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The LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation host The Huddle to transform communities 

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The LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation host The Huddle to transform communities

LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation partners recently met in Akron, Ohio, for The Huddle, an inspiring event showcasing how bottom-up empowerment offers a better path to transforming communities.

LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation Are Empowering Communities

Professional athletes, philanthropists, and social entrepreneurs from across the country gathered together in Akron, Ohio, with a shared, and important, mission. They traveled far and wide to attend The Huddle, an event co-hosted by The LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation, that united more than 300 people, including 100 Stand Together Foundation Catalysts representing 90 philanthropic organizations across 32 states, to engage in powerful discussions about innovative, community-driven models having impact in their communities by empowering people to address the issues closest to them from the bottom up

The event's theme, "Every Person Empowered," was evident throughout the day. Panel discussions explored how we can empower every person to realize their full potential and live a life of meaning and purpose. Instead of top-down efforts that treat people as problems to be solved, The Huddle inspired attendees to live out the creed that people closest to the problems hold unique skills to solve them through people-centered solutions, collaboration, and inclusivity. 

It's a philosophy that's top-of-mind for LeBron James Family Foundation Executive Director Michele Campbell. She said she's had to drown out societal definitions of success and the demand for top-down planning in order to focus on the real task at hand.  

"We need to build relationships with every student, every family member that we have the privilege to work with and understand what 'better' means to them," she said. 

The event was intentionally hosted at House Three Thirty, a community center and job training facility at the heart of The LeBron James Family Foundation's work. It's a venue that embodies empowerment, employing I Promise students, parents and family members as they work to enhance their skills and find their passions, all while serving their community. The Foundation's community-building footprint in Akron also includes the I Promise School, the I Promise Institute, transitional housing at the I Promise Village and permanent housing at I Promise Housing, House Three Thirty, and an upcoming health center, I Promise HealthQuarters. 

The LeBron James Family Foundation is inspired by the NBA champion's charge to "do better … to go back into our communities and lend our hand. It starts brick by brick. It starts person by person. Family by family. Kid by kid." The work began 14 years ago with a simple approach of listening and responding, and partnering with the community to find solutions to the barriers they faced. 

Every community encounters unique problems, which means the solutions to address them also require a unique approach developed by those most closely experiencing the problem. By empowering communities to solve issues the way that works best for them, you get better solutions that bring lasting change. The work of The LeBron James Family Foundation is doing exactly that. 

"What animates the work of The LeBron James Family Foundation, what animates the work of Stand Together Foundation is that we believe 'better' is a moving target," said Stand Together Foundation Executive Director Evan Feinberg. "True empowerment requires connecting with each person's unique skills, circumstances, and purposes. Better is, instead of seeing people and communities for what they lack, seeing them for what they're capable of." 

By applying a set of principles to various challenges, Huddle participants showcased how empowerment works better.  

Rather than emulate preexisting solutions that continually fall short of reaching desired results, organizations like The LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation Catalysts foster a vision for community transformation by empowering people with untapped potential to address challenges within their own communities. 

The Huddle provided an opportunity to share lessons, encouragement and to expand on how social entrepreneurs are bettering their communities by empowering others to craft individualized solutions to the unique problems they face. 

The Empowerment Paradigm offers a better way to solve tough issues 

The event's focus on "Every Person Empowered" centered on exploring the profound paradigm shifts required to create communities where every individual can lead a life of purpose. Local leaders attended panels about how to operate with the Empowerment Paradigm in leadership, measurement, entrepreneurship, community transformation and more.  

It's an approach Stand Together Foundation has refined by working with hundreds of Catalysts across the country, including The Phoenix. The transformational organization fosters a free, sober, active community for individuals affected by substance use, anyone who chooses to live a sober life, and allies of recovery.   

"Everyone inside The Phoenix is building The Phoenix," said Scott Strode, founder and executive director of The Phoenix, during a panel discussion at The Huddle. "If we were 'closed doors' leaders who figured out stuff in a board room, The Phoenix wouldn't be where it is today." 

After three months, 83% of The Phoenix members are still sober and 83% of The Phoenix members report increased meaning in their lives. The Phoenix proves responding to the unique needs of individuals, communities, and organizations creates a framework for lasting impact. 

LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation Are Empowering Communities
BeGreat Together President Avrell Stokes prioritizes a goal of self-sufficiency in the communities with which BeGreat partners. His work with K-12 public schools is a prime example of "Every Person Empowered."

Empowering students is what drives BeGreat Together, an Stand Together Foundation Catalyst using the power of bottom-up to support K-12 public school initiatives. President Avrell Stokes, who also attended The Huddle, said empowering people gives individuals the freedom from societal barriers that would otherwise hinder their progress toward reaching their full potential. 

