For the second straight year, members of Mount Pleasant AME Church don their bright orange t-shirts and khaki pants and head into volunteer at the concession stands of Joker Marchant Stadium.
They greet each baseball fan with a smile and finish with “have a nice day” or “enjoy the game” after the sale of every hot dog, nachos or other ballpark classics.
By the end of this season’s Detroit Tigers Spring Training, the volunteers will have raised plenty of money for their church to help serve its community and its youth.
They arrive at the stadium early in the mornings and work for hours serving thousands of people through the duration of Spring Training.
And the reason for their work is simple: Community service is the fundamental pillar of the 360 Willie Horton Greater Lakeland and Central Florida Community Partnership program.
William Wattison Horton is a former professional baseball player who spent the majority of his 18-season career in a Detroit Tigers uniform.
By his retirement, Horton had become a Detroit legend, not simply because of what the powerful right-handed slugger added to the team, but because of his activism off the field.
In 2000, the Tigers honored Horton by retiring his number, 23, and placing his statue near the left-field wall of Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan.
Horton’s love for the Tigers motivated him to extend his legacy and create an organization that could bridge relationships among those in the community.
The former left fielder and designated hitter founded the non-profit 360 Willie Horton organization to introduce leadership into the community and strengthen bonds between churches, schools and athletic organizations.
“I believe the commitment between the city of Lakeland, Polk County and the Detroit Tigers, whose professional partnership spans 90 years, is a model that should be duplicated throughout the nation,” Horton said in a letter to the community.
In addition to its relationship with the Tigers, Horton’s foundation has created partnerships with the Orlando Magic, the Tampa Bay Rays and other organizations in the Central Florida area.
It utilizes these connections to create youth sports leagues, educate communities, create senior citizen programs, and aid in career development.
The 360 Willie Horton philosophy “Many Hands, Light Work” is personified through the Mount Pleasant volunteers who work together to bring positivity to areas that need it.
“It’s good to be a role model and help raise money for your church,” said Ralph Johnson, one of the concession volunteers.
That’s the essence of Horton’s vision for his foundation.
It emphasizes teamwork, something Mr. Horton defines as individuals working together for the good of all.
“The strongest people aren’t always the ones who win,” he said.
He encourages his members to demonstrate courage, determination and to continue in the face of opposition.
360 Willie Horton is a foundation that merges the worlds of sports and community service to facilitate change and make a difference.
Because Horton believes committed citizens can change the world.