Minnesota's Charde Houston Spreads Holiday Cheer

Charde Houston and Project Y.O.U. surprised a family in Atlantic City, New Jersey this holiday season
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Charde Houston of the Minnesota Lynx is spending her offseason overseas in Slovakia where her Kosice squad has posted a 5-3 record and currently sits at second place in Group A competition. While things continue to look good on the court, it’s what she’s accomplishing off the court that has Houston smiling ear to ear this holiday season.

Like most players, Houston had plans to return home for the holidays. But the San Diego native planned a detour before landing at her final destination. Through her organization Project Y.O.U. (Youth Opportunities Unlimited), Houston surprised the Scott family, a single mother and five children, in Atlantic City, New Jersey on Tuesday, Dec. 22, with a wide array of toys, clothes and gifts. Despite obvious exhaustion from a hectic day of travel and preparation, Houston was all smiles when she chatted with WNBA.com following the event.

WNBA.com: With so many options across the country, how did you decide on picking a family in Atlantic City?

Charde Houston: Well we start in November with getting inquiries and I’ll look on all sorts of media with hopes of finding a family that could have the greatest needs come Christmas time. And with this particular family, the Scott family, what really set them apart was that they were a real bare necessity [type of family]. We wanted to make sure that aside from the toys that they were able to get clothing, hats and scarves and things like that so they could be comfortable with the winter time because it does get very cold here.

WNBA.com: What was the collection process like for all of the gifts?

CH: Through Twitter, Facebook and those social media sites my staff members were gathering clothing and monitoring donations in Connecticut, Maryland and Washington D.C. We were able to fulfill every single thing on their Christmas list from bikes, to iPods, to computers, shoes, clothes, Barbies, X-men, Spideman – you name it, we were able to fulfill it. And actually this year, unlike last year when we received more monetary donations and not many toys which meant we had to physically go out and shop for the children, this year a lot of people actually took it upon themselves to actually go out and shop for the family and mail it. I think that is what connects me to all of my fans in knowing that they felt the same warmth that I felt.

WNBA.com: This time of year a number of stories surface regarding families in need and communities pulling together to help others, but not many of them require flying from Slovakia to do it. What was your day and travel like to get here in time for the event?

CH: Due to me missing my flight on the 20th, I had to fly on the 21st. But I was told by the flight that I would not be able to have a flight to Philadelphia, so I said, ‘Fine, just get me to Washington D.C. and I’ll do the rest.’ Once I landed in Washington D.C. I ordered a car service to take me to the train stop, purchased a ticket and that’s how I got to Philadelphia. From Philadelphia I was picked up and I had to drive 45 minutes to Atlantic City, where the event took place. So we stayed up until about almost five in the morning wrapping presents and making sure everything was right for the family and we went to sleep about 5:30 and woke up at 8 a.m. to make sure that everything was taken care of.

WNBA.com: So by the time the event wrapped up you had to have been pretty exhausted, huh?

CH: (laughs) I don’t think it’s even hit me yet. But just to see the smiles on the family’s faces, that’s all I can think about at the moment. I think once I go to the house and wind down then I’ll probably crash and just go to sleep, but I can’t get too much because I have a 6 a.m. flight to catch (laughs).

WNBA.com: Is it safe to say you got a healthy energy boost from it all?

CH: Oh definitely. It’s just a great accomplishment – not for me, but for my organization as a whole. Knowing that they invested a lot of time and energy into making sure everything was successful for the Scott family.

WNBA.com: Was it as simple as walking up to the front door, waiting for them to answer and then yelling, “Surprise?”

CH: They had no idea that they had been the lone family selected for the Christmas with Y.O.U. Project. Last week we sent out a letter to them in the mail and just told them that they were selected as finalists among three families to receive gifts for Christmas. That was our way of getting them to the Youth Advocate Program office located in Atlantic City. So when they came in they expected to see two other families, but once they opened the door we yelled, ‘Surprise! Merry Christmas!’ and they were presented with their gifts.

WNBA.com: They must have just been beside themselves at that point.

CH: They were. They were saying, “This is the best Christmas ever, thank you,” jumping up and down, just really enjoying themselves running around and having a good time. Just being able to interact with them was something that is dear to my heart and just seeing that you can change a life, and also positive reinforcement and letting them know that regardless of your hardship you still have a chance and you still deserve to be happy and productive to society.