Special Night at the City Rescue Mission
Jeremy Lamb raced around the gym, curling and cutting all over the floor. Instead of an NBA defender, however, it was a nine-year old girl named Jaylynn who was chasing him.
For the children at the City Rescue Mission in downtown Oklahoma City, even a simple game of tag can be the difference between another difficult winter night and a memory that lasts forever. 3,000 individuals step foot into the City Rescue Mission to receive food, shelter and care every year and on Monday night the entire Thunder organization made a visit to serve dinner, play games and interact with the hundreds in attendance.
Jaylyn was one of them, and when the Thunder players showed up, she could hardly contain herself.
“I was freaking out and I felt like I was going to faint!” Jaylynn said.
At any one time, there are typically 500 to 600 people staying at the City Rescue Mission, about 150 of which are there for a ten month program. The facility provides Bible study, job placement and tools to help people in need to get back on their feet, and has been a focal point for the Thunder’s community outreach effort for the past few years. On a night like Monday, just days away from Thanksgiving, the Thunder’s presence was a much needed infusion of energy.
“When you’re homeless, it can be pretty negative and depressing,” said Tom Jones, the President of the City Rescue Mission. “But for the Thunder to do this at the holiday season and charge these kids and these families to realize that they’re not alone and people do care about them and they’re willing to sacrifice to take their own time to hang out and have fun, it’s absolutely mind-boggling.”
Players, coaches and staff ladled food onto plates and then served it to awaiting residents of the Mission, as men, women and children all enjoyed a warm meal and the company of one another. While the coaching staff whipped up plates full of food, Perry Jones and Reggie Jackson moved as a tandem to serve them to every person in attendance.
Steven Adams, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook stopped to chat with the residents, while Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher played basketball on the Thunder-themed court with children. All 14 members of the team visited with groups of residents and individuals, sharing conversations and taking the time to get to know those who they were serving.
“That sort of an emotion, you don’t really see it,” center Steven Adams said. “It’s kind of touching just giving people food and bringing joy to them.”
“We’re thankful,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “We came out here to give and to bring smiles to other people’s faces who were less fortunate. A lot of us came from tough times, so giving back and seeing those smiles of genuine happiness to see us and brighten their days is a blessing.”
The Thunder is active in the community year round, but during the winter months it takes part in its annual Holiday Assist program, which makes an extra effort to give back. People in Oklahoma City community have donated their time, energy and hearts into supporting the Thunder ever since the team arrived in Oklahoma five-plus years ago, and ever since the connection between the organization and its citizens has run deep.
On Monday, the entire Thunder organization had a chance to return the favor to their Oklahoma neighbors, giving time, attention and love to those who need it the most during the time of year where holiday cheer is so important.
“I think they just enjoy knowing that people they don’t even know actually care about them enough to come hang out with them for a little while,” guard Derek Fisher said. “I’m part of an organization that not only says that they care about the community, but spends as much time actually giving back and getting into the community and being a part of it.”
The children in attendance enjoyed the evening the most, as Thunder players got into their element on the basketball court where they played some one-on-one with kids and taught them some skills.
For parents like Devin Tomberlan, who might not have the chance to give gifts this holiday season, Monday’s event at the City Rescue Mission was a treat not only for them but a chance for their children to feel unbridled joy during tough times.
“My sons are having a wonderful time,” Tomberlan said. “They got to play one-on-one with Kevin Durant… It’s really special. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s totally wonderful for them.