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Tina Charles Headshot

Something Bigger Than Myself

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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.

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