Steve working with kids at Henry Street © Courtesy of the Steve Nash Foundation
By Raye Mocioiu
Sport has the power to change the world. Whether on the pitch or the court, sports bring together people from all across the globe around a common goal: the love of the game. That pursuit ignores cultural, religious, and even language barriers, focusing on developing friendships, commonalities, and participation.
For South African-born Canadian Steve Nash, sports have proven an effective way to empower change and create opportunities for growth and development—not just for players, either.
Founded in 2004 by Nash and his family, the Steve Nash Foundation (SNF) works to assist underserved children in their health, personal development, education, and enjoyment of life.
Through a range of programs, the SNF focuses on investing in research on what children need to grow, learn, and thrive, translating Nash’s legacy of assists to benefit underserved and vulnerable children worldwide.
Children are impacted by their environments and experiences before they are even born. Developments in neuroscience have shared that there are many ways that a child’s earliest experiences can positively impact their growth and development as they age, from maternal and parental health to childhood development programs and services.
Around the world, child health is an indicator of community health. The SNF brings research and actionable steps to vulnerable communities across the globe, focusing its efforts on attending to the critical needs of children. In doing so, they are changing the trajectories of underserved communities and, thus, changing the world.
The Love of the Game
Nash has made an incredible impact both on and off the court. The two-time NBA VIP was one of only ten players to win the award in back-to-back years and the first Canadian to do so. True to his passion, Nash ensures that sports play an important role in the foundation, especially when it comes to fundraising efforts.
In 2008, NBA stars took to the Lower East Side to kick goals across the pitch instead of shooting hoops on the court. The match brought together soccer professionals and NBA favorites to raise money and awareness for the SNF. Since then, the annual charity soccer match has become a tradition excitedly awaited by New York’s sports fans, featuring players from all 30 NBA teams (including 14 NBA Champs) and 12 World Cup soccer teams (including five World Cup champions). Though the event has been on hold due to changing health and safety regulations amid the pandemic, the anticipation has been building, and their return to the field will be worth the wait.
“Being in a position to not only provide a voice for underserved children, but to put action toward it with an annual event is something I’m really passionate about,” Nash said in 2018.
In 2006, the SNF established its first project, a post-operative pediatric cardiology ward in Paraguay, which treated over 2,000 patients within the first two years. In 2009, the hospital expanded to include a program designed to address mortality rates from cervical cancers in young girls.
Since then, the foundation has expanded, taking its impact further and creating programs that support early childhood development science and literacy for both children and parents.
“There’s nothing more powerful than watching a child have access to high quality early learning opportunities. There’s not a more worthwhile pursuit, not only for that individual, but for the community.” —Steve Nash
This is the sentiment behind the READy program, which increases diversity, equity, and inclusion through transformative social-emotional learning in public elementary schools. Launched in Brooklyn in 2021, the READy program uses teacher training, curriculum, and supplies to help students build their vocabulary around feelings, fostering empathy and growth in pre-K to Grade 3 students. READy also offers grants to assist school libraries in increasing the diversity of authors, illustrators, characters, and stories available, with SNF-recommended booklists for readers of all ages.
Through READy, the SNF has also worked with the Brooklyn Public Library, establishing a new Let’s Read! Book List and collection of children’s books, working with local teens to create a companion list for high school readers and funding back-to-school kits for local students. To kick off the start of the NBA season, the foundation teamed with Brooklyn-based Bookshop.org to celebrate World Teachers’ Day, filling public school classroom bookshelves around the country through a giveaway to increase the availability of READy-recommended titles.
A father of five, Nash knows that fathers play an essential role in their children’s development right from the start. Let’s Talk Dads is the SNF’s collaboration with the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health, focusing on fathers’ crucial role in supporting their children. Through Let’s Talk Dads, fathers can become what Nash calls “our children’s personal neuro-developer” by learning research-based strategies to promote their child’s cognitive development simply by talking and interacting with them.
Studies show that at as early as two months old, babies whose dads were more present in day-to-day activities like bathing, changing, and feeding were more socially responsive than babies whose dads participated less. The benefits of fathers being present continue as the babies age, with higher developmental scores recorded by six months old and more resiliency under stress by the age of two. Bringing that science to dads in the community, Let’s Talk Dads provides weekly, small group classes in infant and toddler neurodevelopment for fathers—and soon, these sessions will be available in New York as well.
“How empowering the realization that each of us can be our children’s personal neuro-developer, that the sheer quality of our interactions can impact the attitude of inquiry and health of our kids,” Nash said. “The practical application is limitless; as a dad, and as someone invested in early child development, I’m excited to see how far it takes us.”