Taking a charge is one of the most painful things you can do on a basketball court.
But when the charge is for a good cause, the fall is a little easier to handle.
For the first time, Penn women’s basketball will donate a month of the proceeds from its Charge for a Cure program to help benefit the Dut Jok Youth Empowerment Foundation, an organization founded by Penn men’s basketball’s Dau Jok.
“It’s important to see how special Dau is as an individual and the things he’s going to do down the road,” women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin said. “For our players, of all the [charities] we’ve done, I think this has hit home the most.”
The story of the two teams giving back for a common goal began four years ago.
On one side, McLaughlin and his group of coaches were looking for a way for the team to give back and raise awareness for organizations that mattered to them.
What they came up with was Charge for a Cure, a program where individuals or organizations could pledge a certain amount of money for every charge the Quakers draw. After starting the initial movement, McLaughlin and the coaches gave the decision to the players to help involve them in giving back.
“We pick the foundation for the month,” senior guard Meghan McCullough said. “We give our reasons, whether personal or now working with Dau, [choosing] something that’s important to us.”
In over three years, the team has raised nearly $9,000 through Charge for a Cure, in addition to other charitable programs they have participated in such as breast cancer awareness, which marked another $6,300. This year, the team is working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Autism/Play 4Kay and The Michael J. Fox Foundation to support Parkinson’s disease.
“Our goal is to not change things by the amount of money, but the awareness of it,” McLaughlin said. “Again, it’s Penn athletes doing their part. [The players] take a lot of pride in it.”
“Taking a charge in this game is selfless … that’s how you win basketball games.”
On the other side of campus, Jok was working on his own foundation.
Challenged by the poor conditions of schools in his native country of South Sudan and inspired his father, Dut Jok, who was killed in the country’s two-decade-long civil war, Dau hoped to build an organization that would help provide children with the structure and support — athletic and educational — they need to help overcome the difficulty of surviving the constant turmoil.
As he listed off the accomplishments of the young organization — including the donation of 1,000 soccer balls and other sports equipment with the help of other Penn students — it is the idea of changing children’s’ lives that has really touched Jok.
“We sponsored two kids to go to school, $500 a term, for three terms — that was probably the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Jok said.
Jok, who has spent the past few summers working in Africa and won a Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace Award in 2011 for his efforts, has spent much of his time in school dedicated to helping make this idea a reality.
“Right now, I have two projects planned: going to South Sudan, pending what’s going on, and doing a youth summit in Iowa at Iowa State,” Jok said.
He has even inspired students from Iowa State University to get involved and help raise awareness and donations for the cause.
And, as anyone who knows Dau would know, he is only thankful and humbled by the help.
“Celebrating one another is the big thing,” Jok said of the women’s team’s efforts. “To get support from people you know gives you a lot of confidence and allows you to see beyond yourself and what you can do and what you can not do. These are the things that inspire big movements and big ideas.”
When Kristen Kody first got to Penn and met Jok for the first time, he had already been on campus after completing a pre-freshman program. According to Kody, Jok acted like an upperclassmen, showing maturity beyond his years.
“Later on [in] freshman and sophomore year, he worked on developing his foundation,” Kody said. “Pretty much all of us knew about it right from the start … Sophomore year we baked cookies for a fundraiser. We just tried to show our support for all the work that he has done.”
But as the friendship flourished and the two teams became tighter, it became apparent that the Dut Jok Foundation was an ideal organization to help support for Charge for a Cure.
“Way before we even sat down, we talked about embracing Dau’s foundation, just because it’s something we always wanted to do,” Kody said. “Being a senior would be a great year to do it.
“I think in one way it’s sort of like we’re all in this together, it’s not just one athlete trying to bring change to the world. It’s like both teams coming together … [an] athletic community as a greater whole.”