SALT LAKE CITY — When Al Jefferson grew up in his small Mississippi town of Prentice, school supplies weren't easy to come by.
Now a successful adult — one with millions of dollars, at that — the newest member of the Utah Jazz is making sure a few dozen underprivileged Utah children and their parents no longer have a similar concern.
On Thursday, Jefferson met, chatted with and delivered scholastic-friendly backpacks loaded with pencils, notebooks, scissors, glue and the like to about 40 pumped-up kids and dozens of equally pumped-up parents who live at The Road Home-sponsored Palmer Court.
"I just figure," Jefferson said, "it's one less thing for them to worry about ... (so they can) focus more on school."
It was Jefferson who paid for the supplies and whose camp contacted organizers of the affordable housing facility, which provides permanent shelter for formerly homeless families in a transformed hotel on Main Street.
"I love kids. They (are) our future. It's all about them, so why not give back to help them?" the 25-year-old big man said. "I've been blessed. It's my turn to bless people — that's the way I look at it."
"Thrill of a lifetime" was the way those attending seemed to look at it after they got to rub shoulders with Jefferson, who continues to win over fans in Utah since being traded from Minnesota.
"I think it's a really big deal for our kids who've struggled and had such adversity in their lives to have such a prominent community figure come down and want to do something special for them," Celeste Eggert, the Road Home's director of development, said. "It's just a great opportunity."
Emmanuel Hale, a 14-year-old East High student, was among the many smiling kids who got a chance to meet one of their new favorite Jazz players. Along with handing out the new backpacks in a balloon-decorated gathering room, Jefferson participated in a Q and A session with the youngsters, posed for pictures with each child and autographed photos for the youths.
"This is going in a picture frame on my wall. I'm serious," Hale told his friends after receiving his signed prize.
Hale called the experience "awesome" — and didn't feel much remorse for skipping out on football practice.
"It means a lot because he actually cares about other people besides himself," Hale said. "(He's) in that rich, high-society life, (but) he also cares about the people in the ghetto."
This was the first of multiple trips to Palmer Court that Jefferson plans to make throughout the year. He has offered to provide more school supplies and hopes to play basketball on the outdoor court the Jazz previously donated to the center.15 comments on this story
"That is really exciting for these kids to know that somebody cares enough to invest some time in them," Eggert said. "And it's not just a one-time thing. He wants to come back and do some things with kids."
As for his job, Jefferson said he and his teammates continue to "bond." Many Jazz players, who begin fall camp in 21/2 weeks, recently spent time working out together at the Peak Performance Project training facility in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Added Jefferson: "We're feeling more and more like a family every day."