Hope and a Future

Basketball Smiles is a non-profit organization that conducts free basketball camps and life-skills programs for children in the poorest, most at-risk areas in The Bahamas.

Our programs are designed to develop leadership qualities and raise the children’s academic expectations and self-esteem.

Basketball Smiles encourages the children to be active, conscientious citizens through activities that help them become competent

  • Socially
  • Morally
  • Emotionally
  • Physically
  • Cognitively

With the basketball court as a laboratory, we encourage campers to set goals, cultivate self-discipline and choose lifestyles that do not include drugs and violence. Campers are rewarded for good choices and they are exposed to an environment that fosters mutual respect and personal responsibility.

The first thing we tell them is to pick up and dispose of any trash they see. They quickly assume the responsibility. It’s the beginning of a new way of living for these boys and girls.

Coach Sam and camper with basketball
The first year, Coach Sam Nichols coached 85 children by himself. Since then, the lives of more than 11,000 boys and girls have been touched by Basketball Smiles.

Coach Sam laughs with two boys
Coach Sam Nichols with campers

Who we are

Sam Nichols, a member of the prestigious Women’s Basketball Coaches of America 600-Victory Club Hall of Honor, and a team of volunteer coaches instill self-esteem and a desire for achievement in disadvantaged children…more

Line of campers run through drills
We’re hopefully optimistic.

Camp 2021

We are hopeful we can have a Basketball Smiles camp in October. We expect it would be our largest ever because it may well include all the children on the neighboring islands who were removed to Nassau after Hurricane Dorian in 2019...more

Boys with shower slides for shoes
The asphalt is too hot for shower slides.

Lace ‘Em Up 2021

Over the years campers have played in flipflops, shoes duct-taped together, even two children sharing a pair of shoes, taking turns playing barefoot on the asphalt. This year we want each child to have new shoes. See how you can help…more

Coaches surrounded by happy campers
The team at Basketball Smiles builds into the campers’ future, using the court as a laboratory where they learn life-skills and develop high ethical standards.

We started with a camp and grew to meet the needs

Since 1999, more than 11,000 boys and girls have participated in week-long basketball camps in the under-served neighborhoods in The Bahamas, where 20 percent of the homes have no running water or electricity. We were unable to have a camp in 2020 because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, so we sent our boys and girls supplies to keep them well.

The area where the camp is conducted has one of the highest murder rates per square mile in the entire Caribbean, so the week-long basketball camp was just the beginning of our meeting the needs of these boys and girls…more

Why they need us

The Basketball Smiles camp is held in the under-served neighborhoods in The Bahamas, where 20 percent of the homes have no running water or electricity. The area where the camp is conducted has one of the highest murder rates per square mile in the Caribbean.

  • Cases of child abuse have continued to rise the past five years.
  • Teenage suicide attempts are increasing.
  • Violent crime and gang-related crime is an on-going threat in the inner city communities.
  • Food prices were predicted to increase as high as 40 percent before COVID hit. During the pandemic, the islands have been isolated; tourism, the one local industry, non-existent; and in many cases, there was no food to purchase, even if people had had funds.
  • The Bahamas has the second highest unemployment rate (around 15 percent) among Caribbean nations over a four-year, pre-COVID period.
  • Unmarried mothers account for the majority of all births in The Bahamas.
  • Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s high school graduates finish with attendance certificates instead of diplomas because students fail to meet a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 during six years of high school.
Girls play basketball
These boys and girls don’t receive help from any other group, making Basketball Smiles’ programs crucial.

Basketball Smiles is in its 22nd year and serves more than 300 boys and girls each summer.

Basketball Smiles started with an umbrella

Coach Sam Nichols had just finished his acceptance speech after being inducted into the Hall of Fame 500 Victory Club at the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association meeting in San Jose, California, in 1999. He stepped outside of the meeting hall. It was raining and he popped open his umbrella.

Coach Patty Johnson, from H.O. Nash Junior High School in Nassau, The Bahamas, asked if she could share the umbrella with Coach Sam and he made a place for her. Coach Patty told him how much she had enjoyed his acceptance speech.

“I wish you could come to my country and do a coaches’ clinic and a camp for kids,” Coach Patty said.

“I do camps all over the world,” Coach Sam said.

“No, my kids are in the worst, the poorest, most dangerous place in The Bahamas,” she said sadly.

“I knew at that point that I was going,” Coach Sam says…more

Coach Sam and boy campers
Coach Patty Johnson told Coach Sam, “Nobody cares about my kids.”

Coaches encourage good character, leadership and personal responsibility that change campers’ lives.

Success stories illustrate the effectiveness of instilling hope

Michael came to camp in shower shoes
Alex gets to go to school
Basketball Smiles changes Shashonna Smith’s life