Do you remember your very first mentor? The first person you looked up to, the first person you idolized. My first mentor was my fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Netervala. She played basketball with us at recess.
I remember thinking how cool it was that we were running around and playing basketball with our teacher…the same person who had just finished a history lesson in Room 11. Ms. Netervala was my teacher over twenty years ago, yet I still remember the impact she had on my way of thinking at such a young age. She reinforced that it was okay for girls to be athletic and that teamwork helps you win, both inside the classroom and on the basketball court.
Konica Minolta has an impressive sports sponsorship list that’s nearly doubled in size since 2015. One of the most important factors that we consider when partnering with a venue or team is how we can extend that partnership into the community. How can Konica Minolta make a positive contribution to that community directly?
The New York Mets have been a partner, and customer, of Konica Minolta for eight years. Three years ago, we decided to expand this relationship to the greater New York City area, through the Friends of Flores program. The goal of the Friends of Flores program is to continue to raise awareness about the thousands of local foster children in need of homes and the opportunity for families to serve as foster parents, adoptive families and mentors. The program is spearheaded by Mets first baseman, Wilmer Flores, and Konica Minolta, with the primary goal of creating a positive influence on the lives of these children through sports and mentorship.
This season, a total of 75 children, from Youth Enrichment Programs in the New York City area, were given the opportunity of a lifetime for five games during the season as part of the Friends of Flores program. The children were brought to Citi Field and got to experience a side of baseball that few people ever do. Along with many activities pre-game on the field, they were able to sit down and talk to Wilmer and ask him questions about life. For many of the children, this was their first time to a major league baseball game, and first time meeting a professional athlete.
The work and impact of the Friends of Flores program is important for at-risk children and their families. It helps them see that the support of the community they live in is everything. When parents work long hours, have two jobs, or have other issues, it’s these enrichment programs and support of a mentor that makes all the difference. Mentors play a big role in defining how children grow up, and thinking who they want to be someday.
Experiences like these let children see something outside of their world, apart from their day-today lives. It’s a rare view of other opportunities that are out there in the community. The three Youth Enrichment Programs who participated in the Friends of Flores program this year were New Alternatives for Children, Hispanic Brotherhood and Cayuga Centers. These organizations make it their mission to strengthen local youth and their foster care families through community-based programs.The trip they made, coming to Citi Field, and meeting Wilmer Flores, gave them a perspective on a different way of life. Perhaps some of them played baseball at home, but had never seen a major-league field. Perhaps some of them had seen Wilmer on TV but could never imagine that he’d be so tall in real life, and probably none of them knew that Wilmer was only 16 when he moved from Venezuela to America to start his career in the minor league – something that he shared with them while they sat in the Mets dugout on the first-base line.
It’s important to see Konica Minolta supporting programs in the community that allows young children to see the possibilities of life, and form their life dreams at a young age. Of course, those dreams might change, but I hope that at least one child who attended the Friend of Flores program was inspired. Maybe they’ll want to be a baseball player when they grow up, just like Wilmer Flores. Children need to know that the biggest of dreams can be accomplished and that their community can help them turn a dream into reality.