Who knew a simple “walk and talk” between two very different people could largely impact the quality of lives for a larger group? Kevin O’Connor and Amhad Thomas didn’t have any idea what they were about to achieve from one simple conversation about life.
Kevin, a member and resident of The Cliffs at Walnut Cove, and Ahmad, a rising junior and basketball player at UNC Asheville, were introduced through the Leaders for Leaders program launched in 2015 by Walnut Cove residents interested in mentoring student-athletes at UNC Asheville. The intention of the program was for mentors to provide students with all types of advice and assistance, including help with resumes, mock interviews, introductions within their mentor’s network of friends and associates, internship applications and awards, and applications for MBA programs. So, with that, Kevin and Ahmad were paired up as mentor and mentee.
UNC Asheville rising junior and basketball player Ahmad Thomas with The Cliffs at Walnut Cove resident Kevin O’Connor.
Kevin started conducting “walks and talks” with Ahmad—then just a college sophomore—where they would stroll throughout campus, talk about the day’s activities and events, Kevin’s professional background, the importance of Ahmad’s studies, the latest basketball game and other engaging topics that have built their bond. It wasn’t until recently Ahmad and Kevin began speaking about life after the glory of college basketball was over. It was at this point Kevin says “the Butterfly Effect” began and was spurred by Ahmad’s goal in life after college: Become an educator for special needs children.
Kevin, not necessarily connected to helping in that realm, took this to heart. Amazed that a such a young man was already in touch with his future goals, and those goals being genuinely rich, Kevin was ready to do anything it took to help Ahmad get started on his path to becoming the man he aspired to be. And, with that, Kevin began his research starting with a call to the Special Olympics of Buncombe County. Here is where the Butterfly Effect, as Kevin refers to it, began.
Kevin made a call to Special Olympics of Buncombe County to see how he could get involved. It just so happened they were looking for volunteer basketball coaches. As a former basketball referee, it was the perfect opportunity for he and Ahmad to get involved. When Kevin noticed the Special Olympians didn’t have matching uniforms he knew exactly who to turn to. He connected with Brenda Kirkpatrick, the women’s basketball coach for UNC Asheville, to see if they had any old jerseys they could possibly donate. Coach Kirkpatrick did Kevin one better: She was able to set up a meeting with Adidas, which agreed to giving Kevin the same special pricing as UNC Asheville received. Not only that, they offered to donate all new gear—shoes, socks, basketballs, and more—all to match the UNC Asheville Bulldogs. The next task would be raising the money to purchase the uniforms, and again, Kevin knew exactly who could help: The Walnut Cove Members Association.
Buncome County Special Olympics basketball players will hit the courts in uniforms just like those worn by the UNC Asheville Bulldogs.
The Cliffs at Walnut Cove Members Association (WCMA) is a certified non-profit organization created by the residents of The Cliffs at Walnut Cove. Not only does the organization help those in need within the community outside the gates of Walnut Cove, it also supports friends and neighbors who are committed to volunteering for worthwhile causes. One of those causes led to the creation of the Leaders for Leaders initiative where Kevin and Ahmad were first connected. What differentiates WCMA from other grant-giving non-profit organizations is that in order to receive a grant, a member must be very active within the organization they requesting a grant. With Kevin’s determination and his active role with Special Olympics, he was able to get a grant passed to cover the cost of the uniforms.
On July 18, Kevin had the pleasure to unveil the new uniform designs to the Special Olympians of Buncombe County, who were absolutely thrilled about their new uniforms and the opportunity to wear them on the courts this fall. Members from both the UNCA Asheville women’s and men’s basketball teams were present at the unveiling to help with sizing the uniforms and to show their support of the efforts put forth by Kevin and Ahmad for the Special Olympics.
Kevin O’Connor shares the big news with the Buncombe County Special Olympics basketball players.
Join us in applauding Kevin O’Connor, Ahmad Thomas, the WCMA and Leaders for Leaders program participants, the UNC Asheville staff, coaches and players, and Adidas for making this generous and heartwarming donation to the athletes of the Buncombe County Special Olympics a reality!
Photos courtesy of Adrian Etheridge/UNC Asheville Athletics.