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Spencer Jones serves the local community through the BIG Homie Project

Fifth-year men’s basketball player Spencer Jones has made an impact on the court during his time on the farm. The 6-foot-4 forward has made the most three-point shots in Stanford history and has averaged double-digit points over the past three seasons. But locally, Jones will be most remembered for his community service off the field.

Jones has spent years impacting youth from marginalized backgrounds through the BIG Homie Project, a nonprofit organization that provides mentorship and opportunities for East Palo Alto youth. Every winter, the BIG Homie Project partners with Stanford basketball players to shop for Christmas gifts with kids. Rather than putting minimal effort into the experience, Jacqueline Diep, founder and CEO of BIG Homie Project, told the Daily that Jones was committed from the start.

“I actually remember him from the toy drive we did. Ultimately, he could have just gone with the flow and done the bare minimum,” Diep said. “However, he was one of many players who was involved and really connected to the student he was with. (That student) will remember that for the rest of his life and be inspired by that experience to do more,”

Jones has long been outspoken about the importance of athletes’ mental health and the pressures that come with playing professionally. Diep, inspired by Jones’ advocacy, invited him to Ravenswood Middle School to speak to students about mental health.

“Low-income people aren’t focused much on mental health because everyone is just struggling to make ends meet,” Jones said. “A lot of these kids think these elite institutions are out of reach. So if there’s a way to bridge that and get someone affiliated with Stanford to open their eyes to (the possibilities), that motivates them to put effort into school,” Jones said.

His volunteer work and advocacy at Diep opened up other opportunities for Jones to get involved in the community, including spending his Saturdays coaching basketball with Remi Sobomehin, founder and CEO of Ambition Angels, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization that helps underserved youth thrive in college and beyond.

“You can’t be what you don’t see. Every time a person of color comes back to a community of color, it shows people that it is possible (to succeed in life),” Sobomehin said. “Spencer’s message is not only about the hard work it takes to be a collegiate athlete, but also about what it takes to be a student at a school like Stanford.”

Jones’ emphasis on education is also evident in his views on how changes in collegiate sports are changing the priorities of college athletes.

Since 2021, when the NCAA implemented its current NIL policy allowing student-athletes to capitalize on their personal brands, Jones has advocated prioritizing educational pursuits despite tempting NIL income opportunities.

“One of the negative sides (of NIL) is that it keeps children away from higher education, especially if they can’t really afford it (university). Now you can make money in other places. How are you going to tell a kid who has been in financial trouble for most of his childhood to give that much money to a college? Jones asked. “It’s something that needs to be emphasized today that Stanford athletes engage with (underserved youth) and teach them the value of (Stanford) and build human capital instead of just going for the gold.”

As a woman of color and a former foster youth, Diep said she especially appreciates Jones’ commitment to helping at-risk youth.

“Stanford athletes have been a great partner and are always willing to get out in the community and show their faces,” Diep said. If you look at the data, there aren’t that many minorities at Stanford that are black and brown people. So for me it’s really important to show kids, ‘You can be just like them.’” Diep said.

A major contributor to Jones’ success in his community service efforts is his genuine desire to give back. He believes volunteering has given him meaningful relationships and real connections.

“I feel like the older you get, there’s a bit of inauthenticity in your daily interactions. Especially when you play professional sports, you always have to worry about what someone is trying to get from the (other) or for their network or company,” Jones said. “People can be sincere, but there’s always ‘This person is talking (to me) because they want something.’ Volunteering wipes all that away. It’s a pure kind of interaction,” Jones said.

Now that he has been taken in the NBA draft, Jones hopes to invest a significant portion of his professional life into generating his own nonprofit, and he wants to develop long-term and sustainable service efforts.

“I want to see where these kids end up and what I could have done better before I start doing my own thing,” Jones said. ‘I want to do something with long-term value. I just have to figure out how to do that with professional basketball,” Jones said.

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