Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Announces Finalists for 2015 Sports Award

    • June 25, 2015

Princeton, N.J.—The new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award announced today six finalists that are strengthening communities through sport. The winners will be announced on September 10, 2015 at an event in Princeton, N.J., where the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) will host a day of learning, networking and celebrating excellence in the field.

The Sports Award builds on the Steve Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy—presented by RWJF for the past decade—by placing a greater emphasis on collaboration across communities and sectors to foster a Culture of Health, the Foundation's core vision. The award recognizes innovative and influential approaches to using sports to make communities healthier places to live. Approaches may include: helping children maintain a healthy weight, creating safe play environments, encouraging positive behaviors, eliminating bullying, abuse and violence, and expanding opportunities for children living in poverty.

“The finalists for our inaugural Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award are outstanding examples of organizations dedicated to a Culture of Health,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF. “Collectively, the finalists represent collaboration and innovation at its finest in using sports as a means to improve well-being in communities across the nation.”

Below are the finalists in each category:

Professional Sports Team Foundations and Community Relations Departments

  • The Portland Trail Blazers (National Basketball Association) supports nonprofit organizations in Oregon and Southwest Washington to help make the region a better place for children and families where they live, learn and play. They are part of an Oregon Active Schools collaborative effort with other local companies. Moda Center, the Trail Blazers home arena, sources local food and donates healthy food to schools and homeless shelters that cannot get fresh proteins and vegetables. The Trail Blazers launched an inaugural Sport for Health grant in April 2015, which funds nonprofits working to get underserved youth and their families active and moving. The organization also engaged more than 4,100 youth in 56 Blazers FIT Camps and Clinics across the region last year alone. The Trail Blazers’ culture of healthy lifestyles is evident throughout the organization with access to standing desks, walking meetings and a strong wellness program. The team encourages people to work out during the day and opens the gym to the entire arena staff.
  • The Chicago Fire Foundation (Major League Soccer), established in 1998, is the first nonprofit created by an MLS team. Its goal is to contribute to the quality of life in Chicago and the surrounding communities. The foundation develops programs that reach out to Chicago area communities and makes significant contributions to enhance the lives of disadvantaged youth throughout the area. To date, the Foundation has donated more than $1.7 million in grants and contributions. It runs year-round programs that address the individual health of participants and the environment in which they live, taking a holistic approach to sports-based programming. The Foundation launched Premier Skills, an innovative program that creates safer play spaces and uses sports to promote inclusion and teach new skills. The main program is situated on the unofficial border between two rival gang territories, previously avoided by neighborhood residents. Premier Skills has transformed the culture of the neighborhood by creating an engaging and welcoming space.

Individual Athletes and Professional Coaches

  • The Israel Idonije Foundation was established in 2007 by 11-year NFL veteran Israel Idonije. The Foundation serves Chicago, Winnipeg, Canada and West Africa, all of which Idonije has called home. It aims to engage underserved and underprivileged communities by providing five core programs dedicated to building social and emotional life skills. The IIF After-School program has activities for teens every weekday to provide a safe and constructive space, and equip them with life skills to improve academic performance and impact their futures. The IIF All-Star Football and Cheerleading Camp offers free skills training to youth ages eight to 14 and focuses on teamwork, positive peer interactions, and goal setting. IIF Project Africa is an annual humanitarian trip to give support to communities in need. IIF's Shop With a Cop hosts at-risk youth and partners them with local police officers to help foster positive relationships. IIF's Youth Leaders Program is a summer internship where selected students have the opportunity to learn soft career skills for seven weeks in a field of their interest. 
  • The Tony Hawk Foundation focuses on supporting and empowering youth. Since 2002, the Foundation has provided critical advocacy training to more than 2,000 community groups and awarded more than $5.3 million to develop skateparks. The Foundation’s programs have an all-inclusive approach, providing spaces for children to be active, maintain a healthy lifestyle, play safely and use sports to increase self-esteem and leadership skills.

Influential Leader and Model for Others Making Communities Healthier Through Sport

  • USTA Foundation, Inc. is the national charitable arm of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which teamed up with the National Junior Tennis & Learning network (NJTL) in 2014 to create an operating foundation reaching more than 225,000 youth each year. The USTA Foundation provides training, technical assistance, financial grants and scholarships to support local chapters. Through tennis, education, health and social development, the USTA Foundation changes the attitudes and behaviors of underserved youth and addresses the most pressing health challenges in the country, and has been a catalyst for change in underserved communities for the last 20 years.
  • Doc Wayne Youth Services fuses sports and therapy to heal and strengthen youth who struggle with mental illness. The organization works primarily with low-income youth suffering from a variety of mental health challenges largely caused by complex trauma including neglect, abuse, violent crime and sexual trafficking. Doc Wayne’s sports-based intervention incorporates principles from trauma-informed care and positive youth development, drawing from a trauma-based components model (Attachment, Regulation and Competency); a stabilization model (Dialectical Behavior Therapy); and an attachment-based interaction model (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy). They reached 500 youth last year through two key programs that provide group therapy in low-income housing developments, schools, and residential programs, specifically in low-income Boston neighborhoods and other high-need communities in eastern Massachusetts. The innovative programs service children who do not have access to, or are resistant to, therapy. Doc Wayne Youth Services’ vision for engaging, high quality, evidence-based mental health interventions is transforming lives.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award honors individuals, organizations and teams that are making communities healthier through sport and are dedicated to creating a Culture of Health. Follow the award on Facebook at

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

RWJF Sports Award

Inspiring Healthier Communities Through Sport

The RWJF Sports Award recognizes innovative and collaborative approaches to making communities healthier places to live.

Learn more about the award