Photos by Michael Kinney
By Michael Kinney
Shai Gilgeous -Alexander is a pretty competitive player. When he is on an NBA court, the second-year pro puts everything he has into helping the Oklahoma City Thunder win.
However, recently, Gilgeous-Alexander put his competitive drive to the ultimate test and it had nothing to do with basketball. Gilgeous-Alexander was asked to win a cupcake for a small child and he vowed not to leave until he got that cupcake.
“One of the kids at the cake walk made sure I got them a chocolate cupcake,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And they were not letting me leave until I got him one. I ended up getting him one, so it was pretty cool. Took 10 minutes.”
Gilgeous-Alexander was part of the Oklahoma City Thunder contingent who visited the school Positive Tomorrow Nov. 14 as part of their annual Holiday Assist Program. Almost all of the players were on hand as they played games, made cookies and painted faces with 70 kids in Pre-K through sixth grade at a Thanksgiving celebration.
What made this trip a little different than a normal school visit is that Positive Tomorrow is a school for homeless children. It’s Oklahoma’s only elementary school specifically for homeless children and provides services and education to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
“Positive Tomorrow is a social service agency that works with the needs of homeless families,” said Susan Agel, the President & CEO of Positive Tomorrow. “Our primary program is that of a private school, which works with the children from those families. We work with the kids to get them up to speed academically and socially. They bounce around so much that they have a very difficult time in school. Most of them don’t like school. So we work with that from a trauma-informed perspective.”
The Thunder arrived on the same day that the students were able to step into their new 42,000-square-foot facility that will house the students starting Dec. 2. The building, which broke ground last spring, came at a cost of $15 million. According to Positive Tomorrow’s Jamie Hadwin, $10.5 million came from private funding and the rest from tax credits.
Thunder center Steven Adams was immensely impressed with the new building and the people who stepped up to fund it.
“This whole place is amazing,” Adams said. “I just took a little tour. I was interested in the whole structure. They raised $15 million for it. So it’s just good to have that security behind it. Seems like the system around these kids is going to be really great.”
According to Agel, there are more than 3,000 homeless children in the Oklahoma City Public School District and another 4,500 in the Putnam City School District.
When those children have a hard time fitting in at public school, they can find themselves getting the help they need at Positive Tomorrow.
“We had a kindergartener who came to our school in January. He walked in and the first thing he said to his teacher was I hate school,” Agel said. “But when you started looking at what had gone on in his life, we were the fourth school he had attended this year. We were the fourth school where he didn’t have school supplies, the fourth school where he had to work through the situation of his teacher realizing how far behind he was, it was the fourth school where he didn’t know the rules. I would hate school to. It’s just really tough for a lot of our kids.”
But according to Agel, they do not want Positive Tomorrow to be a school where children go to forever. So, in order to make sure that doesn’t happen they have to work with nit just educating the students, but helping the entire family
“We’re working with families, we’re working with mom and dad and help them find housing, help them to make sure income is coming in, help them identify their own goals,” Agel said. “It’s our goal for the family to become stable. Once they have been stable and have that way for a while, then we will help move the children back into public schools. We want the family to be normal. To be like anyone else and contributing to society. That’s our goal.”
But on the day the Thunder players arrived, none of that seemed to matter. The kids were running around and trying to show off for Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schroder and the entire team. Just to be able to spend time with people they can only have the chance to watch on TV meant something special in that moment.
“A lot of these kids didn’t have the opportunities that we had and the opportunities that a lot of kids get,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “For us to give them this moment was pretty cool. We’re in positions that not a lot of people get to be in. And for us to just use our light, I should say, and share with the rest of the community, it’s always amazing. That’s a big thing for me.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider