The emotion was clearly evident in New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams’ voice.
Williams sometimes makes appearances at charities, particularly in summer when the long, hectic NBA season is done. However, this one at Covenant House in New Orleans hit close to home.
Joined by his wife, Ingrid, and their five children, he was there Thursday to mingle and talk with residents, who are ages 16 to 22, some of who have children. Covenant House provides a haven for homeless, runaway and at-risk youths and works to improve their plight in life and get them on track for a successful transition into society.
“I’d just like to hug ’em and hold ’em,” said Williams when asked what lasting message he’d like to impart. “There’s not much I’m going to say in an hour or two that’s going to affect these kids, or these young adults. They aren’t looking for that.
“I think they just want you to be around them and be yourself and they can be themselves. They know I’m going home and they’re going to stay here. So, I think there’s a kinship when we’re just ourselves.”
The shelter’s programs and their encouraging results had him uplifted. For example, there was the young woman he met who was about to leave and get her first apartment. And he obviously was impressed with the job training program and the life’s disciplines it teaches for a permanent successful integration into society.
“It takes a great commitment,” he said. “These kids have to get up at 6 (a.m.); they have to be in here by 6 at night. And it allows them to get ready to progress. You know, they don’t want them here forever.
“So the job program, that’s a part of it, but it starts with this commitment. They get to stay in the homes on the backside (of the facility), but they’ve got to pay rent. It’s a small percentage, but they have to pay rent. And I think that helps them to prepare themselves for the real world.”
Williams’ visit started with a tour of the facility. There, he saw young mothers with small children.
“It’s a safe place,” he said. “The streets are no place for a mother and a child. So, if they can come here and get some assistance and they get on their feet, they can be like the young lady who is going to get her apartment for the first time.”
Slightly more than half of the approximately 140 residents are young African-American males. That, and that all the residents are young, and many — if not most — did not have a father present, touched a soft spot in Williams’ heart.
His parents divorced when he was young, and he and his mother moved in with his maternal grandparents in Virginia. However, with strong family structure, he became an “A” student in school, developed into a terrific basketball player, got a scholarship to Notre Dame and graduated.
He obviously saw himself in some of the Convenant House residents and wondered how things may have turned out for him if not for family.
“I was blessed, too, when my parents were divorced and my dad wasn’t always around, I had a strong grandfather,” he said, getting choked up. “These kids don’t have that. They have the streets, and they turn to a lot of things that put them in the hole.
“So, Convenant House is a supplement for what they didn’t get, and yet there’s still yearning for their own families. That’s a lot to deal with. And then you throw in finances. So, it’s a tough road.”
Williams, his wife and children were on the kitchen serving line, along with cafeteria supervisor Gail Singleton, dishing up plates of food.
“She’s been here 20 years,” Williams said. “It’s because she’s dedicated to these kids. The employees here don’t make much.”
Eighty-three percent of Covenant House’s funding comes from private donations, which Williams found incredulous.
“They have some great partners, such as Walmart and Costco in town, but they need a lot,” he said. “It’s a shame the government doesn’t fund programs like this.
“We can build prisons and jails, but we can’t fund residential programs that help families and kids who need it. That’s depressing.”
During the season, Williams is consumed with beating opponents, his team’s injuries and the like.
“This is life. This is not a not a pick-and-roll situation,” he said. “These kids are in desperate need of help, and there are a lot of people who can help out. But it’s cool to come here and see the kids committing to the programs.”