james_jones_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

NORTH MIAMI — They may not be the teammates he usually shares a basketball court with but, on Tuesday, Miami Heat player James Jones welcomed the foster children taking part in the second annual Camp for Champions just like he would any other Heat player — with a round of high-fives

“Watch out for Bernie,” Jones said about the Heat mascot, who was greeting the 65 campers at the opening pep rally at Florida

International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus, 3000 NE 151 St., North Miami. “I know him personally. He’s crazy but he’s likes to have fun and that’s what we’re all about.”

The three-day summer camp is being held through this Thursday, July 19, and includes activities such as kayaking, basketball, kickball, and football. It also includes empowerment sessions for the children, who are aged 11 to 14.

Vaugh, 10, a foster child who lives in Homestead, and whose last name is not being used, said he gave Jones a high-five and looks forward to playing football with the other children at the camp. Derrick, 11, of South Miami, said he also looks forward to playing football this week and basketball too.

“I’m good at those two,” Derrick said.

The Camp for Champs is funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families, in partnership with the James Jones Legacy Foundation, Our Kids of Miami Dade/Monroe, and The Children’s Trust and costs between $35,000 and $40,000 to operate.

The camp aims to engage foster children in wellness and leadership activities that boost their self-esteem and give them the confidence they need to succeed in life.

Jacqui Colyer, director of neighborhood and community services for The Children’s Trust, asked the children to remember three things during the tree days of camp: don’t give up, pay attention and have fun.

Colyer said she helped organize the first Camp for Champions last year when she was regional director of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties for the Florida Department of Children and Families. The program was successful in Orlando and Jacksonville, she said, and the state agency wanted to bring it to South Florida.

Jones had already been looking to develop a program for children and said he was happy to take part in the Camp for Champions.

“Having mom at home every night was a norm for me,” Jones told South Florida Times. “It’s not the same for foster children. For a lot of them, athletes are their heroes, so it was a no-brainer to partner up.”

Photo: from left, James Jones, Nick Rubio