From Dallas, to Los Angeles, to Zambia: Swinging at Opportunities to Help

A Conversation with Los Angeles Dodgers Pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Ellen Kershaw, Co-Founders of Kershaw's Challenge

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and his wife Ellen have two homes: their native Dallas and adopted home of Los Angeles. Success in baseball has provided means to help their communities — along with helping children desperately in need in Zambia.

Clayton and Ellen Kershaw at the opening of Kershaw's Challenge Park

Clayton and Ellen Kershaw are accustomed to May being all about baseball: the regular season is in full swing, meaning the family is traveling across the U.S. supporting Clayton.  But this year is different for everyone, including professional athletes, whose seasons are on hold as the country battles COVID-19.

We took advantage of the change in the Kershaws' schedule to talk about America at its best. Catalyst editor Brittney Bain joined the Kershaws for a conversation with Strategerist podcast host Andrew Kaufmann, where they discussed giving back, baseball, and who is the better dancer, cook, and ping-pong player.

Go behind-the-scenes and watch the full discussion and read excerpts of their conversation below.

Where are you seeing America at its best?

Ellen Kershaw: Gosh, just in our community, I think we've seen so many people just being really unique on how to connect with one another, especially from our kids' perspective. I just feel like people are getting really creative, and we've had some drive-by concerts, these birthday parades that are happening, even their schools are doing online learning. And, we do game nights via Zoom and play bingo socially distanced away. You just realize it's such an innate need in us that we need to connect with people, and so people are getting really creative with how to do that and not see each other in person.

Clayton Kershaw: Yeah, to piggyback off that, one of our kiddos, their school, they basically they threw an email out saying, "Put bears on your front windows and act like your kids are going on a bear hunt." So, you can walk your kids around the neighborhood and they can count the bears or the stuffed animals they see. And I mean, that was so fun for our kiddos. I think just like Ellen said, just the innate want and need to connect. And I mean, just even walking around here and waving, I mean just a simple gesture to wave. I feel like everybody is waving now and just saying hi and smiling, as opposed to maybe people are so busy, they just zoom through and don't even stop. So, people definitely aren't as busy now, and there are some great blessings that have come out of this time for us.

Can you tell us about Kershaw's Challenge and what you guys are doing to support the communities that are dealing with COVID-19 right now?

Ellen Kershaw: Kershaw's Challenge is the name of our charity that Clayton and I began 10 years ago. We're actually about to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. And every year we roll out new beneficiaries and projects to Kershaw's Challenge. We get to raise money through our ping-pong tournament in LA, through KC live, our country music concert in Dallas.

And this year, right as we were rolling out our beneficiaries and our projects for this year, obviously we are in the midst of COVID, and there are so many organizations that are providing meal relief for people that are really in need. And so thankfully, two of our beneficiaries, Behind Every Door here in Dallas and the Dream Center in LA, they are on the frontlines trying to provide hot meals and relief to people in such desperate need.

So, we just ran out this COVID campaign for two weeks. And I mean, it was amazing. We raised over $85,000 just in two weeks for these organizations. So, talk about ways that we've seen America be great and at its best right now — people are desperate to give and to want to find opportunities and outlets to be able to give back. And we got to see that firsthand.

Talk about ways that we've seen America be great and at its best right now — people are desperate to give and to want to find opportunities and outlets to be able to give back.

Clayton Kershaw: We saw so many of our faithful donors continue to support us, but something that was really cool was that we saw $5, $10, $20 donations from across the country, just wanting to help with whatever they could. I think that was special to see, just people, just like Ellen said, are willing to help and just giving however much or however little they have, trying to support other people. Definitely a cool thing to see out of this two-week campaign.

You picked two charities, one in Dallas, one in Los Angeles, your two homes. How did you pick these two organizations to support? Do they have special meaning to you?

Clayton Kershaw: Like Ellen said, every year we pick new beneficiaries for our Kershaw's Challenge project. That's what we do every year…I'm just fortunate that we've worked with Behind Every Door and the Dream Center before, and we're going to continue to have them as beneficiaries. We have other projects that we're going to continue to do with them, but since they already had things set up for COVID relief and being able to provide meals, we just decided to do a quick two-week campaign and let people know that if you donate it during this time, it would be going to these two nonprofits. It was awesome. It worked out really well.

Ellen Kershaw: You know, the Dream Center is serving literally thousands of hot meals a day to families who, all of a sudden, are without jobs, without food, have all their kids home and not eating at school. And same with Behind Every Door, they're creating these care packages that they're delivering to people's homes with groceries, essentials, and hygiene products. And so, it's almost like we didn't want to recreate the wheel when we were trying to figure out a way to support people in need during this COVID time. We just wanted to partner with those who are already on the frontlines and have relationships built. So again, we love these organizations. We believe in them, and we trust them, and we're thankful that our donors trust us and know that we do all the vetting beforehand and know where their money can go.

The Kershaws with Arise Africa in Zambia. (via Instagram @kershawschallenge)

One of the things that Kershaw's Challenge and the Bush Institute have in common is a commitment to Africa. Tell us about your work there.

Ellen Kershaw: We love what the Bushes are doing over in Africa, even in Zambia, that's where Kershaw's Challenge all began for us. I started going there I mean, probably 15 years ago or something like that, and left a huge piece of my heart over there. And I always told Clayton, the first time you hug as Zambian child, your life is forever changed. Because it becomes about that one kid, and if you could just change the life of that one kid, then that was worth all the work and all the money and everything it took to get over there.

It becomes about that one kid, and if you could just change the life of that one kid, then that was worth all the work and all the money and everything it took to get over there.

Sometimes I think we get really overwhelmed by the massive blanket of poverty [in] Africa and all the need that is there. And so, I just think that's what we try to do with Kershaw's Challenge. It's one kid at a time, one life at a time then.

We've gotten to build a couple of orphanages over there, a children's home where these kids, about 30 of them now, 15 in each home, are able to be raised in a home that feels like a family. They have brothers and sisters and house parents, and now we're finishing up the school over there. That's been always the heartbeat and the cornerstone of Kershaw's Challenge, and I'm thankful that the Lord has kind of expanded our vision to Dallas and LA and the Dominican Republic as well.

Clayton Kershaw: Our beneficiary over there is called Arise Africa. And so, through them is kind of how we've been able to do all this. It started with one kid, and her name was Hope. I remember clear as day when I got a phone call from Ellen, from Africa just saying, "We need to help this girl. Do something more than just have her basic needs met." And now, Hope is thriving in one of the homes, and she's getting ready to finish up school and start thinking about a profession and things like this. Just to see where she was when Ellen met her, we think she was probably 9 or 10 years-old when Ellen met her, and to where she is now, it's just like Ellen said, just to see that in one kid is really special.

What's keeping you guys busy with the unexpected family time you've got right now?

Ellen Kershaw: Man, our three children are keeping us busy. We've been so spoiled having Clayton around. Usually this time of year, yes, we're in LA, but Clayton is on a plane every other week, and we just try to follow him and travel a lot. So honestly, we get a little antsy when we're in one place for too long. We don't really know what to do when we've been in the same place for months on end. So, we're ready to get back out there.

For us, it's just a big adventure getting to do baseball and travel, and our kids miss it. You know, they have baseball friends that we see at the games every night and in LA. So, we are eager to get back there. But, we also are savoring our time here with Clayton. We're not ready to give him up quite yet.