History of the Maurice Lucas Foundation
The seeds for the Maurice Lucas Foundation were sown many years before Maurice passed away from cancer in 2010. Maurice’s daughter, Kristin, was born prematurely at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland. Maurice and his wife, Pam Lucas, were so thankful for the care she received, they organized celebrity golf tournaments, basketball games and other sporting events for many years to raise funds for Emmanuel and other community groups, as well as sports camps for children.
“My dad was passionate about our youth. He always supported kids as far back as I could remember,” said Maurice’s son, David Lucas. “Everything he did was about giving back to kids, the elderly and the homeless. He grew up poor in the Pittsburgh projects with a single mom who had three kids and three jobs. He knew what it was like to have nothing and to be under-served. That was his whole childhood.”
David had talked with his father about starting a foundation and began the process. But when Maurice became ill, they put that idea on the backburner.
Starting The Foundation
When Maurice died at age 58, he was mourned by his family, friends, former teammates and the community. Within days of his passing, Larry Miller, president of the Portland Trail Blazers at the time, approached David and Pam. He told them the Blazers wanted to support the future foundation. It was all the spark David, then age 28, needed to get it rolling.
“I took it and ran with it,” said David.
David formed the first board with his father’s accomplished friends, some of whom he had known his whole life. They included David Bishop, a former police chief and friend of Maurice’s, who served several years as the first board chair.
“Maurice was probably the most giving man you would ever meet,” said Chief Bishop. “That was always his dream: to give back to the kids. It was just a natural thing, to carry on after he passed.”
Creating A Board
David sought out volunteer board members from a variety of professions who could help get the new organization off the ground.
Others who joined the first board (many of whom continue to serve today) included Pam and friends from the NBA and the community, such as Frank Brickowski, Jamaal Brown, Drew Force, Jim Gaffney, Brian Grant, Bobby Gross, Lamar Hurd, Jerome Kersey and Sue Wendling.
“It was a very interesting, diverse group of people. Everyone was a friend of Maurice’s and wanted to support his legacy,” Drew recalled.
Michele Wasson is a lawyer at Stoel Rives LLP in Portland who specializes in nonprofits, corporate foundations, public charities and other areas of law. She, too, joined the board and helped craft its mission statement and obtain its nonprofit status.
The foundation’s initial focus was to provide a free basketball program to middle school youths with a small education component. That changed so the emphasis was more on education with sports as an additional activity.
“We’ve definitely evolved over the years. We didn’t want to just focus on athletics,” said David, who now serves as the foundation’s executive director. “We felt there are up and coming leaders in this community and we wanted to help those kids who could use a boost to succeed.”
Adding Education Expertise
The board realized it needed to add an education professional to the foundation. Luckily, Michele knew Karen Barker was available. Karen had retired in 2009 after working 33 years as a PE teacher and student management specialist. Karen met with the board and agreed to serve as its first academy manager.
“I was hooked right then. I loved the mission,” said Karen. Like David, she volunteered for two years before ever becoming a paid employee (today the foundation has three full-time staff members and several part-time tutors).
Karen, her husband and the board developed what became the seven pillars that would be the focus of the academy and its curriculum: personal responsibility, respect, integrity, leadership, hard work, goal setting and positivity.
The First Academy
Karen organized a free, nine-week program that ran for two days a week at St. Andrews Nativity Middle School in North Portland. About 20 students participated in an hour of class work that focused on the pillars and an hour of sports.
“Middle school students are so under-served,” said Karen. “There are not enough programs to keep them in a structured environment after school.”
“At the beginning we said we wanted to help under-served kids,” said Drew. “That’s why we chose middle school. They are all under-served. It’s a critical time in their lives. We felt if we can help some find their path and be better leaders in the community, that would be awesome.”
The foundation later provided the nine-week program at Irvington School and Hosford Middle School in Portland and H.B. Lee Middle School in Gresham. But something was bothering Karen.
Expanding The Program
“We weren’t making enough of an impact with these kids in just nine weeks,” she said.
