Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet is not the most famous young man to use his talent and drive to escape crime-and poverty-ridden neighborhoods. But he is one of the most recent, and he’s leveraging his success to try to guide children from his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, to follow in his footsteps. This weekend, he hosts a summer camp and fan fest in his hometown.
The Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau made VanVleet its first sports ambassador to aid in its sports tourism campaign, Bring Your Game 2 Rockford, launched in 2016. As sports ambassador, VanVleet promotes Rockford through his social media influence (more than 27,000 Instagram followers and over 45,000 Twitter followers), use of his image in promotional materials in traditional media and visits to the town for events like his summer basketball camp.
“It’s home for me,” VanVleet says. “Home is where the heart is for sure.”
VanVleet’s first official appearance as ambassador was at an NBA All-Star Game watch party to raise funds for youth
“I have a passion and a soft spot and sense of trying to change the way the city is and let kids live in a different environment than I came up in,” says VanVleet, who father died of gunshot wounds in 1999. “I understand the perception and I think part of what we’re doing is to change the narrative a little bit.”
After leading his high school, Rockford Auburn, to a third place finish in the 2012 state tournament, he guided Wichita State University to the Final Four in 2013. Being a non-drafted rookie who who made a difference an NBA playoff team only increased his heroic aura at home.
All proceeds from the fan fest and the camp go to the RACVB Foundation, a nonprofit focused on tourism and destination development for the city and Winnebago County. At the same time, it will be a legacy project for Rockford.
“Hopefully we’ll … turn it into eventually some kind of anti-violence type thing,” says VanVleet. “One of those good causes where we’ve got everybody from all over playing basketball and not worrying about anything else.”