UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close’s goal each year is to provide her team with experiences that not only push them on the court, but expose them to educational and cultural experiences they couldn’t find anywhere else.
That’s why Close, after signing on for this year’s Paradise Jam Basketball Tournament, engaged her staff in researching schools on St. Thomas that could benefit from the partnership the team has formed with Samaritans Feet, an organization that puts new shoes and socks on children all over the world.
Close has participated in a new shoe distribution every year that she’s been at UCLA and the day before the women’s tournament tipped off on Thanksgiving, she was also on hand to make sure a couple hundred pairs – with new socks included – were distributed to the kindergarten through second graders at Joseph Gomez Elementary School.
“The school itself was torn up by Hurricane Irma and there are many children attending whose homes are still damaged, who are living in buildings with blown out windows,” Close said. “What an honor it was the day before Thanksgiving to be able to bring a little joy, or put a little smile on those faces.”
One student shared that in living in a household with four siblings, new shoes were something she had never had, Close said.
“The stories we were able to hear were incredible,” she added. “You go in with the intention of providing for a need, but in the end, our hearts are changed. It is such a bigger blessing to give, instead of receive.”
Close said several donors pitched into make the distribution a reality and, once again, research conducted beforehand by her staff made it possible for them to bring in all the sizes and shoes needed by each student.
“So many things have changed since the hurricanes,” Close said. “The tournament has changed, the hotels the players once stayed in are not open and people are still hurting. It was important for us to be able to do this, and at the same time be able to plant seeds of gratitude in our own hearts.”