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Marcus Smart made parting gifts supporting New England children

Marcus Smart and the NBPA made several gifts to local hospitals and the Arlington Children’s Room in June.

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Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Marcus Smart will no longer be playing in Boston. Many reminders remain from his Celtics tenure including old jerseys and tribute videos from nearlya decade with the team, his impact on local children across New England, particularly those battling cancer, may be his lasting impact.

At The Children’s Room, a bereavement center in Arlington, one Smart Cart rests on the bottom floor filled with Nintendo Switches, tablets and other accessories awaiting the kids arrival this fall. On the side of the cart, Smart, whose YounGameChanger Foundation donated it earlier this summer, now sports a Grizzlies uniform.

The Children’s Room looks more like a home, a deliberate shift away from the hospital settings executive director Jon Gay and others who lost their family members to cancer grew so accustomed to when they were kids. Now, the facility brings those kids together to recover emotionally after their loved one’s passing. A conversation Gay had with Smart, whose brother died from cancer in 2004, inspired him to reach out to Smart’s foundation to ask for help with the next stage of recovery for the survivors.

“My experience when my dad died was one of walking into the clinical setting of (Massachusetts General Hospital) where there’s lights that are fluorescent and there’s flashing and there’s beeping happening,” Gay said.

“It was scary. So, The Children’s Room really is set up to be a completely different experience. We have a therapeutic space expert on staff who has chosen warm colors to put on the wall. We’re sitting in this burnt orange, warm room that’s meant to be a sitting room versus a hospital waiting room. If you were to walk through the house, the couches are comfy, like you would have in the living room of your house...when we walk you upstairs, it looks like a kid’s room with different games that are on the shelves that a kid may jump out and just start playing. The space is meant to be very warm, welcoming and comforting.”

The Children’s Room received a Smart Cart, one of only six child bereavement centers in Massachusetts for the expected 100,000 children whose parent will die before they turn 18 (CBEM). Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Maine received a cart too, with another pair going to University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Dartmouth Health Children’s Hospital in New Hampshire.

Smart’s foundation, headed by Bill Wilk, looked to expand its reach outside of Massachusetts, in partnership with the NBPA’s matching grant program, shortly before the Celtics traded Smart to Memphis. The carts became parting gift of sorts.

The NBPA grant money comes, in part, from player fines, making Smart a fitting if not ironic recipient. The program matched his contributions, largely investing in the carts, but also going toward scholarships and surprises like purchasing lunch for frontline healthcare workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Smart first spoke about his ambition with the carts one year ago with CLNS Media as he expanded his fundraising efforts and his YGCGlobal clothing brand that supports it.

“My foundation is a huge part of me and who I am,” Smart told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog last September. “I started it ... to help find a cure for cancer and help mentor the inner city youth. For me, the goal is to really give families and people who are going through a stressful and unfortunate situation, to give them the hope that they’re looking for and they need at that moment ... these Smart Carts that we’ve allowed to be able to go into the hospitals ... has up-to-date technology from iPads to tablets, everything that allows a kid to be a kid, still be interactive in life while they’re confined in the little room that they’re in.”

Sharon Granville, who runs the child life program at Maine’s Children’s Hospital, saw their cart arrive in June and plans to roll it out for children in the emergency room to provide some distraction for families in their most trying days. She hopes it’ll create some comfort and trust in the health care system for kids at a young age, inspiring them to show up each year to get their check-ups and tests. The emergency department didn’t previously have tablets and now can roll them into rooms and have numerous entertainment and gaming devices bedside. During the pandemic, that proved crucial at other hospitals as many children couldn’t communicate in-person.

Susan Doliner who oversaw the donation as the hospital’s vice resident for development, knew good news awaited them when Wilk called from the foundation. Wilk and Smart sent the sandwiches, soups, chips and more in 2020 during the height of COVID. Doliner appreciated that Smart thought of the wider New England network. Several weeks after Smart’s larger donation in June, she was as shocked as anyone when she learned about his trade to the Grizzlies. However, she still hoped Smart would come interact with patients and their cart.

“I was devastated,” Doliner said. “He was the leader on the court. He controlled the floor, he directed and he set that vision, and I think he does the same thing with this foundation. He’s got a path forward...he’s a great guy...the donation had just arrived, the carts had just arrived about a few weeks before the trade was announced, and I’m like, ‘are you kidding?’”

Boston Celtics Hospital Visit Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Gay and Micaela Sheinhait, The Children’s Room giving manager, both held similar hope that Smart would join the program’s teenagers to share his stories and play some games during the program’s teen-only night when the staff leaves the house to the older kids one night each month, giving them space to bond on their own.

They have a television they can stream their new devices on, and the cart brings the Room into an era where grieving children connect in the same room on Roblox. Some kids who aren’t as outspoken thrive in those environments, as The Children’s Room supports many avenues of expression, whether through art, games, conversation, or a room built for frustrated kids to get their anger and energy out, with padded walls and a punching bag.

“We can’t wait to bring the kids in, and the Smart Cart itself. It’s awesome,” Gay said. “It’s also fun to see Marcus Smart (on the cart), because kids love basketball and we try to bring our teenagers to games. I’m actually in touch with the Celtics right now to try to go to a game this fall, because a lot of these teenagers would not have the chance to go to a game if it weren’t for coming with our program ... my dad took me to a bunch of games, and when he died, I no longer had that opportunity....It doesn’t say Celtics on (Smart’s jersey), but ... I think it brings in the fact that kids can relate to (him).”

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