The board took Karen’s advice and expanded the academy to run four days a week for the entire school year. The academy returned to Irvington School in 2012. When Irvington became a k-5 school in 2018, the academy migrated to Harriet Tubman Middle School in Portland, where it is today.
The program builds community and a family connection among the students, including their siblings and parents.
“They absolutely love the sense of belonging to something larger than themselves,” said Karen. “Parents also love the program and can’t imagine where their kids would be if they didn’t have it.”
One student told Karen, “I would have been lost without the Maurice Lucas Foundation. I would have been getting in trouble or just hanging out at the mall.”
The First Gala
Like every nonprofit organization in the world, one of the Maurice Lucas Foundation’s biggest obstacles in its early days – and still today – was raising money to fund its operations.
“It was challenging,” recalled Chief Bishop. “But the board was extremely and highly motivated, and we were all there for the same reasons.”
The Trail Blazers did its part by selling tee shirts and asking fans for donations. The board brainstormed ideas to raise additional funds and decided to hold a gala. The first one took place in 2011 at the Tiger Woods Center at Nike’s headquarters.
Early board member Kim Pasion has a strong background in nonprofits and event consulting. She volunteered to serve as the organizing committee chair of the first gala. The gala was a challenge because the new foundation had yet to produce any substantial results to show potential supporters.
The event, however, drew 200 people who knew and loved Maurice. The initial gala raised $180,000, thanks in part to five-figure donations from Bob Quillin and Vanessa Morgan, Steve Larson and (the late) Howard Hedinger.
“We learned how we could do it better and it developed from there,” said Chief Bishop.
The 2019 dinner and after-party at the Portland Hilton attracted more than 600 attendees and raised more than $757,000 (a record). The foundation also carries on a tradition started by Maurice and raises funds through an annual celebrity golf tournament each summer.
The Program Is Working
Another obstacle was keeping the students interested in the program as they grow older. To address this, Karen created leadership roles for the Eighth Grade students.
In 2019 the foundation hired long-time educator Sheila Zachry as its new Program Director. The native Oregonian has extensive experience in education. Her career includes 29 years at Oregon City High School where she taught virtually every English course. She also created a course to help students and families navigate the college process and later served as its English department coordinator.
Academy graduates are now enrolled at six Portland high schools. The foundation has started a post-secondary school scholarship program for participants who maintain their grades, participate in school activities and perform community service.
Sheila oversees the foundation’s middle school and high school programs, as well as the scholarship program. Karen now serves as the High School Program Manager. She monitors the high school students’ academic performance weekly and checks in regularly with the college students.
The foundation offers tutoring to those who are struggling. The students are also required to undergo SAT prep training the foundation provides. A phenomenal 95 percent of the academy students are continuing their education after high school.
“These kids are building community with their peers for three years,” said Karen. “They are in a structured environment. It works with their sports and outside activities. It’s turned into a win-win-win for the kids, their parents and the foundation. I see and witness the impact we have on these kids.”
The academy now includes a summer school program, orientation trips to college campuses and free sports camps. Students who graduated from the program and from high school are now attending college, some on complete or partial scholarships.
Under Sheila’s leadership, the foundation’s academy is expanding its academic component to ensure students succeed. It’s also building three years of new curriculum to allow it to better track metrics that show the foundation’s impact on student success. Sheila is also developing a program for the students who are now in college.
“We are with these kids for 11 years of their life, all the way through middle school, high school and now into college,” said David.
“It’s important to our students and families that we work with them for multiple years and remain invested in their future,” Sheila added.
Also in 2019, the board created a strategic plan. One of its goals is to triple the number of schools that offer the foundation’s programs within the next four years.
“The foundation is now doing what the board first envisioned,” said Chief Bishop.
“We’re where we want to be,” he said. “Maurice’s dream was to provide education through sports. He was a firm believer in helping people succeed.”
Despite all its success, the organization is still in its early stages, said Drew. “There is a lot of room to grow.”