Making an Impact with Local Youths

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

When the Thunder organization’s community relations department settled into its offices back in 2008, the phones had just been plugged into the walls when a call came through. On the other end was Chad Green from the City Rescue Mission.

Now the Vice President, Green remembers establishing that first contact with the organization so many years ago and recalls the steady relationship that has been built between the City Rescue Mission and the Thunder organization ever since.

Every year, the Thunder hosts a Thanksgiving dinner attended by the entire Thunder squad for the benefit of the 60 families, including 91 children that are staying at the mission. In 2012, the Thunder refurbished the mission’s gymnasium and built a learning center with the help of the NBA Cares foundation.

Families and individuals who would otherwise be homeless or hungry can stay at the mission and receive clothing, shelter and food, so the Thunder tries to support those there whenever possible. On Wednesday, the two organizations connected again, as Thunder Youth Basketball Coaches put together a clinic for a group of children.

“The City Rescue Mission has always been a very important community partner for us,” Thunder Community Relations Program Manager Debbie Williams said. “We’ve been working with them for probably the last six or seven years. It’s an organization that we love to support. There’s always great need here. There’s an opportunity to work with kids and we just have always felt that this was an incredibly special place. We love being out here with them.”

The coaches led the kids through dribbling drills, footwork and agility drills, layup stations and other skill-based activities. One teenager, Zack Hicks, was diligently working with the coaches to adjust his shooting form. Fancying himself a pretty good ball-handler, Hicks was intent on learning other parts of the game from the coaches running the clinic, all of whom played either in high school, college or professionally. Hicks was pleased with the instruction, but also reflected on being able to enjoy the game he loves inside the Thunder-refurbished facility.

“The first day I was in here, it was really amazing,” Hicks explained. “I was astonished by it because I didn’t really think it would be like this at the center we’re at.”

To Green, who has been involved in the City Rescue Mission’s partnership with the Thunder literally since Day One, opportunities to give the kids at the mission a unique experience that they otherwise might not receive are valued highly.

Hosting a basketball clinic – particularly one that mimics the Thunder Youth Basketball Camps being held this summer - at the mission’s gym helped the kids feel just like their peers at elementary and middle schools throughout Oklahoma City who get a chance to be a part of Fit Clinics during the school year.

“It’s hard to make the kids here feel normal,” Green said. “We’re really fighting for that. This is one way in which we can do that.  Even more so, we can make them feel special, make them feel appreciated and make them feel like they’re valued.”

“You can’t overemphasize the value of volunteerism and the community around people that are hurting,” Green said. “That can be even more said with a team like the Thunder. We’re at a gym that’s a product of the Thunder as well. Our kids get to come into a gym and feel like they’re a part of something bigger.”

When the Thunder Youth Basketball coaches were approached by Youth Basketball Coordinator Keeton Peery about the opportunity to volunteer at the City Rescue Mission on Wednesday, they all immediately jumped on the chance to give back. Peery was hoping for just a few volunteers, but ended up having a staff of six coaches to help him put the kids through workouts. For kids like Hicks who are serious about improving their games to the younger children who just wanted to have fun, the coaches helped bring some smiles to the mission on what was a very rewarding day for all those involved.

“These kids might not necessarily have the chance to come out to our camps, so it’s cool to come out to a place like this and bring a smile to the kids’ faces,” Peery said.

“They were amazing,” Hicks said. “They knew everything, knew every little step to help us out with. They were going easy on the little kids, but it’s the thought that counts. It’s amazing to have them here.”