Junior Giants: 20 Years of Impact
Since 1994, the Junior Giants, the flagship program of the Giants Community Fund, has offered a free, non-competitive and innovative baseball program for boys and girls ages 5-18 years old. The program now reaches 21,000 kids in 90 communities.
In the 20 years since being established, the Junior Giants Program has:
Through the 20 for 20 Series, we are proud to share stories of the kids, coaches, families and communities that have helped to build this program.
Angel Gonzalez has been with the Salinas PAL Junior Giants league for approximately 5 years and is currently a police officer with the Salinas Police Department, providing over 15 years of service. He took over as Junior Giants Commissioner 3 years ago, and under his leadership the league has grown from approximately 250 players to over 600. Surprisingly, Angel didn't grow up a Giants fan - he's actually a fan of the Giants' biggest rival, the Dodgers. However, Angel has been able to look past the rivalry and truly appreciates everything the Giants Community Fund does for the kids it serves and the community. Aside from being passionate about the Junior Giants program, Angel is a strong believer in the Four Bases of Character Development and has made it his personal goal and mission to garner 100 percent participation in the Round the Bases Reading program. He says, "I am very grateful for the guidance and help that I have received from our league representatives and Community Fund staff. I truly couldn't do this without all the coaches and parents who help with our league."
Receiving the Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship motivated Julia Hoaglen to push himself academically to achieve his goal of attending college. As a Burns scholar, he lent his time to the Native American community, volunteering at the Indian Senior Center where he cooked, cleaned and helped organize fundraisers. As an anthropology major at Humboldt State University (class of 2016), Julian participates in the Indian Tribal and Educational Personnel Program, an academic support group on campus, and continues to volunteer at the Indian Senior Center in Ukiah when he returns to his hometown.
Emmett has been a proud member of both the Ukiah and Willits Junior Giants leagues since 2009, and has not missed a single game over the last five years. In 2013, Emmett received the Willie Mac Award for his incredible sportsmanship and was also chosen as an incoming Harmon and Sue Burns Scholar in 2014. You can always count on Emmett smiling and having a great time out on the field. "I'm very grateful for everything the Junior Giants program has done for me," Emmett says. "It's my goal to help the Ukiah league add a senior league next year to provide even more opportunities to the community." He is passionate about the game of baseball, looks forward to participating in the program each year, and is an avid Giants fan. When he's not practicing the Four Bases of Character Development and rooting on the Giants, Emmett volunteers in the Ukiah community for the Ukiah Friends of the Library. In his spare time he nurtures his love of the stage and takes acting classes with the Willits Young Actors Troupe and S.P.A.C.E. Performing Arts program in Ukiah.
In 2004, Corben Brooks was awarded with a Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship while playing with the Mount Shasta league. Four years later, and three days into his senior year of high school, Corben broke his neck during a preseason football scrimmage. His injury resulted in quadriplegia and doctors told him he would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Faced with a seemingly impossible burden, but determined to overcome, Corben worked with the Junior Giants program and the Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship fund to pay for physical therapy at Project Walk, and through an intensive program, recovered some motor function. It's been six years since his injury, and Corben has almost full use of his arms and partial use of his hands and fingers; although he is still required to use a wheelchair, he can now take steps with the appropriate assistance. Corben was recently accepted to the University of Southern California, and attributes his success and accomplishments to the Giants Community Fund. He says, "Had the Junior Giants program not been generous enough to allow me the ability to use my scholarship for physical recovery, I can say with honesty that I would not be where I am at today, both physically and in the pursuit of my education. Even in the face of a catastrophic injury, the Junior Giants program managed to change my life for better and set me on a path for success."
Kathy has been actively involved with the Junior Giants program since 1995, first as a coach with the Red Bluff Junior Giants, and now as the Commissioner for the Los Molinos league. She began the Los Molinos program in 2005 as a response to the lack of free activities for youth in the area. Under her leadership, the Los Molinos league has seen significant growth and has served over 1,100 children since its inception. Although an avid baseball fan, Kathy's reason for getting involved with the Junior Giants goes far beyond just her passion for the game. It was the chance to make a difference in a child's life that inspired her to join, and she has seen the community become deeply impacted in a number of ways. "How can it not?" she said, "When you build a program around those key principles and use the spectacular game of baseball as a vehicle to deliver the program, you're destined to succeed and you're destined to leave an impact on these children, which they can then take with them everywhere they go." In 2010, Kathy was inducted into the Junior Giants Hall of Fame for going above and beyond her call of duty, doing everything from prepping the fields for play, providing medals for the kids at the end of the season, and stressing the importance of character development. Kathy attributes the success of the program to the tools given to them by the Giants Community Fund, coupled with the hard work from her coaches and volunteers. Kathy enjoys every aspect of the Junior Giants program -- from seeing a Major League game for the first time, playing on the field at AT&T Park during the Junior Giants Festival, watching her players sing the National Anthem on Junior Giants Day, and having five recipients selected to be part of the Harmon & Sue Burns scholarship program.
