This is a story about five high school athletes. There’s a wrestler, a golfer, a volleyball player and a couple of kids who play several sports.
But you won’t read a word about their accomplishments on the field. In fact, the first two sentences of this story are it as far as sports are concerned.
See, these five student-athletes — Chase Frank, Kenia Garcia, Trey Gass, Tamara Skinner and Ashleigh Smith — are doing far greater things in their community than they are on their respective fields of play.
They work with the disabled and help the homeless and make hats for kids who suffer from cancer and raise money to fund efforts against human trafficking and child sex slavery.
They’re Kids Who Care, and we thought you’d like to meet a few athletes who aren’t defined by the uniforms they wear.
Phoenix Brophy Prep senior Chase Frank will admit he wasn’t initially enthusiastic about doing the community service projects required by his school. It wasn’t that he was selfish of his time or uninterested in helping. He just wasn’t sure how he could contribute.
“I had a little bit of hesitation because I had never really done anything like this before,” said Frank, a wrestler at Brophy.
Once he started serving the community, however, he was hooked.
During his sophomore year Frank worked at a homeless shelter called umom. In the afternoons he’d read books to children or help them with their homework or shoot a few hoops. As a junior he worked at the Brighton Gardens retirement center, doing everything from washing dishes to running the bingo games to leading exercise programs for the elderly.
His work brightened the days for those he helped – and changed how he viewed the world.
“Mostly it was an appreciation,” Frank said. “Working at the homeless shelter, you just appreciate all the stuff you have and how much fun you can have without anything. Just playing basketball with some of the kids, or even reading to them was a lot of fun.
“At the old folks home, well, these people raised our generation so we need to give back to them.”
In retrospect, Frank should have known he was a natural for community service. His older brother, Louden, has Leukodystrophy, a neurodegenerative disorder, and Frank has helped take care of him as long as he can remember.
“When he was young he could do a bit of walking but these days he’s in a wheelchair,” Frank said. “We have a tube in his stomach where we feed him, and at home I help change him, give him baths and things like that.”
Teenagers often can’t see past their shadows. But when Frank is asked whether it’s difficult to take on that responsibility, he shrugs his shoulders and says, simply, “He’s my brother.”
There isn’t enough space to chronicle all of the things Scottsdale Christian senior volleyball player Tamara Skinner does in the community.
There’s the mission trips to Rocky Point and the journeys to downtown Phoenix to help the homeless and the food and clothing ministries and the Christmas outreach … and … and … well, let’s just say it’s hard to figure out when she sleeps.
“It is difficult to balance everything with school and sports, but it’s good to have a lot of responsibilities because it forces you to use your time wisely and really treasure the few moments you do have to do all the wonderful ministries,” Skinner said.
What is Skinner doing now? Well, there’s City Reach, a program that helps the homeless in downtown Phoenix. Skinner and other students from Scottsdale Christian will distribute care packages of food, water, soap, conditioner and other items to the homeless and, just as importantly, “listen to them. Just conversing with them makes them feel like somebody cares.”
Skinner also volunteers at detention centers, sharing her testimony in Spanish with kids who have crossed the border illegally. She’s also danced and performed skits at the centers.
At Christmas, Skinner is involved with The Father’s House ministry. Items are donated during the holidays and Skinner, along with other volunteers, hand out food, clothing and blankets to the homeless.
“We try to brighten up their Christmas,” Skinner said.
What does Skinner plan to do after high school? Exactly what she’s been doing the last four years: Helping others.
“I’ve gone on so many mission trips and served different communities … I really want to continue that,” she said. “I’m thinking of going into public service as a way of serving the community.”
That doesn’t surprise Julie Southwick, her coach at Scottsdale Christian.
“I know she will make an impact in this world because of her strong conviction to give glory back to the Lord in all she does,” Southwick said.
Trey Gass’ younger sister, Jordan, is 14. He’s just a bit protective of her.
“You don’t touch my sister,” Gass said with a smile. “Boys don’t go near her because they know I’ll kill them.”
Near the end of his sophomore year, Gass, a senior football and baseball player at Gilbert Christian High School, got a call from a friend asking him to check out a place called StreetLight, an organization that provides safe houses to children who are victims of human trafficking and sex slavery.
