CHARACTER COUNTS

Devin Booker’s Starting Five ‘icing on the cake’ for Elevate Phoenix

May 24, 2021, 2:32 PM

(Elevate Phoenix/Facebook photo)...

(Elevate Phoenix/Facebook photo)

(Elevate Phoenix/Facebook photo)

PHOENIX — Athletes having a link to their local community as a way to both connect and help has always been important.

Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker made his link to Phoenix rock-solid in November 2019 by introducing the Devin Booker Starting Five.

Over a five-year period, Booker will give out five $100,000 grants each year to a nonprofit organization, for a grand total of $2.5 million.

Elevate Phoenix, one of Booker’s five for the 2020-21 season, provided a better idea of what one of those 25 grants can do.

The nonprofit is an educational and mentoring organization for at-risk youth in the Phoenix Union High School District, from elementary school to college. The vast majority of students that Elevate works with are minorities from low-income homes.

One of Elevate Phoenix’s partners, Shasta Pools, has been donating office space for the organization to run out of. There also, though, was some loft space that was unusable.

Enter Booker with his $100,000 grant that will transform that into a multi-purpose home for those kids to come to.

“It’s icing on the cake,” said Dalila A. Gamper, executive director of Elevate Phoenix.

The loft will range from a place for kids to meet with mentors, get some exercise or simply have somewhere safe to hang out.

Gamper said the space is another way to open things up for more options on further working with the kids.

Elevate is in high school spaces in Maryvale, an area Gamper noted is one of the lesser served and more in-need across Phoenix.

“The best way I know how to say what we do is we do life with kids,” Gamper said.

Students at Maryvale High School can take Elevate’s class as an elective credit under peer leadership. They’ll learn character qualities, life skills and leadership development.

Gamper said the organization trends more toward helping students who are in danger of not graduating and have a lot of stuff going on at home. Elevate maintains a strong relationship with the schools and counselors to have those kids for them to help.

Gamper noted something especially important with their organization.

“Whatever area that our kids choose and have a passion for, that’s what we want to gear them towards and help them with,” she said.

Elevate has a college bridge program called Rise, which gives kids the “first taste” of college, as Gamper put it. Students take two college classes through Elevate to see if that’s an experience they’d be open to, and for Gamper, it goes back to something she tells her own kids.

“How do you tell me you don’t like something until you try it, right? Can’t say you don’t like broccoli if you haven’t tried it,” she said.

A key part to understand is that college can be a foreign experience for both the students and their parents, so that’s where the nonprofit can point them in the right direction for scholarships and things of that nature.

Even students who have poor GPAs typically finish with a 3.0 or above in those two college courses through Rise.

“That gives them a great springboard if college is like, ‘Oh man, I didn’t think I could do this. But I can do this,'” Gamper said.

“Now that they’ve tried it on, they’ve done well in it, now their GPA is at a good place to be competitive for other scholarships and things,” she added.

And if college isn’t the path, Elevate is ready to help there too.

Some kids are looking to support their families. Elevate can put them in an eight-month certificate program to not start at minimum wage in the workforce and use connections with business partners to find entry-level positions with room to grow.

“We want to get them settled in a space where they can be successful,” Gamper said.

With everything Elevate Phoenix has achieved already, impacting roughly 5,000 students per year and a 98% graduation rate for Elevate kids over 11 years, Booker’s grant gives them an extra boost and possibilities to do even more.

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