While attending a youth baseball game in June of 2017, Aldara Henderson noticed the patchwork uniforms and old equipment players from East St. Louis using.
She messaged her husband, Army Master Sgt. David Henderson, and sent him on a mission.
“She sends me a message and said, ‘hey, I’m at a baseball game, and these kids are playing in their school shoes, one kid’s in his shorts, they’ve got one team bat, their helmets are old. You need to call around and find people that have some equipment that we can get to these kids,’” said Henderson, 39. “I said I’ll see what I can do.”
Within a week, Henderson had secured about 24 pairs of cleats, baseball pants and other miscellaneous items which he distributed to players.
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“One kid I brought cleats to last year, he was wearing a size 9, and he was an 11. He was playing with his toes curled the whole game,” Henderson said.
They had a newfound confidence and they were going to be able to go out to the diamond and feel like they had a fair chance versus the teams that were better equipped.”
Henderson’s efforts have since expanded to Heroes The Care, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing underpriviliged youth athletes with newer and safer sports equipment.
Saturday, Henderson and other service members were at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis passing out gloves, cleats and other supplies to baseball players ages 10-13. Approximately 50 kids attended with each receiving a new bag and new or used cleats and gloves. Each team received a team bag, a new bat, balls and helmets.
“We also dropped off enough cleats and bags for their entire Redbird Rookie program, about 60 kids, as well as some helmets for those teams. We will return to distribute all of that when their registration ends in mid-May,” said Henderson.
Donations came slow at first, but it wasn’t long before Henderson realized Heroes That Care would have to apply for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. Then, the outreach initiative received perhaps its biggest boost.
“In the middle of it, Tommy Pham from the (St. Louis) Cardinals came across our fundraiser and had his agent call me, which I almost thought was a joke,” Henderson said. “He said ‘Tommy wants to help you guys out.’”
Pham donated 17 game-used, autographed items. In turn, Henderson’s group held an auction which raised more than $4,000.
“We were able to go buy more brand new stuff rather than take donations of used stuff and that really boosted us,” Henderson said. “We’re now making posts with Tommy Pham’s face on it and the Heroes That Care logo. I’m communicating with his agent every couple of weeks now.
“We’ve got a couple other events he’s going to do. He’s involved with us through his agent and it’s been a blessing.”
STL Youth Sports Outreach also has provided Heroes The Care with helmets, new bats and 15 pairs of cleats. Other companies such as Academy Sports + Outdoors and Johnny Mac’s Sporting Goods are pitching in as well, Henderson noted.
For Aldara Henderson, intervening on behalf of the young athletes was a matter of paying forward the good deeds that had benefited her in 2016.
Aldara was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and given four months to live. She’s still defying the odds and was at the JJK Center Saturday, overseeing one of the distribution stations. The couple has five children.
“She’s still here because of community,” said David Henderson. “This was our way of giving back. We had everyone forcibly showing up at our home and saying ‘we’re going to cut your grass, we’re going to bring you food, we’re going to give you money, we’re going to help you pay bills’
“Because of all the help we had, I turned to all these guys in uniform and said we need to find a way to give back to the community.”
Among the many aspiring baseball players who attended the event were Jaylen Hamtpon, 10, and Careem Lovett, 12, both students at Clark Middle School in East St. Louis; Jimi Sims, 12, who attends Lincoln Middle School in East St. Louis; and Justin Riley, 10, who attends Emge in Belleville.
“It’s really good,” Lovett said of the event and receiving the equipment. “We need it. It came in handy for them to come here and bring gloves for us and ball bags so we don’t carry all the stuff by hand when we’re hurrying up to get ready to go practice.”
Added Riley: “It’s really neat because some people don’t have enough money to get equipment. It’s good because the Army’s bringing stuff to bring out gloves and equipment.”
Andre Henson, 44, has coached the 12U baseball team in East St. Louis for four years, and lauded the turnout and the event itself.
“A lot of kids don’t have the resources, the families don’t have the income to afford the equipment,” he said. “A lot of parents, a lot of coaches, we donate out of our pocket at times. This is a great benefit, a great event for the kids who can’t afford items such as baseball gloves, baseball bats.”
People interested in donating to the organization or who need assistance with volunteers for events can e-mail HeroesThatCare@gmail.com. All donations go to support the community.