(AKRON, OH) — NBA superstar LeBron James is not only helping kids from his hometown receive an education, but he’s also making sure families have the necessary support to succeed outside the classroom.
The Los Angeles Lakers franchise player announced Monday that his I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, is partnering with Graduate Hotels to launch the I Promise Village — a transitional housing opportunity for families in need.
The public school, which incorporates a STEM-based curriculum, is operated by the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools. It first opened its doors in 2018 and currently includes more than 340 students in third, fourth and fifth grades.
For Britney Bennett, a 32-year-old mother living in Akron, stable housing is something she’s tirelessly fighting to secure for her three children.
On Tuesday, Bennett told ABC News that this opportunity would be especially beneficial for her 9-year-old daughter, Trinity Thomas, a fourth-grader at the I Promise School.
Bennett and her children currently live in a local shelter after she lost their apartment nearly two years ago and fell behind on the rent while living on a $8.25 an hour wage.
She said that her children, the youngest being a 1 year old, have juggled between the shelter and staying overnight with their grandmother until they find a permanent place to live.
Bennett, a high school dropout who later earned her GED and studied at The Milan Institute of Cosmetology, said there were a rough couple of months and remembers having to change clothes in her car. Her daughter, Trinity, consoled her mother as she watched her cry about their current circumstances.
“I feel bad as a mom. … My baby shouldn’t have to go through that,” Bennett said.
James, the former Cleveland Cavaliers MVP player who helped lead the team to their 2016 championship victory, is an Akron native who empathizes with stable housing.
The I Promise Village is set to officially open before the next academic school year in July. Renovations on the historic Westmont apartment building, which is roughly five blocks from the school in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood, will be underway soon.
In his 2010 book, “LeBron’s Dream Team: How Four Friends and I Brought a Championship Home,” he wrote about his mother, Gloria’s, challenges that resulted with them having to move a dozen times by age 10.
In the fourth grade, James said he missed 83 days of school, but still held on to his “big dreams.”
“It was mentally challenging. … No kid at 8,9 should have stress. And I was one of those kids, so I know exactly what those kids today are going through being a part of this,” James told ESPN ahead of the school’s opening last year.
Michele Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, believes that James’ extraordinary investment into the students stems from the fact that “he sees himself” in them.
“When our students have to worry about where they’re going to lay their heads … going from pillow to pillow, it creates issues. … And unfortunately, when kids face those challenges, it comes out in their behavior,” said Victoria McGee, director of the I PROMISE School’s Family Resource Center.
McGee called the school a “one-stop shop” for its list of resources and said that the new housing plan is just an expansion of that.
Resources for students include a free food pantry, clothing, transportation, financial literacy programs, mental health services and free annual eye exams.
Among the school’s new additions are a media lab and a colorful outdoor basketball court. In October, 90 students and their families were given free eyeglasses and offered follow-up care along with replacement services.
The LeBron James Family Foundation confirmed to ABC News that no specific families have been selected yet for the I Promise Village. It will include approximately 20 families that are in immediate need of housing.
For Bennett, just the sheer possibility is enough to be grateful for. She hopes to one day have the chance to tell James how “amazing” he is.
Bennett said she would like to tell James: “What you’re doing is out of this world to me and I feel like it’s a blessing.
The investment into the students already appears to be paying off.
In April, 90% of the inaugural class met or exceeded their reading and math scores and outpaced their peers across the district, according to The New York Times.
The incredible achievement is especially remarkable considering most of the students were once deemed some of the worst academic performers and previously ranked in the bottom 25th percentile.
McGee, a graduate of the University of Akron, spent two decades working in the criminal justice system before she joined the team at the I Promise School. The Cleveland native called her job a chance to serve as an “agent of change” for local families.
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