June 11, 2009 - With an arsenal of dunks, shot-blocks and wide smiles, 76 students in grades 5 through 8 attended a two-day basketball camp this week in Erie, Pa., for free. ERIE Employees picked up the tab when they contributed to a fundraiser last fall for Charles "Chaz" Hollis.
Charles, a Home Office Employee for 18 years, lost his battle to cancer at age 46 in September 2008, a few weeks before the fundraiser. The Employee-organized event — a mix of live music, food and games — went on as a tribute and raised $3,790.
"Chaz knew so many Employees," said Carol Young, camp organizer and policy servicing specialist. "From the Home Office to Knowledge Park, Chaz had friends in nearly every area of the company. The camp was a collaborative effort of so many Employees who wanted to honor their friend."
Members of the Hollis family, including Charles’ brother Essie, a teacher and former NBA player, and nephew Damian, a star forward at George Washington University, were courtside at the Martin Luther King Center on Sunday and Monday. Essie served as the coach and referee for the afternoon camp.
"Our family is really close," said Essie. "Losing our parents was hard but losing Charles so young is one of the most devastating things that has ever happened to our family. Participating in this event in his honor is just incredible."
Essie added, "My brother was a good man. Hearing people talk about him makes you feel so proud. We’re grateful to the ERIE Employees."
The young dribblers received a "Chaz Hollis Basketball Camp" t-shirt, a basketball, food, drinks and pointers from the pros.
"With Chaz’s interest in sports, a basketball camp for kids just seemed like the ideal activity," said Young, who worked with Charles in Personal Lines Processing at ERIE and had known him since childhood.
A fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and St. Louis Rams, Charles played high school and college basketball and helped coach high school teams in Erie. He also worked for the Martin Luther King Center as a recreation aid for 11 years and tutored students at Pfeiffer-Burleigh as part of ERIE’s Adopt-a-School partnership.
Charles was not the only family member to support the Martin Luther King Center, which provides a variety of social services to residents. His father, the late Roy Hollis Sr., was involved in the center’s construction and helped pour the concrete floor for the basketball court. Now, the next generation of the Hollis family — some of Charles’ nieces and nephews — play there.
"Charles loved basketball, especially the Lakers" said Dottie Batts about her brother. "Essie was his hero."
Essie was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz — now Utah Jazz — in 1977. Over the next 13 years, he would play for the Jazz, Detroit Pistons, Rochester Zeniths and Spanish and Italian basketball leagues. The two brothers’ love of the game made them close over the years.
Batts said she admired her Charles’ thoughtfulness, his sense of humor, musical abilities and the close relationship he had with his nieces and nephews. "He always thought of others before himself," she said. "He watched my kids grow up and looked out for them. When my daughter was young, he would take her to lunch at Erie Insurance."
Shortly after he was hired, Charles took family members on a tour of the Home Office. "He often would say there’s no place like Erie Insurance," said Essie. "He was proud of where he came from, who his friends were, and where he worked."
After autographing t-shirts and basketballs at the end of the second day of camp, Essie praised the campers’ athletic abilities.
"I saw players with a lot of potential," said Essie, who lives in Coral Springs, Fla., and has taught elementary school for nearly 20 years. "It would be good if some older, more experienced players could come back and work with these kids. A lot of the kids just need instruction so they could continue to improve."
Essie said he also hopes Charles’ story will inspire others to get involved in their communities.
"Charles was always telling me how he met a kid, a nice kid who just needed some direction," Essie said. "He was always trying to reach out this these kids. A caring adult does make a difference. That’s what made a difference in my life and in Charles’ life, too."
Read the related article, Hollis holds court at camp, which appeared in the Erie Times-News.