IIF Volunteer Spotlight: CJ Clayton

CJ Clayton is a long-time volunteer for the foundation, especially for the Chicago All Star Camps. Here is her reflection on IIF.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

Although I grew up and went to high school in Crete, Illinois and live there now with my family, I've lived all over the country since my graduation from Purdue University. While at Purdue I studied communication and was fortunate enough to do an internship under Michael Veeck at the Chicago White Sox. The next several years of my career were spent doing public relations work for various professional sports teams including the California Surf, NASL Championship Chicago Sting and the Memphis Americans. During that time I had the opportunity to meet, interview and work with a large number of professional athletes.

I've always done volunteer work, which started at Purdue when I was the Vice President of Service for the national service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. My first charitable work after college was with Harvey-born comedian Tom Dreesen, where for 15 years I handled the public relations for his annual fundraiser "A Day for Darlene" which was named for Tom's sister, Darlene, and benefited the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Part of my job was to work with all the celebrities who would come in annually for our 3 day fundraising event. I got to meet and work with all kinds of wonderful professional athletes, actors and actresses and musicians. That list included some very well known people: Jim Brown/NFL, Jim McMahon/NFL, Mike Schmidt/MLB, Boom Boom Mancini/Boxer, Smokey Robinson/Singer-Songwriter, Frankie Avalon/Singer-Actor, Dennis Farina/Actor, Betty Thomas/Actress, Adam Baldwin/Actor and athlete turned reality star, Bruce Jenner among others. They all donated their time to be part of this annual event and over the years we raised millions of dollars to help find a cure for MS.

I currently work as an independent marketing communications consultant for a small group of clients for whom I do the creative work for their business. I do everything from writing strategic marketing plans, creating ads, designing and securing corporate giveaways to writing and producing radio and television commercials like the ones done recently with former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. Additionally I've been coaching high school varsity cheerleaders for the past eight years where my cheerleaders have become "my girls" since I have two sons and no daughters of my own.

I volunteer on a number of committees at Illinois Lutheran Schools and have worked charity events for the NFL Alumni Association/Chicago, ABCD (After Breast Cancer Diagnosis) and Dwyane Wade's Wade's World Foundation.

How did you first hear about the Israel Idonije Foundation?

I learned of IIF through Izzy himself. I met Izzy through a mutual friend who invited me to Izzy's football camp. After talking with Izzy I realized what a special, down-to-earth and selfless young man he was. Having worked with celebrities throughout my career I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly and Izzy is BETTER than good! He impressed me from the first time I met him and I knew I wanted to use whatever skills I had to help him grow his work and so I invited him to do some TV and radio commercials for my one-time grocery store client, Moo & Oink. While some of the Bears players poked fun at him for doing Moo & Oink commercials, between those commercials, his exemplary play on the football field, his work in the community and a wonderful Foundation staff, his popularity and exposure in Chicago grew as did my involvement with IIF. My client, Moo & Oink became a sponsor of the IIF football camp feeding all the camp attendees for several years and I was one of the ones happily serving the food.

There are a lot of great causes to support, what made you select the Israel Idonije Foundation as a cause you believe in?

There are lots of great causes and I support as many as I can with my God given talents and/or connections. My dad shared a life lesson with me as a teen that I now understand and that stays with me today. He said, "Never give of your time, your talents or your money expecting to 'get'. If you give to get, you're setting yourself up for failure and giving for the wrong reason. Give because you CAN and because when you lay your head down on your pillow at night you know you have been the best person you can be for that day."

As I mentioned, I have been privileged to work with a great many celebrities throughout my career and I can say quite honestly NO ONE has ever impressed me as much as Izzy has with his selfless efforts! He is genuinely one of the most giving people I've ever met and the fact that he's a professional athlete with tremendous demands on him, impresses me even more. When I took him to guest lecture at Columbia College in their sports journalism class, one of the students asked him if he'll miss football when he's done playing. His answer shocked me and was one I feel few pro athletes would ever give. He stated, "I've never let football define me. I'll be ready to move on to the next phase of my life working with kids full time when my football career ends." That statement showed me a lot about his character and impressed me as well as the room of students and professor with which he shared it.

How have you seen your donation make an impact?

I have seen my donation of my time and various resources, including those of my clients, used to benefit thousands and thousands of young people. I've watched kids' faces light up when Izzy walks in a room and knows them by name. I've watched them receive awards for academic achievement from former Mayor Daley and I've seen kids fed and taught skills that will last them a life time.

What would you say to others to encourage them to support the Israel Idonije Foundation?

I would say if you've ever met or watched Izzy, you would know he's the "real deal". He's someone who does things for the right reasons and has surrounded himself with the same kind of people who give of themselves to help better the lives of others. Anyone who wants to know their time and resources are being used wisely should support the Israel Idonije Foundation.