With more than 30 years invested in the world of club fastpitch and a competitive fire that started it all in the athletic hotbed in Houston, the Impact Gold program has obvious markers of success.
Dozens and dozens of teams, multiple locations in and out of Texas, stellar finishes at national events – there’s no doubting the Impact’s reach. However, program director Jazz Jackson couldn’t help but feel a bit restless when she considered the big picture a couple of years ago. Could the passion and drive at the root of on-field accomplishments be directed at something greater?
“Be the Impact” had been the working motto of the Impact’s top-ranked 18u team (coached by Jazz’s father, KC Jackson), and like a fastball right over the plate, Jazz thought that was a theme her club could hit out of the park. So about two years ago, the “Be the Impact” foundation was formally started with the goal of broadening what players and coaches could do, and could change.
“I feel like in softball, there is so much gimme, gimme, gimme. Even in our organization, as we were becoming bigger, the impact in the community didn’t feel like there was enough, that we weren’t giving back enough, and that’s where it started,” said Jazz, who had a terrific softball career at LSU and coached at the University of Houston before taking the helm with the Impact. “We have all these teams, all this stuff – other organizations had ways they used to give back, and I didn’t like that more women weren’t benefitting from it. I specifically chose a path that helped women.”
Jackson makes it a priority every year to meet twice with coaches and players throughout the program and cement what the expectations are in terms of community service. In the beginning, it was a no-brainer as she saw a wave of cancer diagnoses rumble through the organization.
“We will go with our gut feelings (on who to support). We had five parents in our organization that I personally knew who got breast cancer – it shocked me and it hit home, three on my team, two on my dad’s, who were diagnosed and started treatment in the same year (2015),” she said. “Rather than wear the pink jerseys you normally do for breast cancer awareness – that year, took money and donated it. I thought if we could do it as an organization, that would be pretty awesome.”
The first time “Be the Impact” showed its full muscle was during a fundraiser for the Mission of Yahweh, a homeless shelter for women and children.
“Our players had an opportunity to sponsor a food drive for a local women and children’s homeless shelter. We collected food and diapers from family, neighbors and local businesses, and delivered all donations to the shelter,” said Molly Ellis, foundation board member and the person tapped by Jackson to focus the program’s outreach. “The girls then unloaded and helped the shelter administration weigh and organize the donations. Our Impact Gold players ended up donating 1,100 pounds of food and diapers; we then met the resident children in the courtyard and played softball with them for a couple of hours.
“The food drive will be an annual community service project for Impact Gold. We also made and delivered as a group Easter baskets to two local women and children homeless shelters. This summer we will help clean yards for elderly residents and do light repairs if needed. We also plan on partnering with local businesses and non-profits to help assist and provide volunteers for their events and or missions, in return, they sponsor our foundation with monetary donations to help fund travel for players with current financial needs.”
In the often-frantic environment of high-level club softball, the pursuit of a college career and the fierce competition that exists between (and sometimes within) teams can make it difficult to think of others. The “Be the Impact” foundation is dedicated to creating balance on that unstable turf, and to show each other the value of supporting each other now and in the future.
“We also have an intern program for our past Impact Gold players to come back and work with our current players,” Ellis said. “In the summer of 2017, we will have five past players interning with Impact Gold in marketing, strength and conditioning coaching, assistant coaching and entrepreneurship. These same past players will work with current players on college readiness.”
One of those players is Tori Vidales, a key player on the Texas A&M roster – as a junior, she had 50 career home runs and was hitting .359 entering NCAA Super Regionals play this May. She credits the Impact with not just fostering her growth as a player, but also fortifying her plans for after college.
“I’ve wanted to be in sports broadcasting world since high school. We played a lot of TV games with the Impact; they’d want to do interviews and we would sit down and talk, give them some background about our team,” Vidales said. “When I moved on to college, I worked with 12th Man Productions at A&M, so Jazz knows that’s my passion. She’s given me opportunities, asked me to speak at a coaches meeting to talk about my experience with the Impact and my journey through the program … how it shaped me, what I live by now, and the advice I would give to players.
“I tried to give them a sense of what happens behind the scenes, and not just what’s it’s like on the field. It was a great opportunity, probably 100 coaches; I talked in front of a lot of people who have an influence on the girls’ lives. Jazz also gave me the idea to start a blog, to get some experience and talk about softball.”
Jackson and the “Be the Impact” foundation is always on the hunt for ways to keep players actively getting better as athletes, while preparing them for the day when the uniform is put away.
“Our kids get something from this, seeing how you can get after and work for your own dreams,” Jackson said.
“It’s important for the athletes to know, once you are part of the Impact program, it’s important to buy in,” Vidales added. “The coaches know what they are talking about, they know the game, and they know athletes at this age because they’ve been at it so many years. Trust it and the rest will fall into place. You’ll learn how to respect the game, and you’ll improve your softball IQ. That’s why I support the Impact so hard – they gave me so much; they provided me with these opportunities.”
With a lot of activities percolating on the schedule, and a legion of young women ready to address concerns outside themselves, the foundation is motivated to fulfill Jackson’s vision.
“’Be the Impact’ will continue to raise money to help players in a financial need travel to the tournaments necessary for their success. We never want money to be a reason a young woman cannot continue with her dream,” Ellis said. “We will continue to empower young women, and keep them invested in the foundation. When they are personally invested, we hope they come back to Impact Gold and volunteer their time and talents to other young women that want to follow in their footsteps. Finally, we want to leave the foundation better off than when we found it. That is the definition of success.”