Chandler, UNICEF Bring Kid Power Program to Phoenix – Suns.com

Before signing with the Suns, before the Olympic gold medal and NBA championship, before being drafted second overall straight out of high school in 2001, before he had everything, Tyson Chandler had next to nothing.

He didn’t know it early in his childhood. Chandler’s family lived on a farm outside of Fresno, Calif., where he learned to do what most kids of his generation only knew from their parents stories, the ones that usually started with “I remember when…” He picked cotton, milked cows, and slopped pigs, not knowing nor wondering what it would be like to have more or less.

It wasn’t until his mother took her children to Los Angeles area that he saw his family’s status through society’s eyes.

“I started to see the difference between the haves and the have-nots,” Chandler said. “I was on the end of the have-nots.”

Amid the month-to-month struggles, the Suns big man remembers two sources of salvation. One was his mother, whose hard work helped maintain the most basic of necessities. The other was the presence of local programs for the less fortunate.

Chandler still remembers waiting at a dental trailer, stationed to provide the less-fortunate with floss and check for cavities. He knew where charity food drops were stationed, recalls eating that food far more than once.

“I was on the receiving end of the pity party,” Chandler recalls. “I remember how helpless I felt.”

That feeling vanished after Chicago drafted him in 2001. Still just 17 years old, Chandler suddenly had the money and influence to make a difference to those who had neither. His former poverty kept his eyes open and aware of more than his newfound fame and lifestyle. Whether it was the Chicago streets, post-Katrina New Orleans or downtown New York, Chandler saw his former life reflected back at him by thousands of unknown faces.

He thought he’d seen it all. Then, immediately after helping USA Basketball win a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, he went to Tanzania.

The trip was taken  with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), which works to provide children in Tanzania and in more than 190 countries and territories with nutrition, clean water and sanitation, health care, education and more. Chandler met children who made the most meager days of his own life seem rich by comparison.

He thought of his own three children – all six years or younger at the time – and felt his heart move and stomach churn.

“I think anytime you see any child, you put your [own] child’s face on that child,” Chandler said. “When you’re a parent, whenever you see any child suffering, it strikes a chord with you. You want to jump to action.”

Chandler did jump in, and took a more active role in UNICEF’s work to put children first around the world. In the nearly 70-year-old organization, Chandler saw the will and resources to make the difference one individual could not hope to do alone. In 2013, he became the first American NBA player to be named a UNICEF Ambassador.

Chandler was especially excited by a new program developed by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF – UNICEF Kid Power, which gives kids the power to save lives. By getting active with the UNICEF Kid Power Band, kids go on missions to learn about new cultures and earn points. Points unlock funding from partners, parents and fans, and funds are used by UNICEF to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to severely malnourished children around the world.

With 1 in 4 kids in the U.S. inactive, and 1 in 4 kids globally suffering from malnutrition, UNICEF Kid Power uniquely addresses both of these challenges.

Chandler and his wife Kimberly were among the first to support Kid Power, working closely with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to bring the school-based program to Dallas last spring. The UNICEF Kid Power school program works to promote fitness and global citizenship among elementary school students, including those in underserved areas. Earlier in 2015, UNICEF Kid Power empowered more than 12,000 students to get active and save lives in schools in Boston, Dallas, and New York. Collectively, these students unlocked enough points to unlock 188,850 therapeutic food packets, enough to save the lives of 1,259 children.

For Chandler, the UNICEF Kid Power program presents an opportunity for students to help those less fortunate in other countries. In addition to serving as the Founding Athlete, Chandler is a UNICEF Kid Power Champion, helping to teach kids about their impact, and encourage them to get active and save lives.

“All of the sudden you’re teaching these kids that they, too, can save someone’s life. They can be empowered to do something incredible,” Chandler said.

Chandler is excited for the upcoming spring 2016 school program that will give thousands of kids around the country, including those in Phoenix, the chance to get involved. Earlier this month, Chandler and The U.S. Fund for UNICEF hosted a fundraising event downtown, where dozens of key figures and organizations learned about UNICEF Kid Power and contributed  to the 2016 program. Suns owner Robert Sarver and Phoenix Suns Charities each donated $5,000, which will fund one elementary school’s worth of participation in the Kid Power program. Chandler believes that funding the program goes well beyond one year of engagement.

“Just by them putting that band on, they control how much they give and how much they’re helping,” he added. “I’ve witnessed kids’ eyes light up and feel empowered knowing they’re saving a life. I think that’s going to spark something in their little minds for when they get older.”