On a recent afternoon at Door of Hope’s transitional apartment complex, several children who have been left homeless as a result of domestic violence emerged from their living quarters and stepped outside into the fresh air. Many reside here with their mothers and usually don’t venture beyond the building’s walls for security reasons. On this day, though, a surprise awaited them in the facility’s side yard.
It was a new basketball court. They bounded happily onto the concrete slab with a hoop on one end before realizing that standing next to them was somebody familiar. Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace approached with a handful of team hats that he distributed to the children as their jaws hit the fresh pavement.
“For children that are experiencing homelessness, even those who have actually experienced some domestic violence, they have such crisis and challenging memories that are in the forefront of their minds,” said Tim Peters, executive director of the Pasadena nonprofit, which is focused on helping homeless families rebuild their lives. “For them to be able to have a place to come and play and be safe, but then have somebody like Metta come and play with them, you give them positive memories. So that when they think back on their homelessness, they won’t think about the crisis, but they’ll think about playing basketball with Metta.”
As the kids cast off shots with World Peace standing underneath the rim to rebound, 16-year-old Claire Dundee was a fly on the wall, observing from the sidelines. The jubilant spectacle meant a great deal to the Flintridge Prep student. After all, none of this would have been possible without her vision.
Dundee first heard about Door of Hope last summer when contemplating how to achieve her Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive.
“It’s such an amazing cause, and this is what they needed most — a safe place for kids to play and burn off energy,” she said. “I took the opportunity to build this court, and through a lot of hard work, it paid off. Seeing the kids play today is amazing.”
It’s true. She is responsible for the court, and yes, it was a process more painstaking than she imagined when she originally proposed the idea. Dundee began with a garage sale that netted $1,700. She then garnered more than $2,000 in additional donations. Although Dundee had raised the necessary funds to buy equipment and hire labor, she still had to work with architects and pull permits to meet city specifications. People along the way doubted the teenager’s commitment and suggested smaller-scale projects to fulfill her Gold Award, but Dundee was unwavering. Construction eventually began just before Christmas, and the court was completed earlier this month.
As Dundee listened to the sound of children laughing and basketballs bouncing around, she took a moment to reflect on her six-month endeavor.
“Seeing that it is making everybody happy and bond together and forget about the problems that they have is amazing,” she said. “That it got so much bigger than I expected is overwhelming and crazy, but it’s so rewarding.”
Dundee, of course, was referring to the professional basketball player shooting hoops on her court a few feet away. World Peace, 36, doesn’t get much playing time these days in his 16th NBA season. He has already reached the pinnacle of his profession, winning a championship with the Lakers in 2010. Still, he rarely passes up the opportunity to interact with the greater Los Angeles area’s most disadvantaged children.
“I like programs where you’re trying to uplift the youth,” said World Peace, who preceded the basketball activities by having the children describe something that they had learned in school that day. “This is one of those programs, and they follow through also, so that’s great. … The more people we can get involved with homelessness, the better.”
World Peace’s visit to Door of Hope didn’t just hold special meaning for these young fans. The event was somewhat humbling for the NBA veteran, too, because he has come full circle. Before changing his name five years ago in an attempt to distance himself from moments he would rather forget, World Peace used to be known as Ron Artest. That man was essentially a different person, someone who once received the longest suspension in NBA history for brawling with fans and was later arrested following a domestic violence accusation.
“He personally has had some experiences in his past that he can relate to, and I think he wants to give back,” said Peters, whose organization serves as a refuge for domestic violence victims. “He does want to make a difference in the community.”
When World Peace was asked what it means to have these children consider him a role model despite his troubled history as Artest, the man currently working diligently to rehabilitate his reputation offered a poignant response.
“Everybody learns from each other,” he said. “I think everybody can benefit. They can benefit from me. I can benefit from them. I’m definitely an example — I don’t know about a role model. … Role models are perfect. You’ve got to be perfect to be a role model. There are some out there.
“You could become a role model, and I think that’s good. Coming from where I’ve been, just a lot of adversity and mental frustration, challenges, the pressure — to overcome and feel better, that’s good.”
World Peace spent the rest of the afternoon posing for selfies and facilitating games of L-A-K-E-R, his personal rebrand of the popular shooting game H-O-R-S-E. The winner was never decided as pure excitement overcame the group of kids, including Evan Alezandre. The 16-year-old lived at Door of Hope for six months, but was recently able to move out because the organization helped his mother find a job. He returned to the community for a day and got to hang out with World Peace.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Alezandre. “He’s doing something great for us and other kids in similar situations. In a place where hope is so little, people like Metta and [Dundee] — creating this basketball court for us — are amazing. It gives us hope, which is exactly what’s in the name: Door of Hope.”