Interview: Tamika Catchings talks about working on her passion during the offseason while rehabbing from injury


WNBA 2011 MVP Tamika Catchings is going to skip going overseas to play this winter, as she rehabilitates her torn plantar fascia and gets ready for the 2012 Olympics. Being home in Indianapolis will also allow Catchings to spend time on her other passion: her Catch the Stars Foundation.

The non-profit organization offers a variety of academic and sports programs for young people designed to help them develop skills and motivate them to succeed. Catchings and her older sister Tauja started the foundation together in 2004. This past winter, they announced they were forming a partnership with her alma mater, the University of Tennessee, to help at-risk high school students in Knoxville.

Catchings took time out to talk about the history of Catch the Stars, some of its programs, and the observations spurred her to run the organization.

SF: What year did you start the Catch the Stars Foundation?

TC: The official Catch the Stars Foundation and 501(c)(3) status was granted in October 2004. We actually started our first program December 2001 with our Catch the Fever Youth Holiday Camp (now known as the Catch the Stars Youth Holiday Camp).

SF: How many programs did you start with?

TC: We started with the Holiday Camp in 2001, added the fitness clinic in 2002 and continued on with the mentoring programs in 2004. In 2003 we teamed up with the Women’s Sports Foundation and did their "Go Girl Go" program.

SF: How did you come up with these ideas?

TC: It’s always been a dream of mine to host my own TC camp. When we arrived in Indy my first season I was out for the season due to an ACL tear suffered during my senior year at UTK. We did a lot of community appearances during the Fever season and one of the park directors was interested in helping me host my first camp. Of course from there we ran with it and it was a huge success. After the camp was over some parents approached us about doing more programs and hosting more events for their kids. That’s how we got so interested in starting more programs.

SF: Who helps you run it?

TC: CTSF is run by our awesome volunteers. We have a database of over 100 volunteers that come out for our events and help serve the children in our community.

SF: How do you fundraise?

TC: We have been very fortunate to receive funds from our CTSF Gift Club. We also host a few events during the year which help bring in funds to run our programs. Recently we have received a few grants which has helped us as well.

SF: How many children do you estimate CTSF helps each year?

TC: We serve approximately 700 children yearly.

SF: How do you link up with the kids that you help? How do you find them or they you?

TC: The kids that attend our programs have found out via our website, advertisement (brochures) around the area or word of mouth. Our volunteers are spread out so it allows us to reach a broad area through everyone’s reach.

SF: How is the twin program going in Knoxville?

TC: Our partnership with UTK is still in the infant stages. We have teamed up to sure up our curriculum in our Court STARS/CHAMPS programs so that we can get some measureable outcomes. The programs should be taking off soon, and I am super excited about the future of these programs and being able to have a specific, but broader, reach.

SF: I saw your comments about the girls who come into your programs hanging their heads. Do you find self-esteem an issue in the populations you work with, or is it a kid issue in general? Is it a girl problem?

TC: I believe that this is an issue that we are dealing with in general. When you look at the bullying that’s going on and the number of suicides that we are dealing with because of the issue of self-esteem, it is something that we have to do a better job with. Through our programs we hope that by touching issues that our youth are going through it allows for them to talk about their issues while also increasing their own self-esteem and self-awareness.

SF: I see you now have a mentoring program for boys. What was the impetus for this?

TC: Court CHAMPS (Changing Habits and Making People Successful) was a program that was implemented for our boys as a parallel program for Court STARS (Sisters Teaching and Reaching Sisters). We felt like it was important that we touch both sexes and provide the same opportunities for both. CTSF reaches both male and female so this was an opportunity to expand our reach.

SF: What are the biggest problems facing at-risk youth today? What are the best ways to deal with them?

TC: I’d say the biggest problem facing at-risk youth is the lack of positive mentors in these kids lives. With that lack, it affects our kids self-esteem, and it opens the door for them to "connect" to people and programs that may not be good for them. We were fortunate to be involved in sports our whole lives, and that kept us from having a lot of free time and getting involved in things that weren’t going to help us reach our dream.

SF: Are there any particular kids that stand out in your mind after all these years?

TC: There are quite a few kids that stand out in my mind and that I’ve had the opportunity to stay in contact with. I’m proud of those that have gone through our programs and that you see making a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. To me it’s all about reaching these kids one child at a time.

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Tamika Catchings will rehab, work on her other passion during off-season