Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you sports, life, and the stuff we need to talk about with author/journalist Joanne C. Gerstner. Subscribe here and get Open Court straight to your email! If you're part of our subscriber fam, feel free to share this email and get your friends involved. We welcome your comments too, please share at the end of this piece or @joannecgerstner.
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Happy Holidays! It took me a little to get into the Christmas spirit this year, but now I am feeling it. I want to wish everybody a good holiday season and a blessed 2022. I have learned not to tell people how to have their holidays with specifics, a well-meaning but somewhat insensitive all-things-are-positive-because-its-Xmas push our society makes the deal. For many, resting or family time or happiness, the things we throw out there, are not in the cards right now. I know too many who are grieving, dealing with difficult jobs that do not stop during the holidays or struggling with illness. My hope is for all to find small moments of peace - no matter where you are. And ZERO guilt or sads if you just want the holidays over with. Emotional honesty is always the best policy.
This will be the last Open Court of 2021. What a ride it has been. We've got a lot of surprises for 2022. So we will catch up when the three 2's and a zero are in effect. And thank you, thank you, thank you for the feedback, support, subscribes and loves. Means the world.
SMALL NOTE: I've gotten some asks for the info on my latest children's sports book. It's coming out at the end of the year - YEAH! - and it is on WNBA/Team USA super super superstar Diana Taurasi. It's available everywhere (Target, Barnes and Noble, and you can ask your local independent bookseller to get it. OR, you can ask your local library to acquire it.) It's for kids in grades 3-5. I had a blast writing it, and I hope the kiddos love it too. 💜
Today's Open Court highlights Goods4Greatness, a 501c3 non-profit charity that is founded and run by sportswriter Rhiannon Potkey. It's a labor of love, and she is changing kids' lives by getting them the equipment they need to play sports. It started small, and Rhiannon has big plans to reach as many kids as possible in the U.S. as her group grows. I love charities that are run by people I know, because they are still grassroots and not bogged down with massive infrastructure. She has helped boys and girls, in sports from tennis to track to soccer, find equipment, shoes and the necessities to play. Please consider supporting her in any way you can financially or through helping her source equipment. (G4G is a IRS tax-deductible charity, so go go go...)
Joanne C. Gerstner: Give the Open Court audience the short version of your life...what do we need to know?
Rhiannon Potkey: I grew up in Southern California and was a four-sport athlete throughout high school. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in psychology and was already working in the newspaper industry as a sports reporter during college. I have remained a writer/multimedia journalist for the last two decades, covering different college beats for various publications. My true passion is helping others, so about four years ago I left newspapers to begin freelancing and make more time to start my non-profit, Goods4Greatness. It's been a financial sacrifice personally, but the rewards of helping low-income kids have access to sports is truly priceless. I have realized this is my true calling. I wish I could do it all day, every day. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, but the nonprofit helps kids across the nation. Outside of watching sports, I love spending my free time biking, hiking and being out in nature.
JCG: You've done a lot of stories, what are some of your favorites?
RP: That is a very hard question because I love so many stories I have pursued over the years. Among the favorites was an eight-man football team from a boarding school that had kids from all over the world. They didn't know American football very well, so many learned by playing Madden. The team had signs in all languages to hold up on the sideline to call plays during games. I covered BYU as a beat writer and those players always had such interesting stories because many were married with children after having gone on two-year missions. A recent story I did involved a college swimmer who was contemplating ending her life, but her friends barged through the door to stop her. She has recovered and is now a huge mental health advocate. I know there are so many more stories I could list. I have always espoused the philosophy of every story is the most important story I've ever written. They all have my name attached and families and loved ones of the people involved will read them, so I take it seriously no matter the subject.
JCG: Where did the idea for G4G come from?
RP: The idea for Goods4Greatness came when I was a young athlete and saw teammates that came from low-income households. They rarely had any new equipment and their parents struggled to keep them enrolled in leagues. I tried to help any way I could by giving them some of my gently-used items and buying them new things for any holidays or birthdays. I saw how great of a need there was and swore one day I would do something more if I could ever find a way. It became a mission in life for me.
JCG: What was the process for you to go all in? Was there a moment where you knew you had to do this?
RP: There was no one epiphany. It was something that just kept growing inside me. I finally said there won't be a perfect time and decided I need to just do it already. I was a workaholic because that is what the journalism industry requires as a beat reporter. I felt a void deep inside because I didn't have more time to give back like I truly wanted. The newspaper industry was changing, so I decided to leave my beat job, which I loved, to start the non-profit. I knew I would not make money running the nonprofit, but I was willing to take that chance and find enough work freelancing. It has been much harder than I probably anticipated on that front, but seeing how the kids and their families react when I help them tells me I made the right choice. It also motivates me to work harder to do even more to raise money to provide them with more.
JCG: Who are the kids that need this help and how do you find them?
RP: I do a lot of research to find the kids that need the most help. I study poverty rates in certain cities and locate Title I schools. I have a list of fellow reporters, coaches and others I trust to ask them about kids I can help. I spend hours emailing coaches of school programs in low-income areas. My reporting background is a big asset in this way. I use many of the same skills to operate the non-profit. I hand out my card to anyone I meet and tell them if they ever come across a child or family of athletes in need, call me. I will find a way to help. I really try to determine the lower-income kids that are dedicated to their sport. I don't care if they are star athletes or just out there to have fun and make friends. Sports benefits every child, regardless of ability level.
JCG: Running a non-profit is not easy, what is the experience like for you? And how do you balance your career and this growing project?
RP: Running a non-profit is definitely time consuming if you really want to be intentional about how it operates. It is a very hard balance that I am constantly trying to figure out. I try to schedule time each day to dedicate to the nonprofit. Some weeks, if I have some big work obligations with my freelancing jobs, I can't do as much. But I try to make that time up in other weeks. I essentially have made the non-profit work into my life. If I travel somewhere, I will seek out kids to help in whatever location I am traveling to. Through my sports writing, I will make contacts with coaches and players that may want to help or know people that need help. I have been very blessed that people want to give back and admire the mission of G4G. If I have areas that aren't my strength, I am not afraid to seek advice or see if someone can provide their services pro bono.
JCG: What is your vision for G2G?
JCG: Give us a few stories of who has donated and how it has helped?
RP: The financial donations I have received have come from many different areas of the country. I allow people to be very intentional with their donation. I want them to know where their money is going. They can earmark their donation by location, age and/or sport if they choose. I try to share pictures of the children they help so they can truly feel the impact of their giving. Some of the stories of the kids we help pull at your heartstrings. I had a single mother cry when we helped her son play baseball because she thought she would have to tell him it wasn't possible because she didn't have the money. We've helped grandparents raising their grandchildren on their Social Security checks and kids that live in adoption homes and have never owned anything have things they can keep as their own. Finding out more about these kids inspires me to keep trying to raise even more money because there are thousands more like them.
JCG: How can people best support your work?
RP: The best way to support the work is by donating money. It enables us to buy new equipment for the kids to send anywhere around the country and pay their participation fees. Every dollar matters, and you never know when your donation will be the one to change a life. Fundraising is the hardest aspect for me because of how much time is required. I do as much as I can to apply for grants and reach out to companies, but there is never enough time. I view the nonprofit sector as one big ecosystem that should be working together. We are often helping the same families. The human connection is what I love most about Goods4Greatness, and I want all of our donors to feel the same. I want them to know how much their donation is benefitting society. There is a lot of divisiveness lately in our world, but I truly believe kindness always prevails. It doesn't take much to make a difference.
See you next year!