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IRVINE, Calif. – From activities for kids to helping pay rent, Cynthia "Big Mama" Mendenhall does everything she can to support Watts and surrounding communities through her Watts Chosen Angels organization.

Because of those efforts, Mendenhall earned the distinction of being named the Rams' fifth playmaker honoree. She was surprised with a $5,000 check from The Los Angeles Rams foundation during an appearance on the main stage at the fan plaza at training camp.

"It's very important that the Rams work and recognize if you're important," Mendenhall said. "The Rams is here. The Rams is already in Watts. The Rams is in Nickerson Gardens. But now, since I sit down with everybody, they will be in Imperial Courts and join them."

A 501(c)3 nonprofit, Watts Chosen Angels' mission primarily revolves around serving foster care youth and families, formerly incarcerated, battered, homeless, and/or economically unstable youth and adults, the disabled, and their families. Its services include community resources and programs such as providing family reunification and (foster) parent coaching, prison community re-entry programs, housing and employment assistance, counseling and mental health support, immigration services, youth mentorship and development for boys and girls, utility bill aid, and LGBTQ support for youth and adults.

While the organization is stationed in Watts, Mendenhall said she works with Compton, Watts, South Central L.A., East L.A. – "whoever need us."

Mendenhall launched Chosen Angels Inc. in October 2021, but is a lifelong resident of Watts who has spent more than 30 years serving her community. That service has earned her an Honorary Doctor of Humanity Degree and many accolades and national recognition, including by the New York Times.

"I don't have a grant, but why I'm successful, why I have the number, is because it's my passion to help people," Mendenhall said. "I am those people. My mom was on drugs, the community took care of me. Now it's time for us to take care of them. When I was growing up the Black Panthers took care of it. The spirit I had with them serving me, changing my clothes, cutting people's hair – I have the spirit as well."

Beyond that support during her childhood, she is also motivated by the experiences that have shaped her in adulthood.

In that New York Times article, Mendenhall said she lost two children to gang violence in Watts. She is also an ex-gang member.

So for Mendenhall, inspire change means making a positive impact to prevent outcomes like those.

"I lost two kids in 60 days. I don't want to lose another child," Mendenhall said, her voice quivering. "I'm on the ground running, trying to say, when the brothers get out of prison, the Rams gonna be helping me with their life hopes. Let's get them to work. The ones on probation, felony probation, we're going to be giving them 300 hours so they can work and create a career. The ones on parole and random probation, we gonna send them to trucking school and different things in construction and anything else they want to do."

When it comes to inspiring change in our own communities, Mendenhall said we can do so simply by "supporting" – especially athletes who have made it to the highest level doing so by giving back.

"When we have athletes who have made it, we need them to come back," Mendenhall said. "Do Book Club – they don't know how to read. Helping with computers. Try to train Hispanic mothers on electronics, let's teach them how to run a computer so they can help their kids more. So I want Spanish classes, electronics, football camps, and different things, really, to reset the community. And let's make it like a family."

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