Players' message hits home at Vista Maria

The Sweetest Thing

Alexis Hornbuckle and Olayinka Sanni spent Thursday afternoon talking about their favorite TV shows and music over bags of M&Ms with 50 young women.

It was certainly less strenuous than, say, teammate Kelly Schumacher's afternoon building a house for Habitat for Humanity in August. But it was no less meaningful to the Shock rookies' audience at Vista Maria, a residential treatment facility for high-risk female adolescents in Dearborn Heights.

Vista Maria houses 183 young women between 11-17 years old who have been sent by the court system to learn the skills that will help transition them into a healthy adulthood. And in search of positive female role models at Vista Maria, the Shock players top the list.

"We try to get the girls to go to the games as much as possible so to have some of the players here is really neat for them," said Wendy Kearney, manager of volunteer services at Vista Maria. "We have a lot of girls who are huge Shock fans. Bedrooms are done with Shock posters, so this is a huge thing for them, absolutely."

Instead of houses, Hornbuckle and Sanni were building the confidence of girls who have often felt isolated by abuse and neglect. And they did it with the "M&M game."

The players passed out M&Ms, with each color corresponding to an item that girl would have to name. Get three blues? Name your three favorite movies. Two greens? Name your two favorite types of food. In doing so, the girls discovered their common interests.

"Some of them were shy but we kind of broke them in once they saw that everybody was speaking up and sharing their thoughts and ideas so it was a very fun experience," Hornbuckle said.

The 50 girls broke into groups of 10 and participated in five different activities to promote teamwork and self-confidence, including the M&M game. After the activities, the groups assembled in the gymnasium where Pistons in-arena hostess Erin Nicole moderated a panel discussion about role models and what inspires them.

Sanni said her mother was her role model, revealing something that many of the young women could identify with: her mother worked two jobs to raise her and her three siblings by herself. The discussion made Sanni appreciate her mother's sacrifices even more, as she saw firsthand how differently things could have been.

"I'm sure these girls have a lot of things in common with me and my family and how I was raised with my mom," Sanni said. "To know that I can share my story with someone else and maybe inspire them or motivate them to move forward and be positive in their lives, I just think that's tremendous."

The young women were definitely all ears to the players' stories. Vista Maria resident Harley said the M&M game was her favorite part of the day, "because they were getting to know us and asking us questions like what's our favorite TV show or movie and stuff like that."

Harley, who said she was encouraged to get her education because she wants to reach the WNBA, called the players "nice, smart, intelligent, fun to hang around with."

And the candy was good too, right?

"I'm a diabetic," she said.

Just being there really was the sweetest thing.