DALLAS – Dozens of new techno-gadgets stood ready to connect a roomful of teenagers to hopes and dreams on the world wide web.
And yet, sometimes a spirited game of Uno with a Dallas Mavericks player can override even the lure of electronics and the Internet for young people.
It was part of a momentous afternoon on Tuesday as the Mavs Foundation partnered with CitySquare to open the new Fannie C. Harris Youth Center, continuing to provide resources for at-risk youth. The facility is in the shadows of Fair Park and is a sparkling safe haven for kids in a former elementary school and home to the newest Mavs Tech Center.
It is the 17th reading and learning center funded by the Mavs Foundation in north Texas. Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall and center-forward Dwight Powell helped inaugurate the center, which is aimed at helping homeless and impoverished kids in the Dallas Independent School District improve their lives.
“This is the real homeland security work,” Marshall said. “This is how we secure the future – we invest in these young people. Some of these youngsters are in circumstances through no fault of their own.
“This is the spark. People always talk about at-risk kids, and what I like to say is that they are at-risk – at risk of greatness. They’re at risk of being our next doctors, our next lawyers, our next basketball players, our next teachers, our next chefs. Whatever. They are at risk of a great future if we invest in them. It’s the spark they need to know that somebody cares (and) to put tools and resources that mean something in their hands.”
Not giving them a fish, but teaching them to fish.
The Mavs Foundation provided all types of laptops, tablets, printers, charging stations, projectors and other necessities for kids to learn the technological ropes. DISD agreed to give the old Harris Elementary School to CitySquare and Promise House, who combined efforts to renovate it.
The result is a spiffy new center that can be used as a safe place where kids can use online tools to find a shelter or a new home, look for a job, do homework on the computers, use the laundry facilities or get food in a large, stocked kitchen.
“The Mavs Foundation has been a faithful partner of CitySquare for a number of years and they stepped it up big time,” said John Siburt, CitySquare president. “We’re grateful for all the technology they provide. Kids have a place they can come and be safe and they can be cared for and they can have resources. Our goal is to remove every barrier they face. We don’t want poverty or homelessness to be a barrier to opportunity.”
Powell, who has been very active in the community and is a finalist for the season-long NBA Cares Community Assist Award, spent a couple hours interacting with the kids. And while checking out the high-tech stuff was fun, it was the card game that turned out to be the highlight of the day.
Competitive to the end, Dwight Powell was not happy with the way the game of Uno went.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he joked. “They conspired against me. There was collusion going on. But it’s all right. I’ll bounce back.”
Turning serious, he looked around the facility at the smiling kids and explained why NBA players making millions of dollars get such joy from trying to make an impact with kids who need a little help.
“It’s awesome – by far the best part of my job,” he said. “To be involved in community efforts and above all spending time with kids in our community that support us, this is why I work. Through our leadership, through Cynt, coach (Rick Carlisle), Mark (Cuban) and of course through Dirk (Nowitzki), from the time I’ve been here they’ve kind of laid the foundation for what it means to be a Maverick. And one of the most important things is understanding we are part of this community and it’s important to do what we can to give back and find ways to affect it in a positive way.”
Powell said in the time he spent with kids who will be using the new facility regularly, he heard some amazing stories.
“Their drive – we’ve got kids here that want to go to culinary school, (go into) psychology, join law enforcement – these kids have plans and objectives,” he said. “And they want to give back already. That’s what makes my job great. That’s what makes us proud to have Dallas on our chest.”
One of CitySquare’s success stories also was on hand at the new youth center. Jashua Alfaro, 21, was homeless on the streets of Fort Worth two years ago. Now, he’s a student at El Centro College.
“This is home, man,” Alfaro said. “They got me off the streets of Fort Worth. I was under the influence and barely understood English. I would have been another statistic. Now, this is the future, hope.”
While at the event, Powell spent a lot of time taking pictures with staffers who will man the facility and the students who were on hand.
He also took a moment to talk about his home country of Canada and the Toronto Raptors, who are locked in an NBA finals series against the Golden State Warriors. He’s seeing what’s going on in his home town and it’s only making him more motivated to bring some of those great times to Dallas.
“The messages and snapchats I’m getting from back home is nuts,” Powell said. “That city is off the chain right now. They’re supporting that team like crazy and the whole country is, too. It’s doing something for the game of basketball on an international scale, which is good for all of us. I’m happy for those guys.
“As a kid, I never saw the team do those things and now they are. It’s motivation for me that I want to experience those things and bring to the community. I want to come to an event like this with a ring and let them (the students) try it on. Dirk’s talked about it that there’s no better feeling. I’m very jealous.”
And as for recent reports that Powell, who has the option to become a free agent this summer, might test the waters come July 1, he didn’t sound like a player who was ready to make any major changes.
“There’s no place I’d rather be than Dallas,” he said. “I’ve done everything to show I love it here. This team gave me my shot. They’ve treated me extremely well, as an athlete and as a man. So, yeah, I love the Dallas Mavericks.”