Kieran has been a proud member of the Santa Cruz/Watsonville Junior Giants league for the past two years, and plans to continue to play for as long as he is allowed. Despite having just one hand, Kieran has excelled in the league and has grown into a strong player alongside his teammates. Kieran is not only a passionate baseball player, looking forward to the program each summer, but also a consummate team player. He was awarded the Willie Mac Award by his teammates in 2013 for best exemplifying the Junior Giants Four Bases of Character Development: Confidence, Integrity, Leadership and Teamwork. Kieran's leadership skills also run in the family - he recently mentored his older sister Jaden to a Willie Mac Award win this year, and his grandmother Colleen is actively involved as a repeat team parent. Of the league, Colleen says, "The Junior Giants has done so many wonderful things for these children - in learning to see the positive in life's sometimes tougher lessons, and teaching them how to properly deal with what is truly important." Together, Kieran's family is having the time of their lives with the program, sharing their contagious excitement and serving as positive role models for the entire Santa Cruz/Watsonville Junior Giants community. Off the field, Kieran enjoys skateboarding, karate, hip-hop dancing, dirt bike riding and swimming.
The Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship not only provided Jannelle Watson the resources to help her get into college - it also turned her into a leader. Jannelle says the Junior Giants gave her the boost of confidence she needed to run for and win elected positions at University of California, Irvine. She excelled in leadership roles in the Black Student Union, Nigerian Student Association and mentored fellow students as a peer academic advisor and teaching assistant. After graduating with degrees in political science and education, Jannelle was selected as a White House intern and placed in the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, DC and selected as 2013/14 Executive Fellow through the Capital Fellows Program. Recently, Jannelle was hired as a Small Business Policy Analyst in Governor Jerry Brown's Office of Business and Economic Development where she will serve as an advocate for California's small business community.
Walt and Barbara have been involved with the San Jose PAL Junior Giants since 1994, offering an opportunity for both children and adults with special needs to participate in the Junior Giants program. Their son is special needs and has enjoyed the program for more than 20 years. The Velasquez family has known many of the San Jose PAL team members for most of their lives, and each season Barbara manages sign-ups for players as young as three and as old as 67. The friendly, non-competitive nature makes for fun times and a 90 percent player return rate. Walt is especially proud of the commitment he's received from all of his volunteers each year. Together, Walt and Barbara were inducted into the Junior Giants Hall of Fame in 2013 for their longstanding community commitment, love of the program and leadership.
Mike has been a fixture in the Mt. Shasta community, serving as the Mt. Shasta Recreation and Parks District Administrator for over 40 years. He began the Mt. Shasta Junior Giants League in 1995, and is currently celebrating his 20th year as commissioner. During his tenure, the league has thrived with steady growth and an average of 125 participants. The Mt. Shasta League has proudly supported five Harmon & Sue Burns Scholars. Mike is an avid Giants fan who shares his passion for the sport of baseball and commitment to the Junior Giants core program values through his lifelong dedication to community service.
After playing in the Morgan Hill Junior Giants League and receiving the Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship, Cristina Avina went on to coach and motivate young players in the league, an experience that inspired her current career goals. As a student at University of Southern California (class of 2016), she is working toward becoming an occupational therapist specializing in animal-assisted therapy for children with emotional issues. She has also found time between classes to participate in Hermanas Unidads and Destino, while also volunteering with USC's Spirits in Action and Dreampower Horsemanship. She is currently serving as a Junior Giants Ambassador in the Salinas league. She often says that "being involved in all these activities has come to shape the person I am today and the person I will become because they all form a part of what I want to do in my future. It's kind of like a puzzle, all these programs and all the people in my life form a small puzzle piece of my life and am grateful to have every piece."