A former Michigan State University basketball standout is helping families across his home state have a happier holiday. Mateen Cleaves posed for pictures, chatted and joked with Grand Rapids-area families on Thursday at the first of six Family Fest events, which are part of his “1 Goal, 1 Passion: Hope for the Holidays” campaign. The event was held at the Paul I. Phillips Boys & Girls Club. Notable players from the Grand Rapids Drive were in attendance to help pass out gifts, including L.D. Williams and Kammeon Holsey.
Over the next week, families from Saginaw, Flint, Lansing, and Detroit will also be visited by the former NBA Detroit Pistons player and current commentator for Fox Sports Detroit and CBS Sports Network.A resource fair at each event connects attendees to local job placement assistance, budgeting and financial planning help, and healthcare information. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is a sponsor of all six events and will have staff on hand to answer questions about signing up for health insurance. Cleaves will be in Saginaw on Dec. 6, in Lansing on Dec. 8, Flint on Dec. 11, and he'll visit two Boys & Girls Clubs in Detroit on Dec. 12 and 13. For Grand Rapids residents Derrick Johnson and Laquita Hatchett, the extra help is especially needed at this time of the year. With two young children, Hatchett said the family will have a much better holiday because of the turkey and meal supplies they received. The Meijer gift card will allow them to be able to purchase small gifts that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Both expressed major thanks and respect for Cleaves and his organization for putting on the event.
“It’s such a blessing,” Hatchett said. Cleaves, who grew up in Flint, said his parents had a similar struggle. They could cover basic expenses for Cleaves and his four siblings, but extra holiday costs taxed their shoestring budget.“It was always tough around the holiday times,” Cleaves said. When he was drafted by the Pistons in 2000, his mom gave him advice that fuels his desire to help others to this day. She advised him that if he was ever in a position to give back, he should. Cleaves said he's constantly trying to find new ways to do more. His biggest thrill is to be there when families come out to collect their holiday items, share a meal, and maybe a hug with the basketball star.
“This is the fun part,” he said, gesturing to the gathered crowd. Wyoming, Mich., resident Wanita Montoya brought her six grandchildren to the event. “The kids were really excited to come,” she said. “I think it’s great that they do this.” Eric Large coaches the middle school boys’ basketball team at William C. Abney Academy in Grand Rapids. Large used to play basketball against Cleaves in high school and considers him a friend to this day. He brought his team to the event so they could meet a basketball and life role model. Large said the inner-city boys he coaches need to see positive role models. “It’s great for them to see someone who made it, who came from the same situation they’re in,” Large said. Learn more about Cleaves’ “1 Goal, 1 Passion: Hope for the Holidays” campaign here.