Success Stories

Alex goes to school

In 2011, 6-year-old Alex attended our camp, where he developed a particularly close relationship with Coaches Jon and Stephanie Pastusek, who coach all the boys and girls 5th grade and younger.

Alex told Stephanie and Jon that he had never been to a school of any kind and that he didn’t have any parents. He lived with his older sister, Angela, and “she didn’t have time to take me to school.”

Jon and Stephanie met with Angela and Alex and strongly encouraged them to enroll Alex in school in the fall of 2011. They emphasized the necessity of education and that getting Alex in school was crucial to his development and future.

On the last day of camp that year, Alex was awarded the “Hustle Award” for his age group. He was so proud.

When it was time to eat, Alex put his trophy into his backpack. After eating, he discovered his trophy had been stolen. Jon and Stephanie immediately gathered their group together, told them what had happened and insisted that Alex’s trophy be found and returned. Ultimately, a boy came forward and brought the trophy that he had “found.”

Recovering the trophy sealed the bond between Jon and Stephanie and Alex and Angela.

The next year, Jon and Stephanie looked for Alex to sign in on the first day of camp, but, sadly he didn’t come. But Angela brought Alex on Tuesday. It was an exciting and emotional reunion.

Alex and Angela were eager to tell us that Alex had completed his first year of school and was a good student. She also said the encouragement and prodding that she received from Basketball Smiles coaches was pivotal in her decision to enroll him in school.

She said, “If I had not enrolled Alex in school, I couldn’t bring Alex back to Basketball Smiles Camp and face the coaches. I couldn’t have disappointed you that way.”

Alex had a great week of camp and told the coaches many stories of how much he enjoyed his first year in school. On the final day of camp, Alex and Angela expressed their gratitude and said they would see us again in 2013 and give us a report on Alex’s 2012-2013 school year.

Alex has been in camp every summer and is on track to graduate high school on time.

Self-esteem and the value of achievement build hope for the future for campers.
Campers’ lives are changed by skills learned on the basketball court and by the influence volunteer coaches have on their lives.

Coach Sam Nichols with trophy and older camper
Awards and trophies are presented to campers to encourage achievement. Image copyright Donald W. Knowles.

Michael came to camp in shower shoes

Michael grew up in one of the most impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods in Nassau, The Bahamas. When he first attended Basketball Smiles Camp as a 6th grader at H.O. Nash Jr. High School, he had no shoes and played on the asphalt outdoor basketball court in shower slides.

Coach Patty Johnson told Coach Sam, “Michael’s a great young man and a good student whose family has basically nothing. That’s the only footwear he has.

Coach Sam Nichols felt compelled to give Michael a pair of real basketball shoes – the extra pair Coach Sam had tucked into his suitcase just in case – and Michael’s eyes lit up with joy!

Michael continued to be an outstanding student at Nash, but Coach Sam lost track of him after he went to high school.

At our 2018 camp, Coach Patty had a message from Michael.

“He wanted me to invite you to his college graduation – from Auburn University,” she told Coach Sam. “He earned an academic scholarship and will be receiving his degree in business administration. He wanted you to know and to come celebrate with him if you could.”

Coach Sam says it is one of the greatest moments he’s had since Basketball Smiles began, knowing that because of the program Michael received the first pair of real shoes he ever owned and has gone on to receive his college degree!

Michael’s is just one of many success stories that have come about through Coach Patty’s advocacy and the Basketball Smiles program.

Basketball Smiles changes Shashonna Smith’s life

Coach Sam was observing a group of campers in drills in 2018 when two arms bear-hugged him from behind. He looked around, and there was Shashonna Smith, who began attending Basketball Smiles camps when she was in the 6th grade.

She had come by to tell him personally that she now was the head girls’ basketball coach and cosmetology teacher at Telos Christian High School in Nassau. She was using a talent she discovered at Basketball Smiles.

When Shashonna first came to camp, she attended the morning girls’ session, but she had to stay all day because her younger brother was in the boys’ afternoon session. The coaches kept her busy in the afternoons by letting her help the coaches assigned to the smaller children.

After a couple of days, the coaches told Coach Sam how impressed they were with Shashonna’s aptitude for coaching and wanted him to observe her work with the younger children. After watching her, he saw that she, indeed, had a gift for coaching, which he intended to help her develop.

For the next six years, Shashonna participated in the girls’ morning session and actively coached in the boys’ session in the afternoon. Each year coaches gave her more responsibilities until she finally was coaching without supervision.

Coach Sam told her she had a gift for coaching and encouraged her to consider teaching and coaching as a profession. Shashonna said she was hoping to become a teacher and coach and said she had gained confidence through her experience coaching with Basketball Smiles.

Shashonna has achieved her dream. As the head coach, she has the opportunity to influence the lives of the approximately 30 girls in her program.

She thanked Coach Sam for giving her the chance to coach when she was still in junior high school, for believing in her and encouraging her to go to college to become a teacher and coach.

In 2019, Shashonna coached with Basketball Smiles and brought her 30 girls to camp, as well.

Coach Sam Nichols and Coach Shashonna Smith
Coach Sam Nichols and Coach Shashonna Smith
Older girl helps younger boy dribble a basketball
Basketball Smiles has brought generational change to this impoverished neighborhood, in part by encouraging talent. Many former campers come back every summer and share their success stories with the campers.

More about how Basketball Smiles changes lives