Shannon McFarland was born and raised in C-U with sports and community involvement as a way of life. A Douglass Park baseball field bears her family’s name, her dad Peter helped begin First String Little League over 20 years ago, and her mom Deberah founded the nonprofit Dream Girls Inc. aimed at empowering young women. Now McFarland is working to continue that family legacy through her Champaign Campaign.

McFarland grew up playing sports, played and coached volleyball while in college in Atlanta, and served kids in the C-U community as a site director for the Don Moyers Boys and Girls Club. In 2012, after finishing a master’s degree in Sports Management in Miami, this self-described “PR girl” returned to Champaign-Urbana and created Champion Diaries, a public relations agency. The business has allowed her to pull her sports and public relations experience together, and now she's developed the Champaign Campaign to build awareness of the programs her parents have established.

First String Inc. is a non-profit organization in northeast Champaign created by McFarland’s parents along with other family members out of a desire to provide kids in Northeast Champaign and Urbana with an opportunity to play little league baseball, have a positive sports experience, and gain tools to help them succeed well beyond the baseball field. McFarland states, “My dad loved baseball. He was my first coach, he was my brother’s first coach, he was my uncle’s coach...Baseball is his love, and he just wanted a vehicle to help these kids through life. They might not get it home, and they’re not going to get it at school...so he used sports.” Hundreds of kids have benefitted from First String since its inception in the early 90’s and the program has expanded to include basketball as well.

McFarland Field in Douglass Park. Photo by Champion Diaries

Dream Girls Inc. seeks to educate and empower girls and women of all ages. According their website, their mission is  to “provide leadership structure for females to become positive and responsible women with pride, courage, and grace.”

The Campaign kicks off with a networking event for participating businesses tomorrow evening, and culminates in an exhibition game by the First String Farm team at McFarland Field on Saturday. The community is invited to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day at the ballpark where there will be food, giveaways, music, community vendors, and more. The event is free and open to the community. Here is the full schedule for the weekend:

4/13: Networking event for businesses and nonprofits that have partnered with the campaign.

4/14: 6:15 p.m.- Movie night with Dream Girls Academy at City of Champaign Township building.

4/15: 10 a.m.  PYT (pilates, yoga, training) for women over 50, Douglass Park. RSVP to PR@championdiaries.com.

11 a.m.: Jackie Robinson Day at McFarland Field, Douglass Park. No RSVP needed, all are welcome.

If you’d like to be involved beyond the events of the weekend, you can sponsor a participant in either First String or Dream Girls. To sponsor a First String athlete for the season is $80, and a ticket for their annual trip to a White Sox game is $100. The cost to support a girl’s registration, study material, and and year’s worth of online coaching in Dream Girls Academy is $130. For more information contact McFarland at PR@championdiaries.com

Photos and graphics provided by Shannon McFarland and Champion Diaries.