With her two young boys bopping along right at her heels, 19-year old Kerstin Gonzales raced into the offices at Sunbeam Family Services on Monday, stopping by for a meeting.
After sitting and waiting with her boys for a few minutes, she suddenly sensed a figure stroll behind her chair, and as two large hands tapped her on the shoulder, Gonzales turned around to see Russell Westbrook’s signature wide grin. The initial shock of seeing a Thunder player didn’t last long, because as the Thunder point guard introduced himself, he told Gonzales that he had a surprise for her – a brand new car. At first, Gonzales was skeptical, but as soon as Westbrook pulled the keys out of his pocket, she broke into tears.
“Are they playing a prank on me or something?” Gonzales said of her initial reaction. “When he showed me the keys, I was like ‘this is real’. That’s when I started to cry because it’s been such a hard time.”
“There were definitely tears of joy and I could tell some tears of hard work and all the different things she’s been through in her life,” Westbrook said. “Today was a stepping stone in showing her that everything is going to be alright.”
Gonzales and her two boys, four-year-old Matthew and two-year-old Adam, have had a rough go of things lately. The single mother was just 14 when she got pregnant, as she said, “just a child” when she all of the sudden was forced to be an adult. Gonzales has been the recipient of Sunbeam Family Services assistance for some time now, and has utilize the extra time and what she saves on diapers and other childcare needs by putting herself in a position to graduate from high school this year, work a job and to apply for colleges, where she wants to study forensic science.
Her current car was not in great driving shape and on Monday morning, the engine wouldn’t start. She has been borrowing cars from family and friends to be able to get to work, to get to school and to pick up her sons. To all of the sudden have that burden of worrying about transportation at all times be lifted was a huge weight off her shoulders.
“It’s so touching and so amazing knowing that there are people out there willing to help the ones that are in need,” Gonzales said.
“She has such a good heart,” said Erin Engelke, Sunbeam’s Chief External Relations Officer. “She’s so worthy and so humble. She did not see this coming. We had orchestrated it so that it could be a true surprise and it was for her.”
After Westbrook showed Gonzales the keys to the car, he ushered her and her boys outside to see it. The KIA SUV was actually the car given to Westbrook when he won the Most Valuable Player award for the 2015 All-Star Game in New York City. When he received it, he aimed to find a recipient in the Oklahoma City community that truly needed it. Through the help of the Thunder and Sunbeam, Westbrook found Gonzales, and the planning to surprise her commenced.
“It’s just all the hard work that she’s done to be able to keep her family together,” Westbrook said as to why Gonzales was the perfect person to receive the car. “When you see somebody working hard towards a goal and finding ways every day to keep everything afloat for her two boys and her family, you can’t do anything but help them out.”
Gonzales continued to cry tears of joy, but pulled it together enough to thank Erin Engelke, who helped orchestrate the surprise, along with all of the other employees on hand from Sunbeam who provide services for her and her boys on a regular basis. Sunbeam has been serving the Oklahoma City community for over 100 years, providing assistance to the city’s most vulnerable citizens in early childhood, foster care, counseling and senior services.
“It’s just so wonderful,” Gonzales said. “Sunbeam has helped me so much. It’s crazy because they’ve always been there for me. They’ve always been able to reach out a hand.”
“It means so much to all of us at Sunbeam to be able to give above and being for our clients,” Engelke said. “For her to have one less thing to worry about, by way of a car, is huge.”
The final hug before Gonzales left with her boys was for Westbrook, who won the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for the month of October and has been extremely active in the community through his Why Not? Foundation. All afternoon, Westbrook played and joked with the young boys Matthew and Adam, while comforting Gonzales, whose emotions got the best of her on a few occasions as she tried to wrap her mind around what was happening. For Gonzales, Westbrook’s surprise was life-changing. That’s the type of impact Westbrook wants to bring to as many people as possible in Oklahoma and he’s doing it one person at a time, one day at a time.
“He was a gentleman,” Gonzales said of Westbrook. “He was amazing, he was sweet and so attentive to what I had to say. He’s a really awesome person.”
“I was so touched by the way that he interacted with her,” Engelke said. “He was so gentle, calm and warm. I was completely blown away. He’s a remarkable individual.”