Commentary

Villanueva: 'It's a privilege to be able to give back'

Updated: December 3, 2008, 12:07 PM ET
By Charlie Villanueva | Special to ESPN.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva has been named the recipient of the NBA Community Assist Award for August of this year, in recognition of his efforts in the community and for his ongoing philanthropic and charitable work. It is the second time Villanueva has won the award. The Charlie Villanueva Foundation (CVF) supports programs that provide guidance in creating non-violent solutions to the challenges and problems associated with bullying. We asked Charlie about the non-violent solutions provided by his foundation.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Villanueva
Nevarez Communications Villanueva takes a hands-on approach during a 'Feed the Children' event in New York City.
I believe one of the most important responsibilities as a professional athlete is to give back. You can't forget where you came from. There are many children all throughout the world who are being raised in similar neighborhoods like I was, where you can easily lose focus with the negativity that surrounds you. I have a strong belief that it is important these kids don't lose hope and they stay on the right track in order for them to accomplish their goals. This lack of hope discourages children in many ways and this is what motivates me to keep hope alive.

I grew up in New York City, in a neighborhood called Elmhurst, in Queens. I didn't have an easy childhood. I tried to make the best of things despite the fact that I was surrounded with kids my own age selling either drugs or committing other crimes.

I thank God and my parents for helping me stay away from the inner-city dangers and negativity. I had some rough times, especially during my early teen years. As you may already know, I lost all of my hair at the age of 12 due to a skin condition called alopecia areata. I use to try to hide it, but when you're attending public school in New York City, it isn't easy. Some kids have no shame or respect in making fun of you. There were a lot of kids that would make fun of me just because of the way I look.

Bald is Beautiful

Charlie Villanueva has suffered from alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that results in hair loss and baldness, since he was 10 years old. In February 2007, ESPN.com featured Villanueva's work with the National Alopecia Areata Foundation with a story by Anna Katherine Clemmons and a video of one of his pregame meet-and-greet sessions with children afflicted with the disease.

Story | Video

I got teased every single day during my early teen years. I'm thankful that I was able to use basketball, introduced to me by my older brother, as a tool to be able to forget about my condition. At an early age, I was naturally gifted with the talent to play basketball. I had the other kids looking at me more as a good basketball player versus a kid with a skin condition problem. Because I found basketball, it helped me overcome my condition. I want to make sure I tell my story and encourage other kids not to lose hope no matter what they're dealing with. Just the same way I overcame, they can overcome.

There is a God out there, so don't stop believing in yourself and in a better tomorrow.

My childhood experiences have led me to provide youth with motivation and assist them in making positive changes in their lives, communities, and reaching their personal goals.

That is the sole reason why I started my foundation, called The Charlie Villanueva Foundation (CVF), three years ago. The CVF has three main areas of focus: supporting programs that help eliminate bullying, assisting families affected by alopecia areata, as well as assisting families in the poverty-stricken Dominican Republic. The CVF intends to create outlets of self-expression and growth through education, literacy, health, recreational activities and sports with an emphasis on youth.

We've created programs like "Charlie's Angels on the Road." Before each road game, we invite groups of kids and their parents to watch the pregame shootaround from the courtside seats. It's like a special meet-and-greet, where the kids also get a chance to ask me questions and take pictures. I sign autographs, and at times we give them Charlie's Angels t-shirts. Over the course of the last three seasons, I must have encountered over 2,000 kids because of this program.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Villanueva
Nevarez Communications The shoes Villanueva's foundation distributes in the Dominican Republic are always a hit.
Regarding specifically the bullying prevention, we work with public schools in my NBA city of Milwaukee and home city of New York in order to come up with different creative after-school programs that state the clear message of "Stop Bullying." I relate so much to being bullied that I feel obligated as a human being in helping reduce the bullying that takes place in public schools. My motto is if you can decrease bullying, you can increase education.

Another program I'm proud of is the recent launch of "Tenis Para Niņos" (Sneakers For Kids), where we partnered with other organizations like SolesUnited, Feed The Children, and UNICEF, and we donated a vast amount of 10,000 pairs of shoes to those children in need in the Dominican Republic. I'm so thrilled I was able to go down to my beautiful country, Dominican Republic, and give back to my people. I had a great time down there. We went there on Labor Day weekend in August 2008 and we visited the cities of Puerto Plata, Cabrera, Nagua, and Santiago. There were thousands of kids filled with joy just from getting something a simple as footwear. It brought happiness to my life. And I intend on continuing the poverty-relief support efforts in Dominican Republic for years to come.

I do what I do because of who I am and what I've been through. Everything happens for a reason; and if it wasn't for my hard growing experiences, I wouldn't be the man I am today. I've been blessed and it is a privilege to be in a position to give back.