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July 14, 2017

 

Indiana
Fever point guard Erica Wheeler has always played with a heart of passion on
the basketball court, but her heart for helping those around the Indiana
community and beyond is equally as big.

 

Through
the efforts of her non-profit, the Wheeler Kid Foundation, she wants to bring
hope and a helping hand to those who deserve it the most. Wheeler recently did
just that when she provided gift cards to Justin Smith and Curtez Hudgins,
Arlington Community High School’s 2017 valedictorian and salutatorian,
respectively.Erica Wheeler

 

Wheeler
has never met Justin or Curtez, but when she read the stories
about the hardships they’ve endured and the fortitude they displayed during
those hard times, she was touched and wanted to help as they both head off to
college this fall.

 

Justin
and Curtez, who have been best friends and classmates since seventh grade, have
each gone through their fair share of obstacles, but it’s done nothing but
increase their focus on beating the odds.

 

From seventh
grade to the beginning of his freshman year, Curtez was living day-to-day with
his family in a nearby motel and knew firsthand the level of defeat that he
never wanted to experience.

 

“Me
being homeless made me fight for a purpose,” said Curtez, who will attend
Indiana University-Bloomington. “I wanted to be successful, and I knew I didn’t
want to stay in my situation anymore.”

 

Justin,
who lost his mother when he was 4, and later experienced a brief period of
homelessness after his family was evicted from their home earlier this year,
expressed his utmost gratitude for Wheeler’s kindness.

 

“It means
a lot to me that people read me and Curtez’s story and feel touched. For her
(Wheeler) not to even know us but go out of her way to get us ready for school
and our lives is great! I truly thank her,” said Justin, who will attend IUPUI.

 

For
Wheeler, it wasn’t just
their story but their sheer perseverance that impacted her decision to offer
support.

 

“It’s
so hard sometimes to stay on track and do the right thing, so for them to be at
the top of their class with scholarships, it’s amazing,” said Wheeler, who grew
up in Liberty City, one of the roughest neighborhoods in Miami, Fla. “They made
a choice, just like I did. They could have not gone to school, but they did
despite their situation.”

 

 

As one
of three siblings growing up in a single parent home, Wheeler’s own experience
with homelessness as a child and losing a parent (her mother died during Wheeler’s
senior year at Rutgers University) motivates her to use her resources to support
those in similar situations.

 

“Basketball
has given me an outlet and I feel like now I’m in a position where if I can
help any child or adult not feel what I once felt, I want to be able to do that,”
said Wheeler. “That’s my goal, to just get out and let people in the community
know that we’re a foundation that’s willing to help and if you need a hand,
that you can reach out to us.”

 

Wheeler’s
dedication and support for the community has inspired Justin and Curtez to
continue not only working hard, but making sure they come back to serve the
neighborhoods they grew up in.

 

“It’s
amazing to see someone who’s been in my shoes still give back to the people
that look up to her,” said Curtez. “It gives me the motivation to keep going
and make it to a position where I can help people who relate to me in the
future.”

 

With
the children and the future of the community always in mind, the mission of the
Wheeler Kid Foundation is focused on providing opportunities to those who
aren’t typically given a choice or chance. Wheeler said that as her foundation
grows, so, too, will its impact.

 

To
learn more about the Wheeler Kid Foundation, visit the organization’s Facebook
page.