MVP: Most Valuable Piper
Having tackled the challenges of being a teen mom, Thelma Randon laid down some general ground rules for her only daughter.
They were clear and non-negotiable.
No lipstick, mascara or other makeup before 15. No dating before 16. Go to school. Do your homework. Respect yourself. Respect others.
Piper Riley knew better than to go against her mother.
“I couldn’t fight,” she said. “I would lose that battle.”
At age 33, Denver native Piper Billups now has three daughters of her own, and she is preparing to serve as a mentor and role model to girls outside her immediate family. She recently launched the Spread Her Wings foundation to provide guidance and support for a generation of "tweens" facing the challenges of becoming confident, responsible young women.
Through a partnership with Denver Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools, Billups will select up to 16 “at-risk” 6th- and 7th-grade girls to take part in the program. After reviewing applications and conducting final interviews, she plans to hold the first meeting Feb. 6, 2010.
“My ultimate goal is to make them successful young women and role models,” Billups said. “Hopefully they’ll make an impact on not only their community, but the world. You can be anything you want. You can be the next Oprah.”
The Spread Her Wings foundation was inspired, in part, by Billups’ experience raising Cydney (12), Ciara (9) and Cenaiya (3) with her husband, Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups. As a sixth-grader, Cydney is at an age when a girl’s body starts changing, her emotions start zigzagging and her peers become more influential, for better or worse.
“Boys will make fun of you, or they’ll start to like you. There’ll be girls that used to like you that don’t like you anymore,” Piper said. “Girls can be catty, women can be catty. Your self-esteem can either grow, or it can get shattered in middle school. It’s just how you deal with it.”
In an effort to help ease the transition, the Spread Her Wings foundation will offer etiquette classes, nutrition classes, yoga and Pilates.
“Being healthy and working out is good. I think it boosts your self-esteem,” Piper said. “Looking good is cool, but I think inner beauty is better. We’re going to work on that, too. A lot of these things, boys may go through but I don’t think it’s as serious. Girls are more emotional. They’re more sensitive. They have hormones they don’t understand.”
A graduate of George Washington High School and Metro State College, Piper Billups always wanted to invest in a cause close to home. Over the course of Chauncey’s 13-year NBA career, she and Chauncey stayed active in the Denver community during the offseason, but his trade from Detroit to the Nuggets on Nov. 3, 2008, created an opportunity to do more.
Having been away from Denver and the inner-city atmosphere for so many years, Piper lost touch with some of the more difficult issues facing young girls. She received a stark reminder when seeing girls dressed in gang colors and sporting tattoos at a basketball game at the Hiawatha Davis (formerly Skyline) Rec Center.
“It was a wake-up call because I was pretty naïve,” Billups said. “Leaving (Denver) for a little while, I guess I forgot about it.
“Most of the time when kids want to join a gang, it’s because they want to belong somewhere. I would rather be that outlet to belong to. With a gang, there’s two places you can end up: in prison or dead. That’s just the reality.”
Spread Her Wings certainly will offer better alternatives. During the monthly meetings, Billups plans to take the girls to the theater or to a museum. Community service projects, tutoring sessions and stress-management courses also are on the list of potential activities.
Stephanie Sandler, a senior vice president with the Giving Back Fund, has been working closely with Billups as the foundation gains momentum. Though it’s somewhat unique for an athlete’s wife to have her own foundation, women often are the unsung heroes of many charitable organizations.
“Within philanthropy there’s a lot of discussion of getting women involved,” Sandler said. “What I’ve told people is, they’ve always been involved. They’re just very quiet.”
Because of her husband’s success on the court, Piper has grown accustomed to being known as “Chauncey’s wife.” She doesn’t mind the reference, but the Spread Her Wings foundation will give her a chance to fly solo for a change.
“She’s doing something that I’m sure a lot of other wives want to do,” Chauncey said. “She wants to do something meaningful and she’s trying to give back and make a difference. She’s really like a pioneer. I’m very proud of her.”
Piper spent much of the Christmas break reviewing applications of potential Spread Her Wings candidates. Girls in the program must carry a 2.8 grade-point average in middle school and a 3.0 GPA during high school. They also will be required to complete 20 hours of community service during the year.
The guidelines are clear, non-negotiable and difficult to dispute.
After all, they worked out pretty well for Piper Riley.
For more information, please visit www.spreadherwings.org.