Foundation is a heartfelt project

Tina Charles will donate an automatic external defibrillator for every double-double she records during the season. Courtesy of WNBA

WNBA Cares Week is here again, and there are two things that I am thinking about and eager to be a part of: our New London Community Meal Center visit and the Heart of Hope Foundation.

On May 23, my Connecticut Sun teammates and I will be serving dinner at the New London Community Meal Center. The organization currently provides lunch five days a week and dinner six nights a week, including Saturday dinner served by a downtown New London church. This is the second consecutive year that we have been to the meal center, and it is a great event. In my first season, we also worked with Habitat for Humanity.

As I look forward to our visit to the center, I cannot help but think about my aunt, Maureen "Hopey" Vaz, who passed away on March 9 from multiple organ failure. She would have loved to be with my teammates, serving others as she did in many ways throughout her life. In memory of my aunt, I started the Tina Charles Heart of Hope Foundation (TCHH). The foundation is committed to improving the health of students and amateur athletes by providing health education and medical equipment in schools, communities and recreational centers. That includes the treatment of heart and other injuries with the placement of an automatic external defibrillator (AED). We are dedicated to educating and sharing information on sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

I had read an ESPN article last summer on Wes Leonard, a basketball player at Fennville High who died of SCA at the end of a game in March 2011. Having an AED on-site likely would have saved his life. I was moved by the sad and sudden losses of Wes and of my aunt Maureen. Out of that sadness, I started to refocus my efforts to help reduce the chances of student athletes falling victim to sudden cardiac arrest. In this, I was mirroring my aunt Maureen's giving heart.

The TCHH will host a grant program that will supply eligible schools or recreational centers with life-saving AED equipment. The program will award AEDs quarterly, and participants will be required to complete a 500-word application and waiver form agreeing to the terms and policies of the program. I also pledge to donate an AED for every double-double I earn in the 2013 season.

To me, WNBA Cares Week represents that time of the season when we take some time to help others. I was brought up to believe in giving more than one has been given, and that success is not measured on someone's wealth but how they are able to positively impact others' lives. The Tina Charles Heart of Hope Foundation will not only impact the lives of people, but will help keep "Hope" alive!