WAUKESHA, Wis. - They’re welcomed like heroes.
"They all can jump, you know," said freshman Kylo Simpson. "I had my hand up, and they were all just jumping all hitting my hand giving me high-fives."
When the basketball players from Carroll University walk into Sarah Schoonover’s first-grade class at Whittier Elementary in Waukesha, the smiles and excitement are felt immediately.
"Just to see their presence in the classroom lights up all the faces of my kiddos," said Schoonover.
It’s a regular thing for players like Simpson. He’s been coming to her class throughout the school year to read with the kids as part of SHARP Literacy's "Read with the Pios" program.
"It’s awesome because I know that the kids love it," Simpson said.
"What these student-athletes bring to these students is unbelievable," said SHARP's President and CEO Lynda Kohler.
Kohler started the program four years ago.
"Being here today, I know why we do what we do," Kohler said.
Kylo’s brother, Kobe, is also a freshman on the team.
"I’ve never been without him, like, my whole life," said Kobe.
The two left Spokane for Waukesha together.
"I think without him, I don’t know what I'd be doing or how different it would be," Kobe said.
It's a relationship head coach Paul Combs quickly realized was invaluable for his program.
"They care deeply about each other," said Combs. "You can see when you talk to them, not only do they care about one another, they care about the program, and they care about doing the right thing."
That becomes even more evident when they’re with the kids at Whittier.
"Kylo, when he first walked into the classroom, he gravitated right to the young man he’s been working with, and to me, that’s priceless," Combs said.
Being there takes Kylo back to his childhood after being adopted from Haiti when he was 3 years old.
"I couldn’t really read," said Simpson. "Like, I didn’t know any English, so back in kindergarten and preschool, when I couldn’t do that, the older kids, they would come read to me, and I remember it so vividly. They were so nice, so patient and they were always so willing to help me with anything because I was like, mute because I didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t know how to say anything, so being able to get that from them was awesome."
Now, he’s giving back to these kids academically and emotionally.
"You can see that they’re like, oh yeah, we’re having conversations," Schoonover said. "We’re building relationships."
Relationships that are positively impacting the lives of everyone involved.
"Showing them, look, I was in your place how many ever years ago," said Schoonover. "I was in first grade, and now, look at me. I’m in college. I’m playing a sport that I love, and I'm reading and giving back, as well."
"It’s something that I want to do and that I think everyone values, and it’s got a special place in my heart, honestly," Simpson said.