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By Karl McLaughlin
Jakim Donaldson Helping Others
Invariably, perhaps, the Christmas period brings extensive media coverage of the host of contributions by sporting figures to worthy causes, usually in the form of festive benefit games aimed at raising money for needy bodies or individuals.

Jakim Donaldson
Jakim Donaldson

02.12.2012 - Tenerife footballer Victor Aino (Vitolo), currently playing at Panathinaikos in Greece, has returned home for a fifth successive year to organise his annual celebrity friendly in Santa Cruz, on this occasion to help four sick youngsters whose families are finding it hard to meet the cost of urgent medical treatment.
The world of basketball here has its equivalent in Iberostar Canarias player Jakim Donaldson, although you would be hard pushed to see or hear the quietly-spoken American in the media talking about his work to help underprivileged youngsters. Despite the thousands of miles that separate him from his home city of Pittsburgh, the 28-year-old forward never loses sight of his duty to help those less fortunate than himself.
Donaldsons permanent involvement back home with a non-profit foundation called PROMISE has a very tragic origin: his younger brother, Jehru, also a keen basketball player and an athletics all-rounder, was gunned down at the age of just 18 by twin brothers who decided they wanted the car he had borrowed from his father for the evening to take his girlfriends nephews to a Major League Baseball game.
The senseless killing of the popular teenager in early July 2007 proved the catalyst that, to the surprise of law enforcement agencies, not only prompted local residents to come forward with possible leads on the perpetrators but also helped create a groundswell of public opposition to juvenile crime in the Northside area of Pittsburgh.
Shortly afterwards, Jakims father, Jay, created a foundation to help the memory of Jehru live on in the form of organised assistance for local youths who might be tempted to stray off the proper path. Called PROMISE, its goal - as stated clearly on its website - is to work to get kids off the streets and involved in after-school activities to keep them from becoming a victim or a perpetrator of crime. PROMISE is run by a board of directors, including Jakim himself who is its sports director, and engages in a wide range of activities from funding individual scholarships for teenagers to a book club, city clean-up drives and sports camps.
Needless to say, the Canarias star is heavily involved in the latter. Every August he takes time out from his brief summer break from the professional game to organise a basketball camp at Oliver High School, where he and Jehru were students. Despite the distance, Jakim is in regular touch with the day to day activities of the foundation, corresponding by e-mail with fellow board members and talking through new ideas. He takes up the story for us. Our goal is, to put it simply, to save lives. For example, we try and put kids through college with scholarships and help them stay on the straight and narrow. I stay in touch as much as I can with my family and board colleagues even from over here.
The benefits for the Northside youngsters are obvious but what does involvement in PROMISE do personally for Jakim? At this point, the quietly-spoken American players eyes light up and he speaks with genuine warmth and feeling about the two-way relationship: It really does a lot for me. To tell the truth, it keeps my little brothers memory alive for me in a very special way. Working with these kids makes me see a lot of the things I saw in him. Above all, it makes me want to be a better person, a role model, someone who gives something back to the community. You have no idea of the joy I get from seeing a kid buy in to what we are trying to do. The problem is that groups like us operate in a segregated way. The world would be a much better place to live in if we all came together to help ensure these kids get help rather than leave them to listen to the manipulation, brainwashing and other things that pull them and us apart.
The acronym PROMISE was not chosen by accident: it stands for Protecting and Restoring the Order of Mankind with the Initiative to Serving Elders and the last word of the title is of paramount importance, as Jakim explains: My father, who is very much from the old school, has transmitted to us what he has always believed, namely, that to respect yourself you need to respect your elders. All of us, when we are older, want to be respected but you have got to give that respect first. This world was founded by our forefathers and elders and we would not be here without them. I think we are losing some of that approach in younger generations, so what we are doing is just a way of helping to get back to it. Our elders went through so much to give us a chance to get ahead in life and, if we build on that, we can help others get to where they want to be.
Not surprisingly, among the initiatives being planned by the foundation is an Elder Companion Youth Program, which will provide young volunteers to assist the elderly with a variety of daily non-medical functions including light house-keeping, light meal preparation, taking out the trash, shovelling snow and raking leaves, general recreation and various social activities.
When Jakim Donaldson returns to his alma mater at Oliver High to speak to the pupils, particularly the gifted athletes, his message is a far cry from the world is your oyster, go get it! one. Although I do talk about how I have been doing in Spain, I stress that the first thing they should be thinking about is going to college: that is the main thing for kids in my area. I also tell them the world does not end at Northside, Pittsburgh or even the United States. There is a great big world out there and a lot of great experiences they could be seeing. I love what I do, I love travelling and I know I am blessed in that I have been given this opportunity. And I tell them just that.
That opportunity may not ever have arisen if he had not benefited from the generosity of certain people, not least the individuals who rallied round when, while he as a university student at Edinboro (Pennsylvania), he and his basketball colleagues were offered the chance to make up a team to travel to Europe to play games. I was about 20 and would not have been able to go if people had not put up the couple of thousand dollars I needed to pay my way. I never forget that, which is why I am so keen to ensure that some of the money I earn from basketball goes back to youngsters coming behind me, to at least help pay for their education.
There is no doubting the sincerity of Donaldson, a local idol in La Laguna now for several seasons. A glance at the advance information supplied for his Summer Basketball Camp shows clearly that his aim is much more than improving on-court skills. Indeed, the basketball appears to be just a means to a much more important end. Among the list of activities making up the programme are Group discussions on youth related topics, while the camp openly highlights that its objective is to promote skills such as the following: Discipline, respect and manners; cultural diversity; social skills; increase frustration tolerance; improved impulse control; self-esteem/self-worth; and, last but by no means least Encouraging Dreams.
Which probably sums up better than anything else Donaldsons role, one he performs very discreetly, with no camera-hogging or bragging. As Island Connections discovered during the interview, getting him to talk about the valuable work he and his family do for the benefit of Pittsburghs Northsiders is no easy task.

Gallery: Jakim Donaldson Helping Others
Jakim Donaldson Book club members who are benefiting from PROMISE  
 2 pictures found: Go to gallery

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