UCSF Kicks Off Holiday Season with Tree Lighting and Community Award

San Francisco 49ers legends Joe Montana and Dwight Clark and R&B singer/songwriter Robin Thicke helped ring in the holiday season last week at the fifth annual 555 Holiday Tree Lighting, where UCSF's first community award was presented.

UCSF has participated every year at the tree-lighting event at 555 California Street in downtown San Francisco. At this year’s star-studded event, Mark Laret, chief executive officer of UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, presented the first UCSF Community Award to retired 49ers defensive back and NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and his wife, Karen, for their work helping children in need.

In 1989, the couple started the non-profit organization, All Stars Helping Kids, with the purpose of creating opportunities for low-income youth while breaking the cycle of poverty. They also helped fund a technology room at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, so that pediatric patients could virtually connect with other children with similar conditions, or escape from their ailments by exploring the world online.

“When Ronnie and Karen came in to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and talked to our kids, they asked, ‘How can we help?’” said Laret. “You quickly realize that this man who can hit so hard and run so fast on the field, also gives of himself just as hard off the field, especially when it comes to helping kids in need.”

Partnering to Help Children

All Stars Helping Kids raises money and reinvests it in organizations that help disadvantaged children in the Bay Area.

“This means a ton because Ronnie and Karen, they stand for a lot, but the biggest thing they stand for is the heart,” said All Stars executive director Kamba Tshionyi, who accepted the UCSF Community Award on the Lotts’ behalf. “They have the biggest hearts in the world, and are doing whatever they can to make the Bay Area a better place.

“We are incredibly proud to have partnered with UCSF Benioff’s Children’s Hospital for a very long time and to have introduced the technology room, but tonight we want to say thank you for this,” said Tshionyi. “It means a lot and as we go into this holiday season, I want you to think about your own hearts because Ronnie and Karen always say, anybody can be an all star when it comes to giving back.”

More than 100 people gathered for the event, which included performances by Thicke, Irish crooner Eoin Harrington and the Dick Bright Band, a local band that performed holiday music.

Montana and Clark also playfully recreated "The Catch,” a classic moment in American football in which Clark caught the winning touchdown pass from Montana in the 1982 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys that propelled the 49ers to their eventual Super Bowl victory that season. All American 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley was on hand to help with the reenactment by tackling 49ers mascot Sourdough Sam.

The evening culminated with Montana and Clark officially lighting the 80-foot Christmas tree, one of the tallest in San Francisco.

Photos by Leland Kim