This Q&A with Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award recipient Charde Houston originally appeared on the WNBA's website.
WNBA.com: For the past two years you have organized your Christmas with Y.O.U. initiative, but what else have you done in the community?
Charde Houston: I run a weekly focus group here in Minnesota with Perspectives Inc. and basically just teach girls about issues in the community that they face as young women. So we meet every Monday and just talk about issues with self-esteem, the importance of practicing safe sex or leadership, career-building, goal setting and things like that.
WNBA.com: Where do you hold those meetings and how do you get people involved?
CH: Actually just through the Perspectives Inc. Basically what they do is they reach out to mothers and their children who are recovering from addiction, and they're like the only corporation in Minnesota that does that, so that's a great thing. I just go to Perspectives and use one of their rooms there.
WNBA.com: What kind of stuff do you do with the girls in the group?
CH: I have six girls that I really mentor. And I pick them up during the week and just spend time with them. If they're feeling bored and I don't have anything to do I'll pick them up and just spend time with them because I'd rather them be with me, a positive role model, than for them to be doing something that could possibly get them in trouble.
WNBA.com: And this is all your own organization?
CH: Yes. It's kind of evolving. I just wanted to start off by holding the focus groups but then once you get involved with the young ladies you just want the best for them all the time. So even when I'm away from them, all is safe with them, all is right. They always have a way of contacting me. They're always like, "Why don't you hang out with me," you know, one-on-one, and I can't say no to that. So if I'm not busy then I definitely pick them up and we'll just hang out for the day and whatnot.
WNBA.com: When you go out with the girls, what kind of things do you do with them?
CH: It just depends on my day. If one of the girls wants to hang out and she asks me what I'm doing for the day and I'm like, "I'm just running some errands," then they'll say, "Oh it's OK. I don't mind running errands." So we'll run errands. A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with one of my youths and there was this store called Plato's Closet that she's been into but I've never been to. So we took a trip to Plato's Closet and she was just kind of showing me around and then we went to the pet shop and we held puppies. She wants to be a veterinarian, so we just went and held a couple of puppies. I don't think we necessarily have to spend money or anything like that, but it's more so the time that you spend that makes a difference to them.
WNBA.com: Would you say your organization continues to grow, now that you're well into your second year?
CH: I would say in the amount of participants, no. But in the amount of time that I've spent with these youths, yes. It's more that I've developed personal relationships to where they can talk to me about anything. When they're bored they can call me, they don't have a problem or feel uncomfortable calling me or asking me to come get them or hang out and stuff like that. I want them to look at me as a big sister and not someone who trying to rule with an iron fist, so I think I've done a good job of establishing sort of a sister-to-sister relationship.
WNBA.com: Outside of running errands and having some fun, do you find yourself talking about things like college and school too?
CH: Yes, actually it's something that I incorporated this year. We have a couple of girls who are going into 10th grade and I've been talking to them about when they fill out a college application and it asks you about your community service, so we're going to get out into the community and volunteer with organizations and whatnot. Just get them out there and understand that it's very important to give back to the community and we're going to start working on resumes.
WNBA.com: In talking with Marie Ferdinand-Harris in the past, she was someone who made it a point to emphasize how girls can use basketball to further their education. Is this something that you do too?
CH: I do. For me, my organization is not really focused around basketball, but I do have a couple of basketball players and of course they can kind of see what basketball has allowed me to do in my life, but I just really try to stress the importance of having a goal and having a dream and whatever it may be you can obtain it as long as you put yourself on the right path to achieve that goal.
WNBA.com: Is there an age limit or do you anticipate remaining a big part of these girls' lives?
CH: I can't imagine myself just cutting these girls off, especially the ones who really want to do something for themselves. There's people that I've known since I was in the sixth grade and they had to cut me off. And to this day, it's kind of like how dare I think about cutting them off. Once you're in my program you're always a part of me. Always. It doesn't matter how old you get or how old we think they are but they're always able to call me and ask me anything.
WNBA.com: You've emphasized the importance of playing a part in the community but what is the main objective of Project Y.O.U.?
CH: Our main objective is to provide focus groups and workshops to educate them on certain issues in relation to their life.
WNBA.com: We're in July now and I remember you mentioning during your Christmas project that it takes some time. Have you started to line up a family and prepare for that?
CH: Yes. I'm kind of working already to meet and figure out exactly what we want to do for July in terms of starting early. We figured it's a lot easier to start early rather than do six months' work in two months, which we've been very successful at doing but at the same time we want to give people enough time to be able to contribute to our fundraisers.
WNBA.com: With everything you've done and everything you'll continue to do, how does it feel to receive the Dawn Staley Award in honor of all your contributions?
CH: It feels really good. It's affirmation that not only me but the staff that are a part of Project Y.O.U. are doing great things in the community.
Follow Charde Houston on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CharHouston