The lessons learned in high school often shape the base of how we deal with life's issues, whether those lessons were forged through athletics, academics, the arts, or any combination thereof. That life experience can be invaluable as we deal with day to day challenges, and can often be used as a positive force, whether we are office workers or parents, athletes or artists, teachers or nurses.
One great example of a lesson learned is being provided next week by Richie Sambora, a world class musician and songwriter who is returning to his roots and giving back to others. Sambora, who spends most of his time rocking the world as lead guitarist for Bon Jovi, has never forgotten the ties that were formed during his days as a basketball player and student at Woodbridge High School in suburban New Jersey. Those ties remain the fuel for many of his hit collaborations with Jon Bon Jovi, and these days have fueled a hit project of another kind ... assisting a young woman in his town slowed by a brain tumor and reaching out to his alma mater and its students in a variety of community projects to be unveiled this coming week.
The key philanthropic project is "You Can Go Home," which will help raise funds for Kelly Mahon, a fellow Woodbridge alum and honor student who was stricken with a brain tumor during her senior year in 2007. More than 5,000 students were invited to sell specially designed "You Can Go Home" keychains, and the student who sells the most will be awarded a $5,000 college scholarship by Sambora later this year.
Also that day, Sambora will return to his high school to dedicate the Adam Sambora Weight Room, named after his late father, which will help give the Woodbridge's athletes and coaches a state of the art facility in a time where public funds for such projects are scarce.
"The people I met in high school, my classmates, my teammates and coaches, really helped me build a lot of the base for success that we have formed as a band with Bon Jovi, and if I can do these things to help give back to those kids, and one special kid in Kelly Mahon, it's the least that I can do," he said recently. "Maybe the actions of the students will help inspire others to help out in their communities."
While most of his time these days are spent with the band and tending to his family in his adopted home of Los Angeles, the longtime Knicks, and Lakers fan, can still draw inspiration from his high school athletic experience, where his play on the court helped Woodbridge to the New Jersey Group 4 State basketball title as a junior. The school will also be retiring Sambora's number 11 at some point this winter, more as a thank you for all that he has done since his playing days for the community than for his time spent on the court, but a well deserved honor and acknowledgment nonetheless.
The fact remains that those lessons learned as an athlete and as a student have helped shape the work that Bon Jovi has done as a band in music and in their philanthropic efforts, and made Sambora's "You Can Go Home" a project that has already raised more than $125,000 and will inspire others through community service. All the details can be found at www.youcangohome.com.
At a time in America where many question the reasons or need for high school athletics and activity in lieu of budget cutbacks, the efforts of Sambora and others like him show that the time spent in those years can help frame a bigger picture for life success going forward, efforts that no one spent in a gym in New Jersey in the 1970s could have ever predicted. Those days not only shaped an artistic career that has influenced millions, but have also created a philanthropic program which will have a profound effect on young people on a local level going forward as well.
All things considered, a Hall of Fame effort for a skinny high school basketball player from suburban New Jersey.