Gass took a tour of the Phoenix safe house. On the drive home, he knew his life would never be the same.
“The average age into human trafficking is 13,” Gass said. “When I found out this was happening to girls the same age as my sister it really hit home. I knew I needed to do something about it.”
Gass had $100 left over in Christmas money. He bought 100 wristbands inscribed with the words “Save A Life” and sold them for $3 apiece. Half the money went to buy more wristbands and half went to StreetLight to help build more facilities and get girls off the street.
Gass’ involvement didn’t end with the wristbands. He sells T-shirts to raise money – he’s raised more than $2,000 from the merchandise – and StreetLight recently invited him to be part of their speaker’s board. Gass has delivered StreetLight’s message to students at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, as well as churches, schools and even a Diamondbacks’ game.
Next fall, he plans to attend Colorado Christian University in Denver but his passion for StreetLight’s cause won’t change. He said the organization’s CEO has told him that if a safe house opens in Denver, Gass can help run it.
“The way I see it,” Gass said, “no girl ever woke up one day and said, ‘I want to be a prostitute when I get older.’ “
Ashleigh Smith didn’t know her eighth-grade teacher’s daughter very well. But when Smith, a Chandler Basha junior golfer, heard that the girl had lost her hair from cancer treatments, she thought about how difficult that must be for a 10-year-old to endure.
A creative sort, Smith always had enjoyed making flowers, bows and hair accessories and distributing them to kids at children’s hospitals. For her teacher’s daughter, she took her creativity one step further, making a hat with a built-in magnet that would attract the magnets in Smith’s other creations.
“She could switch the accessories out to wear with her outfit so she would be super cute,” Smith said.
The hat was a hit.
“She was so excited,” Smith said. “You could just tell in the way her eyes lit up. It was a moment where I knew I needed to keep doing this for other kids. It was so addicting.”
Since then, Smith has made more than 100 hats and distributed them to cancer patients in hospitals. This past summer, she also volunteered at Arizona Camp Sunrise Sidekicks, a camp for the siblings of cancer patients.
“I’d love do even more,” Smith said. “I want to reach out to the community and make as many hats as I can so I can give them out to cancer patients.”
Basha golf coach Meghan Dunigan is astounded by Smith’s spirit.
“I find this just amazing … to take time during her busy high school years, having a 4.0 plus GPA, being an athlete … to go do this for sick children and just make their day is amazing,” Dunigan wrote.
Before she started making the hats, Smith had thought about becoming a pediatrician. She’s now convinced more than ever it’s the life she should lead.
“I love working with kids,” she said. “And I get so much out of it myself. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
The students at Phoenix Central High School hear announcements every day over the intercom. But it was one particular announcement two years ago that caught Kenia Garcia’s attention.
The school was starting a chapter of Best Buddies, a 23-year-old organization that pairs students with individuals with disabilities.
Garcia, a senior volleyball and softball player at Central, was intrigued. She has family members with mental disabilities, including one whose son has autism.
Garcia joined the club and was named vice president. For the past two years she’s been president of Central’s chapter.
“Not a lot of people are educated about it (Best Buddies),” Garcia said. “What our chapter tries to do is spread the word. We try to get other people to come out to meetings and get them to hang out with the kids so they have a better understanding of what they’re dealing with.”
Garcia has been buddies with two kids: Olivia, who transferred schools before Garcia’s junior year and Joey, a sophomore at Central who has Down syndrome.
Garcia and Joey hang out at school, do puzzles and change each other’s life for the better.
“He’s affected me in a way I wouldn’t have thought,” Garcia said. “I’ve learned a lot from him; just how to be patient with people who have disabilities. You have to try to figure them out step by step and not try to get everything out of them.
“He’s just made my life a lot happier. He’s motivated me to continue doing what I’m doing with Best Buddies.”
Elizabeth Toledo, the assistant principal for student opportunities at Central, wrote this about Garcia: “I asked my coaches for a name of a student that might stand out with their leadership skills and athletics and one name came up twice: Her name is Kenia Garcia.
Garcia’s affection for the disabled won’t end at Central High. She said she’s thinking about majoring in psychiatry so “I can learn more about disabilities and the way the brain works.”
Her other possible career choice: A special education teacher.
“It’s about equality,” Garcia said. “That should be a huge theme in life.”