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NBA Foundation Helps Youth Empowerment Project Thrive In New Orleans

The words reflected the Youth Empowerment Project’s gratitude over the NBA offering financial assistance within the past year.

“The impact has been huge with the support from the NBA,” said Jerome Jupiter, the organization’s chief operating officer.

The words also reflected the organization’s relief as the partnership mitigated various challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With that support,” Jupiter said, “we got through a very trying time in the past year.”

The NBA will commemorate MLK Day in various ways. Former NBA player Dwyane Wade voiced a new spot about the late civil rights leader. The Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards plan to host a series of workshops related to social justice issues. And all 30 NBA teams have worn MLK Day warm-up shirts for games from Jan. 13 to today.

But the NBA’s recently launched NBA Foundation arguably has made the biggest impact pertaining to racial equality and social justice issues. Last year, the NBA Foundation donated $2 million in grant money to seven different organizations to increase educational and economic opportunities in the Black community.

That included $200,000 going to the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), a New Orleans-based non-profit organization that has served over 1,000 children and young adults annually through educational resources, mentoring, and employment preparation. Since the organization’s founding in 2004, YEP has helped formerly incarcerated young people transition back into their communities. YEP has also reached out to other young people that have either lived in poverty, been out of school or work or experienced other forms of trauma. YEP has six locations in various parts of New Orleans, which also includes overseeing a bike shop, a third store and adult learning centers.

Pelicans Governor Gayle Benson informs the New Orleans’ Youth Empowerment Project that it will receive a grant from the NBA Foundation.

“We’re excited about them partnering with and helping them educate and helping them place young people in actual jobs,” said Greg Taylor, the NBA Foundation’s executive director. “It’s ultimately about preparing and placing young people in meaningful and family sustaining employment. ‘YEP’ has an unrivaled track record in doing that. We wanted to help strengthen the organization’s capacity, and also support their programmatic efforts to deepen their work and accelerate outcomes for Black youth.”

Overall, the NBA Foundation has awarded 78 grants worth $22 million to non-profit organizations. But with YEP becoming one of the first seven recipients, the organization has been able to offer perspective on the year-long impact thus far.

The NBA Foundation supported YEP in various ways. It helped ‘YEP Educates,’ the largest adult education program in New Orleans that prepares out-of-school youth for taking high school equivalency tests. It helped ‘YEP Works,’ a program that helps youth earn hourly stipends and work skills. And it helped YEP navigate the various pandemic challenges.

Jupiter said that the organization’s operating budget decreased from $4 million to $3 million at the beginning of the pandemic. YEP also saw a decrease in the number of young people it served before the pandemic (around 1,200 and their families) and since the pandemic started (around 600 and their families). But with the NBA and 53 other partners offering varying degrees of monetary donations, Jupiter said YEP has since increased its operating budget to $5 million.

Because of that help, Jupiter said that YEP retained its staff and continued various need-based initiatives. YEP provided laptops to youth participants and equipped them with Wi-Fi Internet access. YEP supplied families with food and shelter. YEP offered virtual programming to students that included mentoring and tutoring services. Mindful that distance learning has created more educational inequities, YEP also oversaw one-on-one and small group activities, while following social distancing guidelines.

‘YEP’ has an unrivaled track record in doing that. We wanted to help strengthen the organization’s capacity, and also support their programmatic efforts to deepen their work and accelerate outcomes for Black youth.”

— GREG TAYLOR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NBA FOUNDATION

“All of the support for ‘YEP Educates’ and ‘YEP Works’ from the NBA allowed us to have the capacity to provide those services and provide those supporter services as well to our young people who are really struggling,” Jupiter said. “It’s hard to prioritize education and stable employment when some of your basic needs aren’t met and you don’t have your lights on, or you don’t know when your next meal is coming. So, to be good stewards of that money from the NBA, to really support these young people and for us to be flexible with that money is very important.”

The NBA learned about the importance of YEP well before launching its foundation.

The NBA oversaw various charity initiatives in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina (2005) as well as when the city hosted All-Star weekend three separate times (2008, ’14, ’17). The Pelicans also collaborated with YEP in various ways.

Shortly after former NBA quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality in 2016, the Pelicans hosted a community discussion and dinner with YEP, law enforcement officials, local politicians and the team’s players. During NBA All-Star weekend that season in New Orleans, the NBA, the players union and the Pelicans oversaw a similar workshop with YEP,  Athletes for Hope as well with local law enforcement, community leaders and six former NBA and WNBA players.

“It was an open line of communication with our own law enforcement agencies,” Jupiter said. “Some of the myths have been debunked by families and some of our young people with maybe not trusting law enforcement or saying all law enforcement officers are bad people. We got to see they are normal folks. It strengthened our relationship as well with the Pels.”

The relationship with the Pelicans continued in other ways.

Former center DeMarcus Cousins (2017) and current players Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III (2021) hosted shopping sprees for youth advocates with YEP. In the 2018-19 season, YEP became one of eight charities to receive $150 as part of Hancock Whitney’s pledge to donate money for every banked shot the Pelicans made. A season later, Ingram held a basketball clinic with YEP and donated customized backpacks to each students. For the past four years, the Pelicans have also distributed tickets to YEP to attend home games.

On Dec. 20, 2021, Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III took 20 kids from the Youth Empowerment Project on a holiday shopping spree.

No wonder the NBA Foundation considered YEP to be a good fit.

“We’re financially solvent because we have worked really hard on a sustainability plan and sustainability goals,” Jupiter said. “But I will say that it is increasingly more challenging to raise money, especially through philanthropy for non-profits.”

It does not appear it will be a challenge to convince the NBA Foundation to offer monetary support. During the NBA’s season restart on a campus bubble in the summer of 2020, the NBA’s Board of Governors agreed to donate $300 million to the foundation by giving $30 million through the next 10 years. Taylor estimated that the NBA Foundation will finalize additional grants at some point in the first or second quarter of this fiscal year.

“We’re very, very pleased with the progress that ‘YEP’ has made around the grant,” Taylor said. “We certainly are considering them for renewal investment moving forward. We have not finalized that yet at this point. But every indication says they are a group that wants to remain engaged with us over time.”

And presuming the partnership with the NBA Foundation continues, YEP has a clear outline on what it hopes to accomplish in the future.

“We envision a community where all people have access to opportunities, skills, resources and relationships that they need to actualize their potential,’ Jupiter said. “We are thankful for the support. Hopefully we can build on it with great supporters like the NBA.”

* * *

Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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