Tina Charles stood in front of about 100 students in the gymnasium of P.S. 94-Kings College School, in the Bronx and patiently took question after question:
Q. How old were you when you first started playing basketball? A. Six.
Q. Have you ever made a record? A. Look that one up.
Q. Have you met Steph Curry? A. Yes.
For Charles, the New York Liberty’s All-Star forward, she saw herself in the eyes and faces of these smart, precocious dreamers.
“I grew up playing, literally, in every park, there is in New York,’’ the Queens native told MSGNetworks.com. “To be in the radius of where those courts are, where I grew up, it means a lot to be here.”
Charles visited four schools in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx this week to do what she does as generously as any professional athlete – give back to the communities that helped her become one of the top five players in the WNBA.
Her foundation, Hopey’s Heart Foundation, teamed up with Safe Kids Worldwide, to host clinics that educate children about sports health issues.
They learned to recognize the symptoms of concussions, the proper way to hydrate, the importance of reading the labels on medicine bottles to avoid accidental overdoses, and what to do in the event a friend, family member or teammate suffers Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA).
“Tina is such a humble and selfless human being,’’ said Ali Flury, Sports Safety Program Manager for Safe Kids. “She gives so much of herself to the community. She knows how important this mission is and how important it is to keep kids safe.’’
It’s the issue of SCA that literally pulls at Charles’ heartstrings. In March 2013, Charles lost her dear aunt, Maureen ‘Hopey’ Vaz to multiple organ failure, including her heart.
At the time of her death, Charles had read about the tragic death of Wes Leonard, a Michigan high school basketball player who collapsed on the court after hitting a game-winning shot. Leonard died of SCA.
There wasn’t an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) in the gym. If one had been present, Leonard might be alive today.
“I didn’t know what Sudden Cardiac Arrest was,’’ Charles said. “I didn’t know what an AED was. My aunt had passed away. She had such a big heart. I wanted to do something in her name and I was able to start Hopey’s Hope Foundation.’’
Charles didn’t just start the foundation. She’s seeing it through.
Charles donates all of her Liberty salary to charity. She has donated more than 260 AEDs to schools, community centers and teams. Her focus is the metropolitan area but Charles has donated AEDs nationally and internationally.
Youngsters gain valuable knowledge in these clinics that can enhance their lives and save the lives of others.
“It means a lot because she’s teaching us about safety and medicine and things that can actually happen in life,’’ said fifth grader Maurice Smith, a vice president on the student leadership council. “Like if you get a concussion and things get a little bit blurry, you know what to do.
“And medicines, some medicines aren’t good if you take too much. You could overdose. And taking two medicines at the same time sometimes isn’t good for you.
“And we learned how to do CPR, just in case somebody does need CPR, we know how to help them. And the section over there, they’re teaching us about sugary drinks and what not to drink. I learned a lot.’’
Smith said he’d like to become a doctor and a coach so he can use his knowledge and directly interact with athletes. No wonder he’s on the leadership council.
Charles and the Liberty open camp on Sunday. She is the focal point of the most talented, balanced and deepest team the franchise has had in years.
Expectations are high. Yet just days before the start of heavy lifting, Charles was crisscrossing the city, donating AEDs, putting smiles on youngster’s faces and knowledge in their minds.
“I feel I’ve always had a giving heart,’’ Charles said. “It didn’t have to be on this grand scale. But I knew I’d always give back, whether it was with my time; whether it was helping someone play basketball.
“I don’t need cameras in front of me to do anything. I believe in my faith, to be a servant on to others; to put others before myself. So it can be me giving a dollar to a homeless man. It’s about giving back. That’s what this is about.’’
NOTES: Liberty president Isiah Thomas named former Liberty star Teresa Weatherspoon, Director of Franchise Development. In addition to this new appointment, she will continue to serve as the team’s Director of Player Development, a role she has held since 2015.