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Making a Difference Pupils Help Roberto Clemente Foundation
by JILL CUENI-COHEN
April 14, 2004
Just mention his name, and generations of Pittsburghers reminisce about the glory days of Pirates baseball.
The reverence for Roberto Clemente doesn't stop with those who can remember the 1971 World Series.
When sixth-grader Alyssa Battin, of Valencia, was reading "Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente" for a language arts class recently, her mother mentioned that she had met Clemente's son, Roberto Clemente Jr.
"I had met Roberto via a friend and I told Alyssa about him," recalled Karla Battin. "She asked me if he could come to her class."
Battin hesitated until her daughter recited Roberto Clemente's own words:
"Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth."
"My daughter picked this quote out of the book and said, 'Oh, Mom, just ask him,' " Battin recalled. The next time she saw Clemente, Battin came right out with her daughter's request and was pleasantly surprised by his response.
"He said, 'OK, I'll do it. When?' "
The day after the Pirates April 6 home opener, Clemente arrived at Mars Area Middle School, thinking he would be talking to Alyssa's class and having lunch with a few pupils. He was in for a surprise.
After speaking to Clemente by phone, Alyssa decided the school should do something for him in return. She found out about the Roberto Clemente Foundation on the Internet and began a campaign to raise money for the nonprofit organization, which provides recreational and educational opportunities for disadvantaged youths in the Pittsburgh area.
Karla Battin approached Principal Richard Cornell about turning Clemente's visit into a schoolwide fund-raising event, complete with a raffle and essay contest. To get things started, Alyssa's father's company, Communifax Corp. in Marshall, donated $500.
"We solicited businesses for raffle items, and some were very generous," Battin said. The prizes included three lithographs donated by Pittsburgh sports artist Dino Guarino and tickets to Pirates games. Ten essay winners received a copy of a charcoal drawing of "The Great One," as Clemente was called, by artist Andrew French, of Connoquenessing Borough.
In five weeks, the pupils raised nearly $2,000 for the foundation. "They worked so hard, and they were the happiest kids knowing he was coming," Battin said.
Clemente was taken completely by surprise by the donation and festivities.
The eldest of Clemente's sons, he founded the foundation in 1993. "The foundation's main mission was to give kids a place to go [to play ball]. We plan to refurbish parks all over the city for all kids to enjoy," said Clemente, 38, who lives in Manhattan and is a sports commentator for Spanish-speaking ESPN.
"Every time I walk out the door, I have to talk about [my father]," Clemente told the rapt audience of about 700 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. "And every person I talk to has something nice and good to say about the man. That means he left a mark on this world, which is something we should all strive to do."
Educators and pupils found Clemente to be down-to-earth and approachable.
"He had a great time today with the kids. You could tell he liked being with them," said Stacie Magness, a sixth-grade language arts teacher who hosted an informal chat between Clemente and her pupils after the assembly. "At the luncheon, we had the winners read their essays out loud, and he was really touched."
The pupils, too, were affected by Clemente's visit.
"I've never seen anyone famous before. This was the most amazing thing," said sixth-grader Kelliann Galabinski. "He made me think that I can realize my dreams."
It was a lesson well-learned by Alyssa, who introduced Clemente at the assembly. "I'm still amazed that he said yes," Alyssa, 12, said afterward. "My friends keep saying, 'You're awesome, you know everyone!' But I just wanted to make a difference."
Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth.