Aug. 30, 2012
By Amy Hughes
The Sixth Annual Jim Mora Celebrity Golf Classic benefiting the Jim Mora Count On Me Family Foundation took place in Seattle to open the final week of June. As Mora begins his tenure as head football coach at UCLA with his first game today against Rice, history shows that the Foundation can expect to take another geographic move in stride.
The Count On Me Foundation started in 2005 in Atlanta, Ga. while Mora was serving as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. A 2007 move to Seattle saw the Foundation set up shop in the Pacific Northwest while maintaining its ties to Atlanta. That plan, which will be executed by Jim's wife, Shannon, is also in place for the family and Foundation's move to Los Angeles.
The Foundation is almost completely volunteer-run and is therefore able to pass along nearly all of its intake along to programs for children in need.
"My wife does all of the work while I sit idly by and watch," joked Jim Mora earlier this summer.
"What's really exciting about (the money raised at the golf tournament) is that Shannon and her committee are all volunteers," said Jim. "Besides our minimal administration with our Executive Director, we do not have much overhead. Just about everything that we give away in prizes or auction off is a donation, therefore a really high percentage of the money we raise, we're able to fund programs immediately. It's exciting. Our passion is helping kids, and my wife takes it very, very seriously."
"We research and ferret out what we can do, where we can do it, and we just do it," said Shannon. "I never let a 'no' stand in my way. I sincerely feel so strongly about our mission of helping children in need that I have no hesitation in requesting assistance from sponsors and donors along with individual supporters within the communities we service. It's empowering for everyone to get involved in helping. Even if it's just a little bit of time, energy or donations, we'll find a way to make it go a long ways."
While Jim Mora has been preparing the UCLA football team for the 2012 season, Shannon has probably been twice as busy, moving the Mora's four children and household to Los Angeles. And run a major celebrity golf tournament.
While driving to the June 25 event at The Golf Club at Newcastle, Shannon fielded a call from a moving company.
"Literally on my way to the golf event, one of the movers called," recalled Shannon. "I had to move my family in three weeks, and I hadn't done anything. The mover called to take a look to offer a bid. They asked what our move date was, and the only thing I could come up with was July."
This past spring, while her husband was running spring practices, Shannon Mora was busy with the family's day-to-day life in Seattle and preparation for the golf tournament. The foundation is very volunteer-driven, and that starts at the top.
"We really are grassroots," Shannon said. "We are small. It's me, an Executive Director, and a crazy group of dedicated volunteers. We've found many of our nonprofits that we fund through our volunteer pool. Maybe somebody has an affiliation with a children's nonprofit that they are fond of supporting. If it fits within our mission of helping kids in need, we'll fund that program."
Once the Foundation funds a cause, they will maintain that tie, even if the realities of the professional life of a football coach intrude and prompt the family to move.
"When we go somewhere, we dig in," said Jim. "We buy a house, we remodel it if we want to, we get ourselves involved in the community, and we treat it as if we're going to be there forever.
"When you're dealing with kids in need, a lot of the kids we've dealt with have been let down," said Jim. "People have left them. We have decided that even though things don't always work out the way we want them to with football and it forces us to move, we're not going to abandon the programs that we're involved in. We won't just pull up roots in Atlanta and go to Seattle and tell those kids 'hey, sorry!' It's the same thing coming from Seattle to Los Angeles. We strive to continue to support the young people we supported up there."
One of the Foundation's signature charities is the Boys and Girls Club. In greater metro Atlanta, the Foundation sponsors a football league.
"That is a population of young men who really do need to have some place to go," said Shannon. "We support their annual Turkey Bowl. We felt that even with Jim moving his job, if we could keep that specific program going, we wanted to. These young men have had a lot of adults leave their life, and many do not have a male adult role model. We did not want to abandon them also."
Among the Foundation's various activities are a Bowling Benefit Bash night, Guys & Girls Nights Out, various involvement with Boy's and Girl's Clubs, and the Special Olympics. Shannon's older sister, Whittney, has Down Syndrome and had participated early on in Special Olympics through her high school.
"That exposure early on got me hooked on seeing, especially in Special Olympics, the sheer joy in competing," said Shannon. "There is joy in just being out there and being a part of something. Special Olympic athletes come in all ages, but the mental part of a Special Olympic athlete has that youthful outlook. The participants are so excited to be a part of it."
The Foundation tailors its support to specific areas within large national organizations. Shannon Mora sits on the board of both the Georgia and Washington Special Olympics committees and is very aware of how the Foundation can help those organizations, among others.
"With Special Olympics in Atlanta, the need was more coaches," said Shannon. "So we keyed in to make sure we could facilitate more coaching clinics. In Washington, the need was focusing on getting younger participants involved in Special Olympics, so we fund the Young Athletes Program."
Additionally, a favorite outreach for both Jim and Shannon Mora is the Foundation's "Holiday Shops" program. A "store" of items sponsored by the Foundation is gathered and brought to young patients in long-term care at local hospitals. Seriously ill children are then able to select gifts for their families, wrap them and create cards to go along with their gifts.
"This is my wife's, along with two other ladies, brainchild," said Jim of the Holiday Shop program. "There are so many kids in the hospital at those special times of year, and they can't get out and buy gifts for their families around the holidays, and they can't buy gifts for their moms on Mother's Day, so we really take the store to them. It's pretty touching to be able to see the empowerment that each young shopper feels. It's a good feeling."
This year's Mother's Day shop at the Hemoncology Floor of Seattle Children's Hospital rode high on the coattails of a music video done by patients to Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger".
"Each of the patients in that video shopped at our Holiday Shop," said Shannon. "Two days prior, all the kids were abuzz that they'd been in a music video, and they were getting close to 1,000 hits on YouTube. By Tuesday, Kelly Clarkson had posted a video back to them, and they were flying high.
"Any time it can be away from the mundane, these kids really have perspective," continued Shannon. "They're not in a corner cowering due to their illness. They want to give back. Now every time I hear that song, I associate it with that video. I have a totally different relationship with that song."
The 2012 Celebrity Golf Classic, by far the Foundation's largest fundraiser, cleared roughly $250,000 according to early estimates. That amount will be turned around and distributed through the Foundation's grant cycle to children's existing causes as well as new outreaches. As the Mora family becomes integrated into its new Los Angeles and UCLA communities, those needs will grow, making those numbers even more important.
"Our kids have grown up with (the golf tournament)," said Shannon. "They're aware of it. Now that they're between 17 and 9, they all help. They're stuffing bags, running errands, dropping stuff off. They know that for the four months leading up to the golf tournament, Mom is MIA. There's no food in the house, laundry's not done, I'm on the phone and on email constantly and they're ready for the golf event to be over again."
With the family moved to Los Angeles, the focus will once again turn to the 7th Annual Jim Mora Celebrity Golf Classic. Arrangements will be made to bring the event to Southern California, and decisions will be made about maintaining the existing golf tournament in Seattle.
"We are community-based and grassroots," said Shannon. "It's a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but the benefits to children in need within our communities make it all worth it!"
One thing is certain - the Jim Mora Count On Me Family Foundation will continue to thrive in its new community and environment.
"Life is about giving," said Jim. "The things that really matter are the young people you're able to affect in a positive way."
For more information on the Jim Mora Count on Me Family Foundation, visit countonmefoundation.org.