Tina Charles, a former No. 1 WNBA overall pick, is planning on donating half of her salary this season to a charity that helps provide automatic external defibrillators for schools and communities.
According to Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press, the New York Liberty star founded the Hopey’s Heart Foundation in honor of her aunt, Maureen “Hopey” Vaz, who died of multiple organ failure in 2013. Over the past few years, Charles has purchased 142 AEDs, and $50,000 of her WNBA salary this season will go toward purchasing even more.
“It means a lot just to keep the awareness out there about sudden cardiac arrest,” Charles told Feinberg. “Taking an interest in others is key in my life. It’s my way of giving back. My passion of placing AEDs. Anything I can do to impact an institution with an AED is extremely important to me.”
According to the foundation’s website, even prior to the passing of her aunt, Charles made a $14,775 donation for 10 AEDs to the New York Department of Education and the Wes Leonard Heart Team. Leonard was a 16-year-old basketball player from Michigan who died from sudden cardiac arrest after hitting a game-winning shot for his high school team back in 2011.
Last year, espnW’s Kate Fagan explained how Leonard’s death in part inspired Charles to create her foundation:
After her aunt died, Charles found herself connecting the dots between their stories: Leonard had died of an enlarged heart, and Hopey had possessed a generous heart. So Charles launched her own foundation in an effort to ensure that someday every gym in America will be outfitted with the necessary medical equipment to help someone, athlete or fan, who suffers from sudden cardiac arrest.
“This foundation is like my baby,” Charles told Fagan at the time. “Scoring points is my job; it’s what I’m supposed to do. But with an AED, you’re able to save a life. This is just something from my heart, and any accolades I receive about my work in the community mean more to me than the MVP award I won.”
Charles told Fagan that each AED costs anywhere between $900 and $1,200, and that the foundation hopes to place at least 100 new AEDs per year. As part of her donation this year, 16 AEDs will be headed to women’s arenas across Europe in addition to donations to schools and communities across the U.S. Charles played for the Turkish squad Fenerbahce this past winter, and according to the AP, all EuroLeague women’s arenas will be required to have AEDs on hand this upcoming season, in large part thanks to Charles’ donation.
“I commend Tina Charles for all of the great work she does through Hopey’s Heart Foundation,” said FIBA Europe President Turgay Demirel in April, according to the AP. “Tina is a fantastic example of a basketball player making a difference on and off the court, and this project is a welcome contribution to our efforts to provide the safest possible playing environment for our athletes.”
It’s unclear exactly how much of Charles’ 2015 salary will go toward AEDs being placed in schools rather than basketball arenas or community organizations. If the past two years are any indication, however, this won’t be the last time the WNBA star uses her earnings for a greater good.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.