by Tina Charles
It was my sophomore year at the University of Connecticut and while browsing the web I saw a photo of actress Jennifer Aniston wearing a shirt with an interesting symbol. The symbol was a combination of Africa and a peace sign. I was immediately intrigued by it and decided to look into it.
After I did some research, I learned that the symbol was for a non-profit organization called OmniPeace; the founder was Mary Fanaro. I also discovered that the OmniPeace is a humanitarian fashion brand that supports breaking the cycle of poverty through peace and education. When one purchases an OmniPeace product, the proceeds go to making a change in Africa.
I always knew I wanted to do more than make a fashion purchase. I wanted to contribute in a bigger way. After reading about OmniPeace, I had a better idea of how I could give back.
Meanwhile, I continued to play basketball, moving on from college to the WNBA, and my accomplishments eventually presented me with the opportunity to help financially. In April 2011, I went to Los Angeles to meet Mary Fanaro and we spoke about the possibilities of what could be achieved with my contributions. Leaving the meeting, I felt inspired and motivated to be a part of something bigger than myself and my basketball accomplishments.
On the flight back, all I could do was reflect on growing up and remembering all my childhood dreams. They were quickly becoming a reality. I remember numerous times seeing less fortunate kids and wanting to do something to help; I remember seeing commercials, and those also touched me. The only problem was, my heart was bigger than my wallet and my resources were limited. The harder I worked on the court the more doors opened for me off the court, and I knew this was my moment and my time to give back.
Seven months had gone by since the first meeting with Mary. My OmniPeace involvement was still fresh on my mind. I had spoken to Mary again and basically told her that I wanted to build a school in Mali, Africa. A few short months later, we contacted buildOn founder and CEO Jim Ziolkowski, and Marc Friedman, who is the Chief Operating Officer of the organization. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, buildOn has the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education. It runs afterschool youth service programs and it also builds schools in some of the poorest places in the world.
Through my donation, OmniPeace funded buildOn's construction of a new school that would accommodate up to 150 children in Ganale, a village in the Sikasso region of Mali. Work began in February, and it was completed in April. When I received the information that the school was finished, I was literally speechless. The real feeling didn't hit me until OmniPeace did a press release and messages of congratulations poured in.
What I did was definitely something to be proud of, but I did not do this for a pride factor. I genuinely feel even more motivated and inspired to do more and to just give back in any way possible. As professional athletes, we can easily take for granted what just a little bit of giving back can do in this world.
Just a few days ago, as part of the WNBA Cares Week of Service program, I joined my fellow Connecticut Sun teammates at a Community Meal Center in New London, Connecticut, where we served dinner to those in need. We fed over 200 men, women and children that night. Seeing so many people who are struggling reminded me again of why it is so important to try and make a difference.