From the Fanposts. The Moras bring the best of U.C.L.A. together in Manhattan Beach. - BN Eds
For me and others Thursday night was a magical night in Manhattan Beach and brought together much of the best of U.C.L.A., in spirit, purpose, and persons. The evening turned out to be much more than I expected.
The event was scheduled for 6:30 at an exclusive small club in Downtown Manhattan Beach. I always arrive to events early and feel strange being one of the few there. So Thursday night I arrived at the late time of 6:35 expecting a relatively empty room and the usual early comer awkwardness. Instead, the place was already very full with about 50 or so people. The number would rise to 100+. We had gathered to learn about the Jim Mora Count on Me Foundation. But most were like me, locals who just wanted to speak with Coach Mora and meet other local supporters. For me it was a chance to thank JM for the energy he had brought back to our football program. By the size of the crowd, it was clear that energy had returned.
In regards to the question of this event’s affiliation with UCLA, clearly there was a strong connection. As I looked around the room, I saw DG and other development people. I thought, oh good, maybe I can get a word with DG. But then I saw Valorie Kondos-Field and decided to first focus on the positive. Valorie had sat in with Petros that day so I got to discuss with her not only the current gymnastics season, but also how great she was on PMS. She agreed that they had had a great time and I loved how she would make a disconcerting sound every time Petros would refer to things like picking up women as "a clean score". They were great on the air and Valorie was warm, engaging, and personable. She said that during the show, calls were flooding in for gymnastics tickets. Yes, one of the best of U.C.L.A.
I then made my way over to DG. I knew I would only have a bit of time before others chimed in, so I decided to stick to the issue of football (even though the basketball game was showing around the room). I shook Dan’s hand and, with a smile, said you need to give Coach Mora what ever he asks for. Dan said, "Oh he’s not going anywhere". Ugggggg! I hoped this wasn’t a "what’s wrong with an 80 yard practice facility" comment. Dan then, of course, added a line about money and I reminded him, what every here and in the rest of the world knows, that investing in football generates more money than it costs if it is creating a successful program. I could tell I was losing him (if I hadn’t already), so I just reiterated, "well I hope you’ll give this coaching staff whatever they ask for even if it means an on campus stadium". Okay, that wasn’t a magical part of the evening, so let’s move on.
I wanted to speak with Coach Mora before it became impossible and headed that way. Along the way I had wonderful conversations with people waiting to speak with him. One woman had travelled from Orange County to be there to help and to thank Coach Mora. We shared about our time at UCLA and how it shaped our lives and then headed over to Jim. I spoke to him briefly, but more really just listened as he spoke with his son’s coach (a UCLA alumnus) and others asking about how recruiting was going and about dealing with the local media (T.J. in particular). I have met Jim before, and again he was incredibly approachable, interested in others, professional, and a joy to speak with.
As I was listening to Mora, Kareem walked in. Wow! All eyes turned. I didn’t know he was coming. What a wonderful surprise, coming to this small venue to support the foundation the Moras are building in Los Angeles. Eventually, I went over to speak with Kareem and thanked him for the joy I got as a kid watching him play and for his wonderful books and his film that I share with my students. As we spoke, the program was beginning, so I was "stuck" sitting next to him as the true star of the night and her husband took the "stage".
Coach Mora began by discussing that in every community he and his family have moved to, they have wanted to start up something that could directly help the community in a meaningful and ongoing way. He said this (the foundation) started in Atlanta, and then they recreated it in Seattle. Last year they began their program in Los Angeles and have raised a great deal of money for kids. He then said that they planned on being here for a long time, setting down roots, and that they hoped that this would be the last place they would do this. Applause followed from the crowd as we took this to mean that they would be staying and hoping it meant he would be continuing at U.C.L.A. (I guess it did at least for now.)
Coach Mora then introduced his remarkable wife Shannon who would end up being the true star of the evening. Shannon described the program to us. The goal is to help kids in need as directly as possible, filling the holes that other programs miss. Shannon was brilliant, energetic, open, approachable, charitable, and fun. She is clearly incredibly dedicated to improving the lives of children in need and teared-up as she spoke about some of the children the foundation had helped. The programs and foundation are described on their website and I really appreciate that the money goes directly to organizations that are working directly with kids in need.
The Jim Mora Count On Me Family Foundation strives to lend support and to partner with charities and children’s organizations through grants, increasing community awareness, and empowering organizations to help children.
Shannon Mora seems to me to embody all the best that U.C.L.A. is, both in its goals and its capabilities. I think she is a true treasure to our university and to Los Angeles.
I spoke with Shannon afterwards, telling her I was a teacher in downtown Los Angeles. We had a wonderful conversation about the things kids in L.A. face and might need. She explained that people can help the foundation, even if they aren’t money people. The foundation is volunteer driven, she said, and there are many ways for people to plug in and help. They also are looking for sponsors and players for their celebrity golf tournament that will be held at the Riviera Country Club May 20th.
Back to sports. Before leaving I spoke with an assistant track coach who spoke passionately about how the football coaches were helping elevate the track program. He reaffirmed what people here say, that football drives everything. He mentioned a few track stars they would have because the kids were coming to UCLA for the football program, one that they felt would prepare them for the league. He said that was an important reason Massington had come. I then spoke with Reynaud Moore who is now a promoter and has recently started consulting (voluntarily) to help the Athletic Department. I passed on many of the ideas I have read here and some of the problems (like people not knowing about this event). He seems very open to discuss issues and solutions. People here might want to contact him and share.
As I was leaving what I felt had been an extremely magical evening, there was one more pleasant surprise. Toby Bailey walked in and we talked about L.A. schools (he is gathering information for when his children begin) and how he was doing (very well). His wife is a volunteer for the foundation and the Bruin community continues.
I had been a bit reluctant attend this event. I am a teacher and not in the financial situation of most of the guests. I am not used to mixers with millionaires and do not have millions to give (nor thousands). But what I found in the room that night was so much of the best of U.C.L.A., literally and figuratively. I found very capable, intelligent, successful people (famous and not) who were coming together to do something positive for the community. I found warmth, openness, dedication, compassion and joy. I had wonderful conversations with truly caring people and felt the power and the goodness of U.C.L.A. It was a wonderful evening and I felt the power of the good on the rise (in many ways).
Shannon Mora just emailed me and asked me pass on the following:
Jim and I have been humbled and honored by the amazing support of the Bruin community since we arrived here in Southern California. We are very proud to be Bruins and look forward to helping children in need and at risk throughout our communities.
She also asked me to add a little more information:
The Annual Golf Classic is the Jim Mora Count on Me Family Foundation’s primary fundraiser. Due to our generous partners, donors and supporters we have been able to raise over 1.5 million dollars these past seven years and have assisted over 50 children’s charities and programs. Our mission is to empower and assist children in need by supporting and collaborating with children’s charities and programs that have the same focus. Special Olympics, Boys & Girls Clubs, Vision House, Urban Academy, many children’s hospitals and children’s camps as well as local outreaches are just a few of our beneficiaries...In addition to sponsoring a team for golf, there are many other avenues to support the Golf Classic and the Count On Me Family Foundation. Many volunteer and donation opportunities are also available.
I have listed the links here in case they don’t work when I post this:
- Jim Mora Count on Me Foundation.
- PMS interview with Valorie Kondos-Field.
- Jim Mora Celebrity Golf Classic.
I also hope to post photos (someone was taking pictures) and information if there are any more meet and greets.