Onyanga Dean (Parole Agent I) gets into a batting stance with equipment that was donated to Handing Out HOPE March 13 at the State Capitol.

Photos and story by Ike Dodson, PIO, OPEC

Steve Abrams is going to need a bigger shed.

An Administrative Manager at the California Office of Legislative Counsel, Abrams is also founder of the nonprofit Handing out HOPE. He operates the program that ships baseball and softball gear to underprivileged children out of his Elk Grove home and stores the equipment in a backyard shed.

Thanks to CDCR’s Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) running team, “Baker 2 Vegas Team #150,” Abrams’ shed is wall-to-wall bats and balls.

“That shed is stuffed to the gills,” Abrams said with a laugh. “I could not fit one more baseball in there.”

Assemblymember Jim Cooper speaks of the importance of organizations like Handing Out HOPE.

The running team utilized a year-long fundraiser at parole units across the state to collect equipment and ceremoniously donated the gear — 1,850 pieces — alongside California Assemblymember Jim Cooper at the State Capitol March 13.

Cooper thanked CDCR for contributing toward a program he believes in and listened to speeches from Abrams, Angela Kent (DAPO Assistant Regional Administrator) and Mireya Audet (Parole Agent I). Kent, Audet, Tina Rivero (Parole Agent I) and Onyanga Dean (Parole Agent I) were at the Capitol to represent Baker 2 Vegas. Parole Administrator Marvin Speed also made an appearance.

The group was warmly thanked by Todd Koolakian, Director of Philanthropy at the Sacramento Children’s Home.

While Abrams has some of the equipment already designated for shipment to the Philippines, Koolakian already received a bulk of it for Sacramento-area youth in need.

“The first priority in our organization is always the children living in our residential program, so we try to take care of them first because they are foster youth who have typically been through trauma,” Koolakian said. “Then equipment tends to go out to our community-based programs so we can have stuff available at our family resource centers.”

“These kids do not have resources to go out and buy this stuff, so whatever can be donated really helps our organization, and also helps these kids participate in sports and be normal kids. Letting them feel like normal kids is the biggest thing we can do.”

Handing Out HOPE founder Steve Abrams, Assemblymember Jim Cooper and DAPO Assistant Regional Administrator Angela Kent welcome guests to the March 13 ceremony at The Capitol.

It’s the kind of impact that Rivero was eager to get behind, considering her own path to CDCR.

“I grew up in an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, from ages 5-10 and groups like Handing out HOPE would come visit and give us American candy, shoes and sports equipment,” Rivero said. “We would always look forward to getting things from the volunteers.

“It put a smile on our faces and helped us survive.”

Rivero moved to the United States with her 11 brothers and sisters and found herself wielding the same equipment on youth softball teams in America until she pursued higher education and ultimately a career with CDCR.

When Kent suggested an equipment outreach to impoverished children across the globe, Rivero heartily jumped on board.

“It goes in a full circle, because I benefited from a program just like this,” Rivero said. “I was super excited to do anything I can to help out kids in less fortunate situations, because that changed my life.”

The 1,850 pieces of equipment included 380 uniforms, 160 caps, 54 gloves, 52 bat bags, 244 helmets, 330 baseball pants, 139 baseballs, 122 bats, 24 cleats, 103 catchers masks, 80 chest protectors, 116 shin guards and 16 batting gloves.

“It’s very cool to donate that much gear,” Dean said. “Every time you get to help out kids who are less fortunate than ourselves, it is a great feeling.”

Todd Koolakian, Director of Philanthropy at the Sacramento Children’s Home, thanks DAPO and Handing Out HOPE for a donation of sporting equipment.

A considerable amount of donated gear came via Vacaville American Little League and Parole Agent II Joey Moreno.

“My wife and I corresponded with a league manager and the league spent a day cleaning out their equipment trailer,” Moreno said. “We thought we would get two or three bags of stuff but they ended up donating 15 huge bags of brand new pants, jerseys, socks and catchers equipment.

“It was overwhelming support.”

The fundraiser was a unifying effort by Baker to Vegas, just 12 days before a grueling 120-mile Challenge Cup Relay that leads endurance runners across the infamous Highway 160, from Baker, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada.

“We are super excited for the run,” Kent said. “My co-Captains Tina Rivero, Onyanga Dean, and Rick and Mireya Audet, along with a team of over 30 fellow parole agent runners are ready for temperatures that will soar above 100 degrees during the day and below 30 at night.

“This is what we have trained for. The spirit of this race really matches our mission at DAPO to empower communities worldwide and strengthen them for future success.”

“As parole agents we are in these communities on a day-to-day basis, so we feel strongly about doing anything we can to steer kids in the right direction and prevent a life that could be led astray with gangs, drugs or any substance abuse,” Mireya Audet said. “It just comes back to what we do as a division.”

Abrams was all smiles while talking with DAPO reps at the Capitol and spent the rest of his day inventorying the plethora of gear as he stored it away.

“I love days like this,” Abrams said, overlooking the haul. “I wish we had more like them.”

He had better build a new shed first.

Parole Agent II Joey Moreno, Parole Agent I Mireya Audet, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Handing Out HOPE founder Steve Abrams, DAPO Assistant Regional Administrator Angela Kent, Parole Administrator Marvin Speed, Parole Agent I Tina Rivero, Parole Agent I Onyanga Dean and Todd Koolakian of the Sacramento Children’s Home are all smiles on the Capitol steps March 13.