"We don't want to be needed. It's OK to be wanted, but we don't want our partners to need us," Stokes said. "That's really what we're leaning toward. Where people can look at themselves as changemakers, whether they have thought about that or not." 

Much like Stokes, many Catalysts voiced support for listening to individuals at the center of societal problems, rather than prescribing well-intentioned but misguided fixes.  

The Huddle offered a platform for real-time feedback, a concept familiar to DEUCE Community Co-Founders Campbell Lillard and Logan Gelbrich, who joined other changemakers in Akron. The two social entrepreneurs empower individuals who are system, substance, and housing impacted using developmental leadership environments, guided by shared feedback and accountability. 

"I think it's important to start with a premise that we really believe that leadership can be shared," Gelbrich explained. "That's based on the definition we have for leadership, which says that to be in leadership is to be accountable to results." 

At The Huddle, there was proof empowerment was working.  

"I have been empowered with the tools I've been given from The LeBron James Family Foundation, letting me know if I fall down, somebody's always there to help me get up, because we are family," said Victoria Young, a team member at House Three Thirty. 

The Huddle illuminated the path towards an improved, and innovative, paradigm shift in community empowerment. Throughout the gathering in Akron, participants reflected on the core principles that define themselves, and how they transform the community around them, so everyone can work together to eliminate their most pressing challenges. The resounding theme, "Every Person Empowered," repeatedly served as a call to action for individuals to contribute to a collective vision of meaningful and purposeful lives for all. 

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Individualized solutions result in lasting change 

The emphasis on understanding and responding to the needs of individuals, communities, and organizations creates a blueprint for lasting impact. The diverse voices and experiences shared during The Huddle underscore the urgency of adopting an Empowerment Paradigm in philanthropy, leadership, and community development. 

LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation Are Empowering Communities
Scott Strode of The Phoenix, left, Erika Mayer of LeBron James Family Foundation, center, along with Stand Together partner and former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, right, take part in a panel discussion on transformative leadership that challenges traditional models.

Former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, a Stand Together partner, finds fulfillment in providing mentorship and walking alongside individuals as they discover the freedom to act in their own way. In the past couple of years, Alexander has teamed up with Stand Together Foundation Catalyst Café Momentum – a restaurant employing justice-involved youth aimed at providing life skills and experience in the hospitality industry – to expand its restaurants to more cities that are home to an NFL team and demonstrate a better way to support our nation's justice-involved youth.  

"There has to be this mindset that everybody can be great and what greatness looks like is really individualized," Alexander said. "If I can encourage you to go be the best version of yourself, then we're going to be successful at something." 

Individualized success dates to Alexander's childhood, when he strived to match the excellence of his older brother. When he confided in his mother about his wish to be like his brother, she said he only needed to be "the best Shaun the world's ever seen." 

Continual openness to what defines "the best me" is what guides the "Empowerment Paradigm." It's crucial to see what communities are capable of and redefine measures of success accordingly. 

That rings true for Michael Thomas, the CEO of My Possibilities, a Stand Together Foundation Catalyst partner who runs an education and job placement program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He believes good intentions are behind the talk about what's best for people with disabilities, but it often doesn't consider individual needs and desires. 

LeBron James Family Foundation and Stand Together Foundation Are Empowering Communities
Grammy-nominated artist Aloe Blacc performs his hit songs for participants of The Huddle. The crowd sang along to his lyrics at House Three Thirty.

"At the end of the day, this community wants choice," Thomas said. "They want to be able to identify how they want to engage with this world." The lesson: Social change isn't achieved by top-down systems and potential is present in every person.  

If you examine the work of the Catalyst partners — our nation's most effective social entrepreneurs — you'll find a common thread: Their solutions are based on their lived experiences of serious challenges and proximity to issues that have created barriers for many. They create cultures in which people invest in each other as much as they invest in themselves. They lead with a deep belief in people and curiosity instead of seeing people as problems and seeking control. 

The event concluded with a private concert from Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc, who sang original songs, including "Wake Me Up" and "The Man." Blacc is a Stand Together community partner who is committed to using his music to enact social change in criminal justice and communities.  

The journey toward empowerment is ongoing, and each participant, armed with newfound insights, has the potential to transform their communities and contribute to a brighter, more inclusive future. The Huddle set the stage for a new era of community engagement in which meaningful collaboration and empowerment lead the way.  

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Stand Together Foundation partners with the nation's most transformative nonprofits to break the cycle of poverty. 

Learn more about Stand Together's efforts to build strong and safe communities, and explore ways you can partner with us.

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