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Ep. 13 - Will the Warriors take their philanthropy with them?

Jenee Darden
Unity Council's Early Head Start program receives funding from the Warriors.

The Warriors Community Foundation has donated over $10 million to nonprofits in Alameda and San Francisco counties since launching in 2012.

But will they take their charitable dollars with them when they leave Oakland for San Francisco?

Click the audio player above to listen to the story.

Back to pre-school at Early Head Start 

It’s an hour before lunch at the Unity Council’s Early Head Start program. Toddlers are sitting around a table, molding their Play-Doh into dinosaurs. I join in on the fun. One kid and I playfully growl at each other. 

“Grrr, GRRR, RAWR!”

This Head Start site is one of five in Oakland run by the Unity Council, a major nonprofit based in the Fruitvale neighborhood. These programs prepare 500 kids for kindergarten and provide free childcare services for families in poverty. 

The center is located in the same plaza as the Fruitvale BART station, literally one stop from where the Dubs play. Well, where they used to play. 

Guess who gave the Unity Council a grant for their Head Start Programs?

“Warriors!,” answers my little dinosaur friend in his squeaky voice.

Yes, the Warriors Community Foundation is giving back to these kids. Rosie Jara is a manager here. She says over the past three years the Warriors Foundation has donated $100,000 to their programs. 

“Although we receive federal and state funding, that does not cover the full cost of a child,” says Jara. “So we do fundraise outside to be able to provide comprehensive services such as mental health, dental exams, nutrition workshops.” 

And she says the grant pays for school supplies. Including the Play-Doh. The Warriors’ foundation focuses on youth and education causes. One reason is that Nicole Lacob, the foundation’s board president and wife of owner Joe Lacob, was a school teacher. 

Jara’s colleague Dana Kleinhesselink works on securing money from philanthropic sources for the Unity Council. 

“They've been really amazing at not just contributing cash donations that really are critical for our program success, but they've been really connecting our community, our clients our staff with other opportunities,” Kleinhesselink says. 

Their staff got to be in the Warriors 2018 championship victory parade. The team invited teenagers from Unity Council’s other programs to a Christmas Day game. And the players gifted each kid a laptop.

Kleinhesselink says, “The player actually [handed] it to the young person.”

The Unity Council is waiting to hear back about their grant application status for next year. But this year, the Dubs awarded them $35,000.

Although it costs millions to run this program, they say losing the Warriors donation could impact the kids and families they serve.

I ask if they are concerned the Warriors are going to take away some of the money if they leave. 

Kleinhesselink responds, “I'm not very concerned. They’ve really indicated to us that although they are moving across the bay physically, they're really going to try and keep their philanthropic support spread evenly across the Bay Area.” 

But Kleinhesselink is concerned about for the kids, is what a lot of East Bay fans are concerned about--transportation to the games. 

“I definitely fear for that,” she says. “It's been amazing to get tickets and things for games. We have transportation issues at the Coliseum, let alone someplace where BART doesn't go.” 

Generation Thrive at the Warriors’ Oakland headquarters

I head to the Warriors current headquarters in Downtown Oakland and meet Melanie Moore, the foundations’ new executive director. I ask her what’s going to happen to this space when they move. 

“We're not leaving it at all,” Moore answers. 

The headquarters has two floors, the first floor is where the team practices and the second floor has offices. They have big plans for this place. 

Moore explains, “As the team moves to Chase Center in the fall, this space will actually be remodeled. So the downstairs practice facility will turn into just an absolute state-of-the-art basketball camps facility.”

The foundation is partnering with Kaiser Permanente and re-naming the headquarters Generation Thrive. The healthcare organization contributed $5 million as an initial investment on the project.

Upstairs on Moore’s office wall, she explains the draft of a floor plan for the second level. 

“We're actually going to be remodeling the space to turn it into a non-profit accelerator,” she says. “And so we know that a lot of nonprofits in the East Bay, also in San Francisco, are getting displaced just like a lot of families are getting displaced through high rents.” 

This level will look like a modern office floor plan with an open kitchen, and some meeting rooms and offices, even a wellness space for nonprofits. 

But it’s an accelerator program, which is more like a residency. Nonprofits can only stay temporarily. So it’s not really a permanent solution for expensive office rents. But Generation Thrive will provide nonprofits with resources to help them grow. 

“You may have been to the impact Hub in Uptown Oakland,” she begins. “Imagine a space like that, focused around collaboration. So maybe you need to focus on financial sustainability 101. [Or] develop your board. Maybe you need to develop your youth program to take it to the next level. We’ll provide space for organizational consulting opportunities, for connecting with other nonprofits that are going to help you do that.”

Warriors Foundation budget

Moore says the Warriors Community Foundation has worked its way up to giving $1.5 million a year since it started. That doesn’t sound like much for a franchise that according to Forbes is worth $3.5 billion dollars — the 3rd most valuable in the NBA. Moore says the foundation is separate from the Warriors’ corporation, and their finances are distinct. 

They want to give more, but will they still support Oakland nonprofits?

“It is a worry that I know a lot of people have voiced,” she says. We've always had both sides of the Bay’s focus because we are the Bay’s team… And we want to support organizations in the Western Addition, as well as in the Tenderloin, as well as in East Oakland and West Oakland and the Fruitvale, etc.” 

Moore says they’ve kept the donations between Alameda County and San Francisco pretty even every year. But If you look at the graphs on the foundation’s website, Alameda County causes have received a bit more, nearly $1.6 million more than San Francisco during the foundation’s existence. 

I ask her if the percentage of the distribution will change? Will it be more of San Francisco focus since they’re in the city now? 

She responds, “I know that there hasn't been any specific formula that we've been trying to follow. I don't think that you're going to see a percentage shift per se. We'd love to get to know nonprofits in San Francisco as well as we know a lot of the nonprofit's in the East Bay.”

And there are plans in store for San Francisco nonprofits, including a Generation Thrive at the Chase Center. 

“Outside of Chase Center, that whole area around the arena is called Thrive City,” she explains. “At Thrive City we're going to have a couple of storefronts that are Generation Thrive in San Francisco. Those spaces are not going to be office spaces per se but they would be small event spaces for nonprofits.” 

Change for a new generation of sports fans in East Oakland

Back at the Early Head Start classroom in East Oakland, the kids are cleaning up for lunch and then a nap. I think about when I was a kid growing up in this neighborhood with three professional sports teams just minutes away. On a whim, my family would go the Coliseum for a game, because it was close and affordable. These kids won’t have that experience. I knew having that kind of access was special. But now that it’s gone, I have a deeper appreciation for what we had.

BOUNCE: The Warriors Last Season in Oakland BOUNCE: The Warriors' Last Season in Oakland
Jeneé Darden is an award-winning journalist, author, public speaker and proud Oakland native. She is the executive producer and host of the weekly arts segment Sights & Sounds as well as the series Sights + Sounds Magazine. Jeneé also covers East Oakland for KALW. Jeneé has reported for NPR, Marketplace, KQED, KPCC, The Los Angeles Times, Ebony magazine, Refinery29 and other outlets. In 2005, she reported on the London transit bombings for Time magazine. Prior to coming to KALW, she hosted the podcast Mental Health and Wellness Radio.