On Tuesday, December 5, Rams safety JOHN JOHNSON III, defensive back BLAKE COUNTESS and tackle CORNELIUS LUCAS took a ride on Santa's Sleigh with LAPD officers as they distributed candy and gifts to kids. In what is becoming a community tradition, the Santa Sleigh ride serves as an opportunity for LAPD officers to form relationships with people in the community and bridge the gaps of communication that might have hindered those relationships in years past.
As an executive director with Operation Progress, a non-profit organization that strives to empower underserved youth to become educated, ethical and productive, Theresa Gartland has collaborated with LAPD officers to work with children to develop the skills necessary to lead a healthy and successful life while giving back to their community and contributing to society at large. She believes LAPD's "Santa Sleigh Ride" is such a unique way to bring joy and solidarity to the community during the holidays, especially with a recognizable organization like the Rams involved.
"It's a great way to see the community in a positive way. You're in this open sleigh, driving through Watts and you meet the kids and their families and they're so excited," said Gartland. "To have the Rams players on the sleigh was really phenomenal. Just to see the kid's reactions to the players and their faces, their spirit was contagious. The Rams are helping the kids of Watts see the police in a different way for generations to come and their impact will be huge. When you have a legitimate organization like the Rams, who are so down to earth and so giving, you're really able to get things done in the community."
Rams tackle Cornelius Lucas was thrilled to see delighted faces trickle out in the streets to the sounds of holiday cheers and enthused Rams players. Lucas believes that LAPD's 'Santa Sleigh' efforts are a useful way to facilitate positive relationships with authorities and the communities they serve.
"I had a blast. It's something I would definitely love to do again," said Lucas. "It was good to be out in the community and to see those kids and their smiling faces. Things like this can help bridge the gap between the authorities and how they're perceived throughout the community."
Lucas isn't the only player who wants to take another ride on 'Santa's Sleigh.' Defensive back Blake Countess and safety John Johnson III enjoyed their time serving as Santa's helpers, passing out candy and gift bags to youth.
"I had a great time. I'm first in line and next up to do it again," said Countess. "Kids were really excited and were running around and following us. I think it was great to provide that positive reinforcement to the community."
"It was great, everything is for the kids," said Johnson. "It's about giving back to the community and giving kids a positive role model to look up to and showing that we care."
As the creator of the "Santa Sleigh," LAPD Officer Ron Harrell has seen his idea evolve into a local tradition. He has seen the program grow from a few volunteers stuffing stockings during the holidays to a 5-day-a-week holiday campaign that has been embraced by the entire community and has received a lot of public support. He is hopeful the Rams' engagement can set a precedent for other professional sports teams to further immerse themselves in the Watts community.
"Every year the legend grows because more people know about it," said Officer Ron Harrell. "The kids were really appreciative the players came out themselves. We weren't expecting that. I've worked with other professional sports teams throughout my career, the Rams are really bringing it. I've seen what they're doing in this city. They're transforming this community and they're doing it on a wide scale with pride and dignity. Even though they just got here, they really are local rock stars."
For more information about the Rams community initiatives, please visit therams.com/community.