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Professional Development

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The NBA Finals Begin Tonight: Why I Probably Won’t be Watching

Thursday, 04 June 2015 00:00

"What did you do after school?"

I rarely miss a chance to ask a prospective donor that question.

It's a great way to engage them immediately in thinking about the value of afterschool, as they reflect on how their personal out-of-school time experiences affected the person they are today. From there, it's usually a pretty quick jump to get them thinking about how they believe every child deserves have the same opportunities they had. Hopefully, a financial commitment to ensuring every child has access to a great afterschool program soon follows. Afterschool Fundraising 101.

So, back in 2010, when I had the opportunity to meet with an unnamed "celebrity athlete" to discuss his desire to start an afterschool program for at-risk kids in New Orleans, I was ready. Or so I thought.

Turns out the celebrity was NBA Star Chris Paul, who was at that time playing for the New Orleans Hornets. When I sat down with Chris, his brother, and his parents to discuss the details of his donation and the plans for the program, I was ready with my go-to question: "Chris Paul, what did you do after school?"

Given what he did for a living, I was ready for what I guessed would be his answer: Basketball, basketball, and more basketball. Right? Wrong.

Chris began by talking about his parents, and how they worked long, hard hours to support him and his brother, CJ. He grew up in North Carolina and was clearly proud of his mom's career working in the banking industry. But, he acknowledged, that meant she had to be at work early and stay late, so he and his brother were daily attendees at their school's before-school and afterschool program, most days arriving at 7:30 a.m. and staying until 5:30 p.m.

Nearly twenty years after the fact, Chris sat in that room and talked and laughed about the fun he had in the program. It seemed that one of his favorite memories involved him and CJ doing a dance routine to the Marvin Gaye classic "Heard it Through the Grapevine". (Much to the disappointment of those of us in the room, he declined to recreate that performance.) Equally engaging were the memories he shared of the teachers in the program. He fondly recalled "Mr. Juan" and talked of how he encouraged and supported the kids.

Chris' memories, and how those memories were at the heart of his desire to make this donation and offer these kids the opportunities he had, were inspiring. The words and the passion were what every afterschool leader dreams of when talking to any donor—particularly one talking about a six-figure donation. So, I did what every seasoned and dedicated nonprofit leader would do.

I cried.

I couldn't help it and I certainly didn't apologize for it, because Chris had captured what is so beautiful and significant about afterschool. It is the programs—the exposure to experiences and activities kids just probably won't get anywhere else. But it's the people, too—the thousands and thousands of "Mr. Juans" out there every day, doing their jobs to make kids' lives better by filling those out-of-school hours with time and attention from caring adults. That's what really makes the afterschool important asset it is to youth, to families, and to communities.

Long story, short: Chris cut the check, the CP3 Afterschool Zone was born, and the organization served nearly 200 youth a year at a school in the Central City community in New Orleans. And when Chris was traded to the LA Clippers a year later, he not only maintained his commitment to New Orleans, but he also began to support afterschool programs in Los Angeles. It's a great story about the transformative power of afterschool and the power of giving back.

When the NBA finals begin tonight, I likely won't be watching. Sure, LeBron's back at home and Steph Curry seems like a great guy (with a super cute daughter!), but my heart was with CP3 and Clippers. I'm sure Mr. Juan feels the same way.

Written by: Gina Warner is the president and CEO of the National AfterSchool Association.

Photo: Chris Paul was a frequent visitor to his namesake program, here playing a little one-on-one with a student.