himself like a true gentleman and he was glad that they made it.

Sasha, being the gracious host that he was, made sure that the children enjoyed themselves. He asked who the best was, and they all said “Lakers” and “Sasha.”

As an extra reward for their acts of kindness, Sasha signed autographs and took pictures with the kids. The children were very polite and said “thank you” as Sasha said “you’re very welcome.” One of the more hilarious parts about Sasha’s meeting with the children was when he signed t-shirts and put them all on his head.

Sasha also recorded a very special message for one of the winners, Alberto Chavez, who was unable to make it to the game. Alberto, also a Garey High School student, lost both of his parents at six years old. At 14, he became involved with Police Explorers, the Boy Scouts, and the Avid program, intended to increase the percentage of college students.

“I’m sorry you couldn’t make it. I got your essay… it was pretty amazing… and I hope you can come next game,” Sasha said in his video message to Alberto. He also signed a “New journey, same goal” t-shirt, which was the free gift for the fans that attended the game, for Alberto.

Giving back definitely has its rewards. What Sasha did for these kids was phenomenal and a great treat for these generous kids. This great group of kids touched our hearts with their wonderful acts of kindness. As the Golden Rule says, “Do onto others as you would have done onto you.”

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Sasha in the community

When the community section of Sasha Vujacic’s official website was launched, I knew it would be the perfect place to post this article, which was still just the spark of a notion in my mind. I’m sure you’ve all seen the commercials for NBA Cares, or have stumbled across the occasional blurb online about various athletes helping out in their communities. What continues to amaze me is that even though they have these incredibly taxing jobs and very little free time, almost all players in the NBA choose to do at least some community service.

For a championship contending team like the Lakers, their schedule can start in early October with preseason games and end in late June with the playoffs. In 2009, the Lakers played nine preseason games to add the 82 regular season games that every NBA team must play. If the regular season ends in April and you were to spread out the games evenly throughout those months then hardly two days go by without a game to play. Then you factor in things like practices, shootarounds, individual time spent in the gym, and family time, you start wonder when they have any time for sleep at night let alone community service.

If you’ve been following Sasha’s activity through his website then you know he occasionally holds things like essay contests and invites children from schools throughout Los Angeles to Laker games. At the season opener, there was a group of about 50 kids that were such winners who were privy to a meet-and-greet with Sasha right after the game. While being escorted to the designated location for the meet-and-greet after the game, I remember asking a Lakers representative if all of the players did things like this. He looked at me quizzically before responding that it was pretty much just Sasha.

Through the Lakers organization, the players have their pick of taking part in various community service projects. Fit for Life is one example. But Sasha really goes above and beyond this, using his website as a tool to engage kids throughout Los Angeles and supporting the Serbian Orthodox Church in Orange County. How many athletes show up to an annual informal dinner at a church to mingle and raise awareness? Probably not many.

At the Machine Meeting in November, I spoke to Sasha about his community service endeavors and asked him why he does it. His response was that it has nothing to do with publicity; he had just come from an event that we didn’t even know about. “It feels right,” Sasha explained to me as he emphasized that even he doesn’t realize how big of an influence he can have on people, but he loves the city of Los Angeles and wants to represent the team the best way he can. “It’s about the gesture,” he says and if he can help and bring people to the game that normally might not be able to then even better.

Sasha realizes that kids are “the biggest treasure” and people don’t realize just how much they could influence how those kids grow up. If he can do anything to help, and he can, then he will.