Ayesha and Stephen Curry celebrate the launch of Eat. Learn. Play in Oakland

Ayesha and Stephen Curry celebrate the launch of Eat. Learn. Play in Oakland

Last month, the Golden State Warriors were dethroned by Kawhi Leonard’s Toronto Raptors in the NBA finals, setting up the most exciting summer offseason this hoops fan can recall in a while. Among other moves, superstar Kevin Durant left the Warriors and joined the Brooklyn Nets. And the Warriors themselves, who won three championships this decade at Oracle Arena in Oakland, will begin playing at Chase Center in San Francisco starting this Fall.

Golden State will still be in good hands thanks to that other sharpshooting superstar Stephen Curry, where he’s spent his entire NBA career since being drafted from Davidson College in 2009. The two-time MVP has raked in nearly $80 million this year alone, according to Forbes, and signed the NBA’s first $200 million contract in 2017. For all his efforts, Curry is worth some $90 million according to some estimates, and illustrative of the kind of enormous wealth the nation’s top earners can amass not just on Wall Street or Silicon Valley, but through sports. His wife Ayesha, meanwhile, is a cookbook author and host of Food Network’s Ayesha’s Home Cooking.

Steph and Ayesha Curry got married in 2011 in Oakland, their adoptive home and where they’ll likely to continue to have strong ties going forward. In fact, earlier this month, the Currys launched their new charity, the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation, with an eye toward the local Oakland community. Eat. Learn Play. will focus on three vital pillars for a healthy childhood—helping end childhood hunger, ensuring universal access to quality education and enabling healthy, active lifestyles.

Taking Philanthropy to the Next Level

The new foundation’s CEO is Chris Helfrich, who has been in the nonprofit space for a while now and from 2011 to 2016 was at the helm of a global anti-malaria campaign called Nothing But Nets. Helfrich says that he hooked up Curry when he recruited him to be a global ambassador for the campaign in his early days with the Warriors. The relationship strengthened when Helfrich traveled with Steph and Ayesha to a refugee camp on the border of the Congo. “I’ve known the Currys for more than eight years now. And you get pretty close to someone when you have a trip like that. I also helped host an event around malaria at the White House for Stephen, where he first met Obama.”

Last year, the Currys approached Helfrich about taking their philanthropy to the next level. “The opportunity to serve alongside two people as great as Steph and Ayesha was too rich to pass up,” he says. “Eat. Learn. Play. is our chance to be really thoughtful and intentional about how their interest areas intersect… They’re the real deal.” The couple’s early turn to philanthropy is particularly noteworthy because the Currys are barely into their thirties, and in the midst of active careers.

Steph Curry is one of a number of current NBA stars who hasn’t shied away from speaking up about social issues, including opting against visiting the current White House, drawing a few tweets from the president. He’s also part of a new generation of athlete-donors inclined to make a mark with their philanthropy sooner rather than later.

A Strategy Takes Shape

What will the newly-minted foundation focus on? Well, children and young people is a longstanding interest of the Currys, who have three young children, including the outspoken Riley, who’s stolen the show at more than one NBA press conference. Helfrich tells me that Ayesha has been a strong advocate for many years on issues related to childhood specifically through the No Kid Hungry campaign, which the family will continue to support through Eat. Learn. Play.

The foundation’s grantmaking and engagement will center around three pillars. Eat will deal with childhood hunger where locally, one in five kids deals with childhood hunger on a regular basis, Helfrich says. Learn centers around the idea that all kids should have access to quality education from early childhood through college completion. And Play centers around fostering safe places for kids to play sports, which are critical for successful childhood athletics. Steph Curry is a son of former NBA Dell Curry, an elite 3-point shooter himself.

In our conversation, Helfrich emphasized the importance of timing. “The Currys got to a point where their lives are still chaotic, yes, but they’ve started to thrive in the chaos now. They really have a hunger to have an impact on the community around them and the things that they’ve seen, specifically in Oakland. This is where they got married, started a family, and they want to make sure this impact remains far beyond when the Warriors played their last game.”

Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation recently launched its inaugural initiative with a day of fun and games in Oakland. Nearly 1,000 kids from across all twenty City of Oakland Town Camps locations participated in the launch event. Eat. Play. Learn is the presenting partner of the Town Camps for the summer, working on multiple fronts. The hope is that when prospective campers and their families see the Curry name behind the initiative, this might attract them. “We want to emphasize that there are productive ways for kids to be spending their vacation. Eating and playing and learning for seven or eight hours a day is a great way to spend the summer. We want to make camp cool.”

The foundation’s partnership with Town Camps also gets at the “Eat” aspect of the foundation as well, as Helfrich explains: “Camp runs from 9-430pm. Historically, kids have gotten lunch and a snack at camp. We know that most kids at the camp are on free reduced lunches during the school year. But many of these kids are showing up hungry in the morning, as well.” To that end, Eat. Learn. Play. has partnered with Revolution Foods, the leading provider of kid-inspired, chef-crafted meals serving schools and community sites nationwide, to provide nutritious summer breakfasts and community dinners for local children and their families. Additionally, the foundation is providing scholarships so that kids who can’t afford camp can still come.

In another two weeks, Eat. Learn. Play. will remodel a basketball court in a community garden at Concordia Park in East Oakland. One of Ayesha’s key involvements, No Kid Hungry, will deepen as the Currys become family spokespeople for the organization. “We want to make school breakfasts universal and make sure communities have strong summer meal programs overall,” Helfrich says. In the education space, the foundation will work with organizations like Oakland Promise Initiative, College Track, and East Oakland Youth Development Center, to make sure kids in Oakland public school system are on a pathway to graduate from high school and go on to college. Another partner, Students Rising Above, focuses on preparing kids not just for college enrollment, but for completion.

Grantmaking will also touch on womens’ and girls’ issues, consistent with Ayesha Curry’s own interests. The foundation runs a scholarship program to college-bound female students in the Bay Area. Local student Vivian Wu was the inaugural recipient of this $30,000 scholarship. Steph Curry will also host an all-girls basketball camp in Oakland in mid August.

Plans for Partnerships

Chris Helfrich is currently the foundation’s sole full-time staff member, but he tells me that the Eat. Learn. Play is scaling up and will add a few positions over the next few months. By the end of the year, the foundation plans to open up more broadly, so that grantseekers not on the foundation’s radar can apply.

It’s also worth noting that Eat. Learn. Play. launched as a public charity, which Helfrich sees as an opportunity. “We are not going to do this alone. We want to align with organizations already doing incredible work in our community, and in partnership, create collaboration opportunities that take the best of what those organizations have to offer, and also add in some Curry Magic.” That “magic” doesn’t just come in the form of funds, but also from the Curry family’s time, voice, and networks.

Still, the Currys also have significant skin in the game. The couple don’t want to be too specific about their gifts, but they are making a seven-figure contribution to the foundation annually. And besides supporting programming, they are also committed to covering 100 percent of foundation’s operating expenses so that every dollar that is donated to the foundation goes directly to programming efforts. Helfrich adds that:

The hope is that we’re able to rally Steph and Ayesha Curry’s fans and various brand partners to become supporters here as well—including Under Armour and GoDaddy—so that they will become active supporters of the foundation. All those partners were out in full force on launch day leading various activities and we think this is just the beginning. The Currys are so beloved, and well-known that we’d be making a mistake not opening it up and leaving impact on the table. This can’t just be a smaller thing.

Down the line, Helfrich hopes that in a year or two, the foundation can also start thinking about more broadly mobilizing families across America to eat, learn, and play together more often. “We’re trying to be appropriately ambitious but also be thoughtful and make sure that we’re additive to the community. Our success is going to lie in big and innovative partnerships,” he says.

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