Dwight Howard Uses His Celebrity to Change Lives Across the World

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Throughout Dwight Howard's seven years in the NBA, fans and athletes have seen different sides of the charismatic superstar center. Off the court, he can be playful and personable, but when it's time to go to work and win basketball games, he can instantly become serious, even nasty.

But few people realize that the Beast also has a philanthropic dimension, which—like his game—goes way above and beyond what most would consider a very high level.

On Aug. 12 to 22, Dwight traveled to the United Republic of Tanzania to advance the agenda of his D12 Foundation, whose mission, according to its website, is "to plant seeds, cultivate them and watch them grow"—by "making a long-lasting impact on the lives of children worldwide."

Elaborating its vision, the D12 Foundation states: "With collaborative support of generous communities and partners, we plan to work with children's organizations in establishing programs that will plant seeds of generosity, encourage education, support leadership and inspire activity and health in the youth we reach."

With a grant of more than $80,000 to the Kipok and Lunguya Secondary Schools, D12 planted the seeds of improving education in the impoverished region. The money will be used to build a dormitory on the grounds of each school, allowing young girls to live on campus, where they will have three meals a day and be protected from rape and other forms of violence. "Our donation is just a start for the future of the youth in Tanzania," Dwight says. "If we can protect them while they obtain an education, we protect their future and the future of Tanzania."

During a visit to the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam, Dwight taught basketball skills, fielded questions about his life and delivered a motivational speech, inspiring students to dream big and achieve their goals through hard work and persistence—the same values that drove him to become a basketball powerhouse and international celebrity.

Through his altruistic endeavors, Dwight is showing young athletes how to properly handle success. At a time when he could have easily taken a luxurious vacation, he used his fame and social status to initiate and effect positive change for at-risk kids.

Doing good things for children in need is not a new thing with Dwight. In 2010, D12 began a sports and recreation program in Haiti to help alleviate the pain and trauma kids felt following the horrific earthquakes. And just this past spring, he was in Alabama, using his 6'11" stature to repair light fixtures and remove paneling, helping to repair and rebuild homes that were damaged or destroyed by deadly tornadoes.

Only a small percentage of people have the means to establish a foundation or the ability to donate large amounts of time and money to philanthropic initiatives that impact people's lives like Dwight has. But for those who will one day make it to the top, it's important to have someone to look up to as an example of how to use celebrity to effect change in the world. Young athletes need look no further than Dwight Howard.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock